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'The Walking Dead' returns with more gore, surprises
"The Walking Dead" is the little zombie show that could
The post-apocalyptic drama set in Atlanta, Ga., which begins its third season Sunday night, may not rack up Emmy nominations at the rate of its AMC siblings "Mad Men" and "Breaking Bad," but it has kicked butt on both shows in the ratings, drawing more than twice as many viewers. Its season 2 finale in March attracted an audience of more than 9 million a record for a basic cable drama.
As for Emmys, makeup artist Greg Nicotero and his crew have taken home the trophy for outstanding prosthetic makeup for a series, miniseries, movie or special for the past two years. And it's also the only AMC drama to inspire theme park attractions: Universal Studios' Halloween Horror Nights includes both "The Walking Dead: Dead Inside" maze attraction as well as the "Terror Tram: Invaded by the Walking Dead."
If there's a downside to being a fan or cast member of the zombie saga, which began as a series of graphic novels created by Robert Kirkman, Tony Moore and Charlie Adlard, it's that no character is immune to being killed off. Fans were shocked by the demise of little Sophia Peletier (Madison Lintz), surprised by the death of Dale Horvath (Jeffrey DeMunn) and should have celebrated the execution of Shane Walsh (Jon Bernthal).
"It's a surreal thing," said actress Laurie Holden, who plays Andrea on the series. "For us, we try just to live in the moment because we are in a show where they do kill the main characters, so we could die at any time and there's no real job security."
Holden, speaking at the season 3 premiere earlier this month at Universal Studios, said she was attracted to her role from the beginning and is no stranger to the horror genre, having starred in the remake of "The Mist" in 2007, "Silent Hill" in 2006 and multiple episodes of "The X-Files" during its TV run.
"I just knew there was kind of a funky premise and I was going to play a really cool woman, a warrior," she says. "It was going to be developed where there was going to be a real great character arch so it was not like she just showed up and was like shooting guns and acting all cool. She's a person that was broken at one time and rose from the ashes. I was really excited, too, by the people I'd be collaborating with on the project as well and I turned around and it had become this huge success and I was like, 'Wow. The world loves zombies'."
Andrew Lincoln, a British actor who has starred in various TV series as well as feature films such as "Love Actually," plays Sheriff Rick Grimes, who awakened from a coma at the start of season 1 to find his family missing and his world ravaged by packs of undead "walkers" with whom he has done battle every since.
"This is the best part I've every played and I love this character," he says. "I just love where he's come from and where he's gone in the space of three seasons. This has been an exciting journey as an actor and that was always one of the attractions when I read the comic books and they pitched me the man who starts in one place and ends up way over here and the audience sort of comes along with him. It just struck me as an incredibly challenging journey."
For young actress Emily Kinney, the show has given her a new respect for zombies. She's always loved Halloween, even if she already dresses up as characters for a living, but she loves wearing costumes – a few years ago she fashioned a Magic 8-Ball get up and people could actually ask her questions and get answers. This year she's unsure of what she'll be, but it will not be a zombie, since the brain-hungry walkers have crept their way into her dreams.
"I'm not necessarily worried about a zombie apocalypse but I do have zombie dreams now," she says. "I've had a dream where I'm on my bike trying to warn people about the apocalypse and before the show that had never entered my mind. I did finally have my roommate watch last season and she got so upset with me. She said 'You didn't tell me this was about zombies!' I guess it is scary."
Danai Gurira is excited about her new role on the show as Michonne. The sword-wielding survivor, who keeps zombies as pets (after ripping off their arms and jaws, of course) made a quick appearance in the final episode of season two, but plays a significant role in upcoming episodes.
"I'm definitely not afraid of zombies now," she says with a laugh. "I follow my character's lead on that. She's figured out that zombies are the lesser life form and she's figured out how exactly to leverage them to her advantage and there's absolutely no reason to be afraid of them, so from her, I've learned not to be afraid myself."
Executive producer Gale Anne Hurd, who started out working with Roger Corman and also produced the "Terminator" films, says that working on this show and with this ensemble has been a dream come true.
"They're unlike any team I've ever worked with and everyone has each other's backs," she says. "From be very beginning it has been like a family. I think partly because we shoot out of town and the conditions are so difficult – the humidity in Atlanta in the summer, the mosquitoes, the ticks, but people really care about this show so much. There's none of that in-cast fighting or 'I want this line' or 'I want that wardrobe.' Believe me, I've seen plenty of that in my time."
Chris Hardwick, host of "The Talking Dead," a talk show that airs after "The Walking Dead" to discuss various happenings with producers, cast and crew members, says that there's a need for a little comic relief after such an intense show.
"It's necessary because the show is so messed up in so many ways," he continues. "There are so many awful things that happen to people on the show that I feel like it's the only way to deal with it. Things happen to characters on the show that you get attached to and you're left like, 'OK, I need a day to deal with this.'"
Since AMC likes to make "The Walking Dead" crew sweat it out by only ordering the show season by season, show runner and executive producer Glen Mazzara says he's just happy that fans have kept it going now for three seasons.
"It's fun to think about how to keep that going and to see what the audience can tolerate, what is too much and what's going to be a good enough scare," he says. "We like to challenge each other and try to get our game up to give the best story that we can. Yesterday I was thinking about the last three episodes (of the new season) and I was thinking, 'I've got nothing for season four. I'm spent.' Then this morning in the shower, where I do a lot of my thinking, I thought of a scene for episode 316 that gives me an entire storyline and an engine for season 4.
"I would really love for the show to just continue to build a fan base and people are really passionate about it and they really love it. I would really love for whenever the story ends, for people to look back and say 'That's a great, classic show.'"
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