Whoa! That was a plot-packed episode of "The Walking Dead." Everyone is accounted for, cliffhangers were solved, and new characters and mysteries were introduced. We're still trying to digest all that happened, so we went right to the source — "TWD" executive producer Gale Anne Hurd — to get scoop on the episode we just saw and the danger that lurks ahead for the survivors (one word: Terminus).
So much happens in "Inmates." It's the equivalent of two or three episodes of any other show. Why pack so much into this one episode?
We have our survivors split up. In the first episode of the back eight, we really focused on Carl and Rick and a little bit on Michonne. It was important very quickly to reconnect with most of the other groups and see how they're doing. That was the focus of this episode. It was to give some insight into how they're struggling, what their frame of mind is and how difficult it is now that they've lost the prison.
In addition to all the big things, there were so many little surprises: That Glenn didn't know Hershel had been killed, and that Tyreese didn't even know Carol wasn't at the prison.
You can imagine how much tension that's going to bring as the season continues to play out.
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Across the next six episodes, what's the overall focus? The fractured groups trying to get back together?
It's also [everyone] continuing to battle demons as well. We've seen the tension that had built between Rick and Carl. We're going to continue to see how the loss of the prison, how the loss of Hershel, affects everyone, in addition to their hope of reuniting.
Speaking of Hershel, it was a great tribute to him that he is the source of hope that is pushing so many people forward, especially Beth and Glenn. Is that Hershel's lasting legacy?
I think the impact of Hershel has affected everyone and will continue to do so, hopefully even beyond this season. He was a sage, he was wise, he was kind, he was selfless. That kind of loss, whether you are a blood relative like Beth and Maggie or just part of his surrogate family is just … the one thing I think that he would be proud of is the positive impact that he's had on so many of the survivors, and that the loss instilled that even more deeply. But it will also serve to challenge people not to give up hope.
We saw that with Michonne in "After." She had given up, had chosen to be alone again, but ultimately chose to embrace her new "family" again …
I love being able to see Michonne smile again. She really scowls for quite a long time. It's wonderful to see that she can bounce back. She can face the demons that we're now sharing [about] her, the loss of her child, the loss of her partner, the guilt she feels for not having been able to do anything. That drove her to become such a successful survivor, but also to build such a thick skin. Now she realizes she actually needs people, and that it's worth taking the risk to connect with them again, knowing that in this environment you can lose someone at any moment.
That final scene in "After," when she looks in the window and is so happy to see Rick and Carl, then when Rick sees her and smiles and tells Carl it's for him, that may be one of the best moments of the whole series.
What's funny is there was actually a scene where she came in and reunited with them, inside the house. We debated whether or not to end it there. We realized that was a much better ending than actually showing the reunion. I'm glad you're saying that, because we always second-guess ourselves.
It was also such an interesting way to reveal Michonne's backstory. Is that something we might see more of in the final six episodes, backstories for some of the characters we've known and loved for seasons now?
[Laughing] I wouldn't rule it out. I can neither confirm nor deny.
Back to "Inmates," and the individual groups, there is definitely humor in the fact that Tyreese, who's kind and sensitive, but who's also this big, strong guy, is the one traveling with a baby and two little girls. Was that intentional?
Absolutely. Chad Coleman is such a fantastic actor. We loved being able to spend so much time with him and these very talented actresses who play Lizzie and Mika. The interesting thing was, the casting process was gender neutral. We were looking for talented little boys or little girls. It turned out that we ended up finding two very talented little girls, and that's why those two characters are girls.
Brighton Sharbino, who plays Lizzie, is especially fantastic. And especially after this episode, the audience wants to know more about Lizzie. She's obviously affected by the state of the world, and her dad dying, in a way that her sister wasn't. Is that something we're going to find out more about?
There's always a reason behind the choices that we make showing some things. But each person responds differently to the zombie apocalypse and to the stressors they've endured and to death. Some people are less affected by it and develop a thick skin, and others aren't. I think we're able to see the contrast between Mika and Lizzie.
Was the scene where she covers Judith's mouth to prevent her from crying an intentional nod to the "M*A*S*H" series finale?
I couldn't tell you, because I wasn't in the writer's room when they cooked that up. I didn't watch the "M*A*S*H" finale. [Laughing] I know, I'm one of the 10 people in the United States that hasn't.
We're introduced to Terminus, or rather the idea of Terminus, which we first heard about on the car radio in "Isolation." The man on the tracks assured Tyreese and Carol this was a safe place to go, to take the kids. But that's how people would have described Woodbury at one point, too. So is this something they should trust, or is there way more to Terminus than the sign promises?
You certainly don't know. The prison was a real sanctuary. It was what we thought it would be. Of course, at the same time, we saw that when Tyreese and Sasha and their group first arrived there, Rick was spending a bit of time in crazy town and sent them away. I don't think anything is completely simple in this world, because it's difficult to trust everyone, or anyone, as a matter of fact.
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Because we're catching up with so many of the survivors at the same time, which is within a relatively short time frame, and roughly right after they fled the prison, we don't know exactly what order things are happening in. So, there's a scene where Daryl and Beth happen upon walkers chowing down, and there's a black shoe on the ground that looks just like the ones Mika was wearing. Should that worry us, that her shoe, or a shoe that looks like hers, was in a pile alongside dead bodies? Or is it a coincidence?
As I said, there's always a reason behind our choices. We don't do anything particularly random.
Finally, after so much, after catching up with all our favorites and getting answers to some big cliffhangers, we still have the introduction of Abraham, Eugene, and Rosita at the end of "Inmates." How quickly will we learn more about them?
I can't tell you. We never give timeframes.
But there are only six episodes left of this season, so it's probably soon?
I know! We're down to the final six already, Isn't that sad?
Overall, will these final six episodes have a darker vibe?
Yes. They're on the road, they're separated. They're much more vulnerable being on the road without a safe haven. So yes, it's darker and more dangerous. But at the same time, there will be moments of celebration. And moments of loss. It is "The Walking Dead." [Laughs] Anyone who's survived at this point has made that choice. It's easy to die, it's hard to survive. They're made of stronger stuff.
"The Walking Dead" airs Sundays at 9 p.m. on AMC.