'The Walking Dead' Season 4: Robert Kirkman promises, 'The audience is truly going to be shocked'
So as Season 4 premieres Sunday, Oct. 13, it's pretty unnerving to hear the principal goal of creator and executive producer Robert Kirkman is to deliver even bigger jolts than ever before.
"We have been able to do a pretty spectacular job of keeping what we're really doing in Season 4 a secret," Kirkman tells Zap2it happily. "People have seen the promos and they kind of know what's coming, and they can see some cool and exciting stuff happening at the prison, but there is so much story that, really, has not been given away. I think the audience truly is going to be shocked, because trust me, they have no idea what is coming."
If Kirkman is playing things close to his vest as far as the new season's big "OMG!" moments, he's willing to reveal what lies in store for some of the main characters, including Rick Grimes ( Andrew Lincoln), who underwent a real crucible in Season 3 before regaining his humanity.
"Season 4, in regards to Rick in particular, is really about his trying to find a way to live in this world that isn't going to turn him into a monster," Kirkman says. "We saw him kind of get to the brink in Season 3, and now we'll see him pull back in a major way as he starts to focus on different things. He's just a very different Rick Grimes
"We pick up Season 4 a few months after [the Season 3 finale], and we'll see that over time they've actually found more refugees out in the wilderness and brought them into the prison. This is the new haven, so you'll be seeing new faces and a very different side of the prison, as a functioning little piece of civilization, which is a pretty cool change for the show."
But what of last season's main bad guy, the Governor ( David Morrissey)? The last time we saw him, Rick's "army" had routed the Governor's much larger attack force. In a rage, the Governor mowed down most of his followers, then drove off to parts unknown with two of his lieutenants.
"Two very nervous lieutenants," Kirkman amends, laughing. "We left [the Governor] at a low point on purpose. This is a guy who has been down time and time again, so if there is someone who could bounce back from that low point, it is the Governor. He's a very dangerous guy, so I wouldn't count him out. The Governor definitely is going to appear this season. His story is not over, and there's very much a lot more to tell with him, but how we see him and when he comes into play is one of the central mysteries going into Season 4."
One character who definitely hasn't forgotten about the Governor is the vengeful Michonne ( Danai Gurira), who saw her beloved companion Andrea (fan favorite Laurie Holden) die in the Season 3 finale as the result of the Governor's villainy.
"I'll tell you in Season 4 we will see a Michonne who is absolutely driven by the goal of finding the Governor," Kirkman says, "but months have passed and she hasn't found him yet, so it has become somewhat of an obsession, to the extent that the people around her are starting to question her about it. We're going to explore some pretty interesting questions from there."
Look for another favorite character, Daryl Dixon ( Norman Reedus), to achieve more heroic stature in the upcoming episodes, in the aftermath of last season's third major death, that of Daryl's evil brother, Merle ( Michael Rooker).
"Daryl had come out from under Merle's shadow and become much more altruistic and more of a contributing member of his community. That was derailed to some extent by the re-emergence of Merle, which we dealt with a lot in Season 3," Kirkman says. "The effects of Merle's death are still going to be felt by Daryl, but now that that (bad) influence is gone, we're going to see that evolution in Daryl speed up. I'll just say it's very likely we'll see Daryl emerge a leader in this community."
In addition to overseeing these 16 new episodes as well as writing the ongoing series of "Walking Dead" comics and books that inspired the TV series, Kirkman is in the early planning stages for a companion series to "The Walking Dead," tentatively scheduled to premiere on AMC in 2015.
"All I can really say at this point is that it's going to be a companion series in every sense of the word, so we're trying to make something that can live up to what 'The Walking Dead' has become, and to stand shoulder to shoulder with the original show, without detracting from the original at all," he says. "I'm going to painstaking lengths to make this as cool and original and fresh as the original series was when it debuted. A tremendous amount of effort is going into making this as cool a thing as we want it to be. It's not just a process of replicating success."