As if staying alive during weeks of zombie attacks wasn't enough, The Walking Dead's harried band of survivors found themselves having to escape from what they thought was a safe haven in the Season 1 finale.
After being cautiously welcomed into the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta by Dr. Edwin Jenner (guest star Noah Emmerich), Rick (Andrew Lincoln) and the rest of the survivors thought they'd turned a corner on their horror. But soon after they locked themselves in, they learned that the CDC, which had been testing brain samples in hopes of developing a cure for the zombie outbreak, was out of power and therefore automatically rigged to self-destruct.
"Anytime you can end a season of a television show with a giant explosion, I say you go for it," executive producer Robert Kirkman, who created the comic book series upon which the show is based, tells TVGuide.com with a laugh.
Not everyone wanted to make it out alive — RIP Dr. Jenner and Jacqui (Jeryl Prescott) — but most of the camp drove off into the distance as the story's first chapter ended. But the pit stop at the CDC, which was wholly a creation of executive producer Frank Darabont for the TV show, revealed for the first time that the outbreak was a global crisis and how a zombie's brain functions compared to a living human. And Jenner also planted some mysterious seeds for the future.
"I thought it was a great addition," Kirkman says. "I'm very much opposed to showing what the actual cause [for the zombies] is and explaining how things work, but teasing a little bit is a great thing. If it adds an extra layer to the drama, then I'm all for it. It also led up to the fantastic mystery of the whisper Jenner gives to Rick at the end of that scene. That's going to play into Season 2 quite a bit. I know where that's going and it's really a cool bit."
Another departure for the finale was the show's use of a flashback to the early days of the apocalypse. In the finale's opening scene, Shane (Jon Bernthal) is seen making the difficult choice to leave his best friend, Rick, behind, but only after he ascertains that Rick is dead. The scene sheds some interesting light on Shane, whose ensuing affair with Rick's wife, Lori (Sarah Wayne Callies), was a focus of the first season.
"It adds a certain level to the story to see that moment," Kirkman says. "Up until the sixth episode, you get the sense that Shane actually is a bad guy, that he lied to Lori and made her believe that he was dead in order to facilitate him moving in on her. The flashback does a great job of telling you that that's not true: He tried to save Rick, he wanted to save Rick. He was kind of up against the wall there and actually did believe that Rick was dead.
"I think it was extremely important to add that extra layer to the character so that you can see later in the episode, when [Shane] is losing it and actually getting somewhat violent with Lori, the transition he's gone through and how this world has changed him from being a loving, easygoing guy into this guy who is slowly devolving into a bit of a maniac."
"Nothing in the show is going to go down exactly the same way it does in the comic," Kirkman says. "I'm not ruling out that Shane could survive the entire length of this television show. Shane could meet a girl and calm down, and we wouldn't actually get to the scene that happens in the comic. ... One thing that's very important to me is that no one comes into this television show having read the comic knowing exactly what's going to happen. We're always going to change things up and keep people guessing."
Season 2 preview:
That said, Kirkman and Darabont have already discussed which characters from the books they want to see in Season 2. Kirkman says to expect to see Hershel's farm as well as the introduction of Maggie, a love interest for Glenn (Steve Yuen). Kirkman says Darabont is also adamant about introducing the katana-wielding Michonne in Season 2, much earlier than her appearance in the comics.
Which stories does Kirkman think the show must address before it wraps for good?
"Everything with the Governor and the Woodbury town," Kirkman says. "But at the same time, I am very open to the show being its own animal. And there [may be] certain things that are done that make it impossible to do something else from the comic book. As long as the show is entertaining and I am happy with how it's turning out, I think anything goes."
Along those lines, Kirkman promises that viewers have not seen the last of Merle Dixon (Michael Rooker), a racist redneck who was left handcuffed on the roof of an Atlanta department store by his fellow survivors. Merle was never in the comics, but the character amputated his own hand to free himself, leading to much speculation that he might become The Governor character, a sadist who eventually loses his arm.
For now, Kirkman is cagey. "I'm a big fan of Merle," he says. "I know Frank and everybody involved with the show has huge plans for that character, but aside from that I can't really get into it. We will someday see him again and his story is definitely not forgotten. But how and when he will materialize is just going to have to remain a mystery for now."
Viewers will most likely have a long wait before the 13-episode second season debuts, as AMC reportedly wants to premiere the show around Halloween again next season. But Kirkman suggests the extra time will allow the show to figure out the best stories to tell to follow the Season 1 finale's various possibilities.
"They're on the road, and I think that moment of them driving off together is key," Kirkman says. "Travelling in this kind of environment is going to be extremely dangerous. Trying to find sanctuary and trying to find food to eat is really the heart of the comic book series. The open road brings an unlimited potential for stories, and I think Season 2 is going to be way better than Season 1."