Being the creative mind behind one of television’s most popular shows has benefits, but also comes with some unexpected drawbacks.
Robert Kirkman, writer of The Walking Dead comic and an executive producer and writer for the AMC television adaptation, spoke about both recently.
One of the biggest perks is the recognition he gets from fans, Kirkman said, especially those who flock to the show’s filming location in Senoia, Georgia.
“It’s like going to a comic book convention because when I go to a comic book convention now it’s a little bit like George Clooney going to the grocery store: Everyone knows that I’m the guy that writes the comic book, and I get recognized pretty much everywhere I go,” he said. “It is kind of fun.”
Another benefit Kirkman noted was that his writing skills had been boosted by working with the show’s other writers.
“I will say that working in the writers’ room with all the other writers and working on the show as long as I have, I feel like I’m maybe a little bit better of a writer, I hope,” he said. “I’m having a lot of very cool and interesting experiences on the show… and I feel like I’m able to put that to work in the comic that makes it better than it ever would have been otherwise.”
However, keeping the comic and television separate entities is one of the challenges of being a part of both worlds.
“One of my hugest efforts in this entire ordeal is to make sure that the show doesn’t change how I do the comic,” Kirkman said. “I want to keep the comic pure. I don’t want anybody to say, ‘Oh, well the comic was really good and then the show came along, and then the comic got different,’ because I want to maintain that consistency.”
Writing on the show does give him the opportunity to reexamine the decisions he made in creating the comic.
“Episode 9 will probably be the episode that’s closest to a direct adaptation from the comic book aside from the premiere episode,” Kirkman said. “It’s been a lot of fun for me working on them because I’m basically just rewriting something I’ve already written, which means I get to go back in and go, ‘Woah, what’d you do there? Let’s fix that.’”
Another challenge of writing the series is to keep the audience from getting too comfortable. Kirkman said he and the writers don’t want to fall into patterns.
“When you get to Season 4 on a show, especially a show like The Walking Dead, you realize that you’ve been around for a while and people may start to think, ‘I’ve got this show figured out. I know how they do things on this show,’” he said. “And a tremendous amount of effort has been put towards keeping the audience guessing and doing newer and more interesting things and changing what The Walking Dead is, in a way that’s very true to everything that people love about The Walking Dead but that brings in a lot of very cool new and unexpected elements.”
One of the things that is often unexpected for fans is the death of their favorite characters. Last season saw T-Dog, Andrea, Merle and Axle all bid farewell in shocking and violent fashions. Kirkman said that while the deaths are hard on fans, they aren’t easy on the writers either.
“It is an extremely difficult part of this process. I don’t want fans to ever get the sense that there’s a particular level of glee or a cavalier attitude towards those kind of plot twists. They’re always very difficult decisions, and it’s very hard on us as creative people to lose these tools in the toolbox, so to speak,” he said. “We don’t get to write Andrea’s stories in the show anymore. That’s a big moment. That was a huge character for us. And everything that comes after that and all the new and interesting things that it does to the story makes it worthwhile, but it still makes that decision extremely difficult to make and there’s a real sense of loss there.”
Although he works for the show as both a writer and executive producer, Kirkman said one challenge he has no interest in is directing.
“I just watched Dan Sackheim direct Episode 3, and watching all the work that he’s doing, I’m like, ‘Yup, nope, nope, that doesn’t interest me,’” he said. “I’ll continue writing. That stuff’s fun.”
Part of the fun is thinking about how he would or would not react in the situations the show’s characters find themselves in, Kirkman said.
“Part of the fun of this show is sitting on your couch and thinking, ‘What would I do if I had to make that decision?’ Or, ‘Who would I save if I had to make that decision?’” he said “It’s really cool playing ‘what if,’ and the writers do it as much as the viewers do.”
While he may put himself in the place of the characters, Kirkman said he hasn’t yet written himself directly into either the comic or show.
“There hasn’t been a character cowardly enough or lazy enough to embody me just yet, but I do plan on incorporating that at some point,” he said, adding “A lot of the corpses are very much like me in the show. Were I to exist in this world, I would die very quickly.”