WARNING: If you have yet to watch The Walking Dead‘s next-to-last Season 2 episode tonight, run don’t walk to the nearest exit. We’re serious, folks. The following Q&A with showrunner Robert Kirkman contains massive spoilers. Trust us on this one. Everyone else, you may proceed…
This Just In: The Walking Dead is not fooling around anymore. One week after viewers watched in horror as Dale literally had his guts ripped out, AMC’s mega-hit went a step further in its penultimate Season 2 episode and whacked another, far more pivotal character: Shane!
Sure, the warning signs were there — on screen and off. For starters, Shane had become increasingly unhinged as Season 2 wore on, making Sunday’s deadly confrontation with frenemy Rick all the more inevitable. Also, as fans of the Walking Dead comic know full well, the TV character actually survived longer than his literary counterpart. Oh, and as you may’ve heard, Shane’s portrayer, Jon Bernthal, recently landed a starring role in former Dead exec producer Frank Darabont’s TNT pilot L.A. Noir.
Yet, the death of Shane — who, for all intents and purposes, was the show’s co-lead — nonetheless packed a punch, mostly because it sends a loud and clear message that absolutely no one (save for Rick) is safe. And if the episode itself didn’t adequately relay that, our post mortem with Robert Kirkman should. Read on as Dead‘s main creative force reveals why Shane had to die, how Bernthal reacted (read: he wasn’t pleased), whether Jenner’s secret message to Rick has already been revealed, and when the next major death will come (hint: very soon).
TVLINE | How long did you know that you were going to kill Shane off this early on in the series?
Before the first episode of Season 1 was shot. [Laughs] Frank always talked about how, if the first season had been 13 episodes, we would’ve went ahead and told the entire Shane story and killed him off at the end of the season, which was pretty much what we did in the comics. But because that was a six-episode season instead of a normal-sized season, we decided to hold it for Season 2.
TVLINE | Did you ever consider not following the comics and letting him survive – if not through the entire run of the series then maybe just another season or two? The Rick-Shane dynamic was such a major part of the show.
There was a lot of back-and-forth when we were mapping out the second season. I’ll admit even I — who killed him in the comic — was saying there were a lot of interesting things that could come out of keeping him in the show. We had a lot of fun [writing for the character] in the second season because there were a lot of things that changed from the comic. Having him exist on Hershel’s Farm brought out new stories and made us do some cool new things that were different from the comic. And I’m always for that kind of stuff because I like to keep things interesting. But at the end of the day, what we kept coming back to is that The Walking Dead is much more about Rick and his journey than it is about Shane and his journey. And keeping Shane around was, in a sense, stealing from Rick. It was time to let Rick emerge and see how Shane’s death affected him and how it informed his decisions. And I think that when people see the last episode of this season — and Season 3 — and where Rick goes because of this, they’ll see that this is all part of the larger plan. [His death] is definitely an important moment. And it really sucked to lose Jon Bernthal, but it’s going to make the show that much better and that much more deadly. Having lost Dale and Shane, now you really get the sense that any of these characters could go at any moment. And we’re definitely going to be continuing that in Season 3. This finally tells people, “This is what The Walking Dead is. This is what you can expect.”
TVLINE | How far in advance did Jon know that this was going to be his final episode?
He always knew he was going to die, but there was a question of exactly which episode it was going to be. That moved around quite a bit. It wasn’t until we were actually breaking the last half of Season 2 that we nailed it down to a specific episode.
TVLINE | How did he react?
Honestly, he was bummed. The actors have become a family, and they really love working together. They’re kind of isolated in Georgia where they shoot; they spend a lot of time together when they’re not filming. But every actor knows that on this show… I think Sarah Wayne Callies has been quoted as saying that she knows it’s not a matter of if she’s going to die but when; that’s what the show is. But it’s still very sad when actors have their last day on set. Jon was definitely upset. But he understood. He knew why we were doing it and what was going on. He was accepting of it.
TVLINE | Was he satisfied creatively with Shane’s final arc?
