The new season of "The Walking Dead" is shambling toward us faster than... well, a fast-moving zombie. In advance of Sunday's premiere, we chatted with executive producer Gale Anne Hurd by phone, who told us all about what makes this season different, bigger and better. She also gave us some teases for fans of a certain character played by Norman Reedus. That would be Daryl.
But first, one of the biggest question marks going into season four was the promotion of writer Scott Gimple to showrunner. "He wrote many of our favorite episodes," said Hurd. "What's great about Scott is that he combines the ability to write great, almost intimate character moments within larger epic tableaus."
Hurd also cited his experience in both film and television as an asset. Gimple has written for "Flashforward" and "Drive" on TV, and co-wrote "Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance" for film.
"There's a sense of completion in his episodes," continued Hurd. Gimple's strength according to Hurd is that he can put a definitive endpoint on an episode, while still balancing the serial aspects that are inherent in creating a season of television — not an easy task by any means.
Also different about this season? Who gets their time in the sun. Hurd noted that viewers should look for characters like Tyreese, Carol and Beth to step up this year in a big way, alongside Rick, Daryl, and the others. Which means that we're going to see an end to the Rick-tatorship from season three... at least for the time being.
"Rick really wants to focus his efforts on being what he hasn't been so far, which is a really good father to Carl, and now to his baby Judith," noted Hurd. "That means everything else takes a back seat... At least as far as when times are rather calm."
Having seen the first two episodes, we can safely say that things don't stay calm for long — and in fact, they get pretty explosive. Credit that to the extra time in the shooting schedule for the first episode, according to Hurd:
"You really want to give fans an indication of what the season is going to hold in the very first episode. We wanted to deliver on the more intimate character moments, as well as the epic action pieces that you're going to be seeing throughout the season. Also, for the first episode, we're able to shoot for nine days, versus the typical eight, which is why we were able to accommodate what is certainly one of the larger action set-pieces of the entire series."
Beyond the zombie-slaying action fans have come to expect, there'll be other treats. Hurd was vague on exactly what those threats are, though she noted that, "even in an exceedingly safe haven like the prison, where you have barbed wire that fence people out, there are things in their very midst that those bars are keeping in. And you can't escape those."
But what about Daryl? The crossbow slinging bad-boy played by Norman Reedus is probably one of the big reasons millions tune into "The Walking Dead" each week. "Everyone wants to know who Daryl was before the apocalypse," mentioned Hurd. "And it's not just the fans, it's the characters on the show. So you never know, we might just find out."
Lastly, Hurd responded to the pressure that comes with a hit series, saying, "Regardless of the number of viewers, we still want to deliver the best possible show. We always want to bring our A Game, but there is more pressure.
"I can't wait for people to see just how twisted the brains and minds of Scott Gimple, Robert Kirkman and the writing staff are. They're taking us to brand-new places, but at the same time it's very, very character driven, and incredibly epic."
"The Walking Dead" returns to AMC on Sunday, October 13 at 9pm ET.