Absolutely. All of the actors are really great collaborators and have good ideas, and when Jon read the death scene he definitely had some questions and some suggestions. And he worked a lot with [the episode’s writers] Glen Mazzara and Evan Reilly to try and beef it up. He had some little notes and they came to an understanding and really convinced Jon that this is what the scene needs to be. There was a lot of back-and-forth, and in the end Jon really loved the scene.
TVLINE | What was your reaction when news leaked that Jon had been cast in L.A. Noir?
It was an unfortunate mishap [that resulted from AMC] moving the last half of the season until February instead of just running it straight through. If we had aired it all in succession and ended in December it wouldn’t have been a problem. But by holding back the season, [the news] did kind of spoil things. It was a bummer that it spoiled the show to a certain extent, but I was happy for Jon. I think it’s exciting for him to be working for Frank again and I’m really looking forward to seeing that show. And it’s cool to know that Jon is constantly working. The tough thing for me is that when I kill a character in a comic book I am making the artist, Charlie Adlard, draw a different arrangement of lines from now on. Killing a character doesn’t really affect anybody but the readers. But when you kill a character on a TV show you are, in a sense, firing an actor. And the thing that upsets me about that is it’s always about the story; it’s never about the actor’s performance. And I’m a blue-collar guy, so if you fire somebody you need to have a reason. So it’s really upsetting to me every time we have to kill a character. So to know that Jon has another job makes me happy. Because I feel guilty about the whole firing thing.
TVLINE | Shane turning into a zombie in the end pretty much confirms that everyone’s already infected. Can you confirm that that’s what Jenner whispered in Rick’s ear?
[Hesitates] Well, I can’t confirm that. But what I can say is that Shane turning after being stabbed definitely does inform Rick revealing what Jenner whispered, in the next episode.
TVLINE | So we’ll finally find out what he whispered in next week’s finale?
TVLINE | Does Rick debate sharing this newfound intel with the others, or does the approaching zombie stampede delay that?
Yeah, there’s sh-t ton of zombies on the way to the farm, so he’s not going to have a lot of time for that.
TVLINE | This does raise the question about the dead bodies in the season-opening traffic jam — why hadn’t they all been turned?
I think if you go back and watch that [sequence you’ll see] we were very careful to have them be in cars that were in accidents, so the brain would’ve had trauma. Or they had some kind of wounds somewhere on their heads to show that their brains had been killed, like somebody came across and killed them. We knew that we were building to this throughout the entire season.
TVLINE | I know you can’t name names, but have you quietly made any decisions to spare someone’s life on the show who died in the comics?
Dale’s death in the comic book came way later than it did in the TV show. And Shane’s death in the comic book came way sooner than it did in the TV show. So that’s pretty much the model that we’re going to be following throughout the life of the series. Some characters will die before they reached the point that they reached in the comic book series, and some people will outlast their comic-book counterpart. And that’s going to be done to keep things interesting [and] because it’s not just me writing the television show. There are five or six other people that have good ideas that are contributing to the show, and it would be wrong to go, “That’s a good idea but that’s not how we did it in the comics.” There will definitely be differences. You can’t use the comic book to gauge when or how someone is going to die.
TVLINE | Will there be another major death next week?
I can say that the cast that enters the final episode this season does not leave the final episode intact. And there are a lot of surprises still yet to come.
TVLINE | Will the finale end on a cliffhanger, as in mid-scene? Or will it be more similar to the Season 1 finale, which ended in a more resolute place?
It’s not quite a true cliffhanger, but it’s much closer to a cliffhanger than what we had last season.
TVLINE | And lastly, will T-Dog be allowed to speak again?
[Laughs] T-Dog definitely has a lot of cool moments in the finale and a lot of lines. I apologize for that. It’s one of those things where certain characters have to recede into the background to give room to the other characters because we have such a large cast. But every character will get their moment to shine — T-Dog included.
What did you think of the episode and, specifically, Shane’s death? Deposit your snappy judgments in the comments, and then check out Ask Ausiello Tuesday for even more scoop on next Sunday’s Dead finale (including who most definitely won’t be in it).