Q: You guys are now shooting Episode 303. How are things on set?
A: They’ve been great…We shut down the town [we're shooting in], and we had a couple hundred fans surrounding the town. And they stuck around not able to see anything, so I have to give them full credit for their persistence.
Q: This season is the longest yet, at 16 episodes. What kind of challenges does a longer season present?
A: It’s really a marathon this year. The advantage is we have had some cooler weather in May and we’ll be going into cooler weather again in October. The challenge is maintaining the same intense level of storytelling that our audience expects of us, and we certainly plan to deliver on that.
Q: There are so many new locations and characters this season, what are you most excited about?
A: I will say that I loved the farm, but it is good to be off the farm. And the contrast between our [two main sets] this season is so great…We’re setting up this first community that is functioning in a post-zombie apocalypse. We get to see not only the advantages of putting civilization back on its feet again but also the dark forces at work in what may seem like a Utopia.
Q: A lot of this season is filmed on an air-conditioned soundstage. Are you relieved to be inside or do you miss the outdoor shoots?
A: We were shooting in the woods again a few days ago, which I’m sure will always be a component of our series. And we encountered the ticks and the chiggers and the wildlife again, so they reminded us of many of our travails last season. Plus we were hit by a deluge of a rainstorm and we had to evacuate that set… But the air-conditioned stages are very much enjoyed by cast and crew alike. [Laughs]
Q: This is your third season of The Walking Dead. What’s the secret to keeping the show feeling fresh and scary?
A: It’s really important to focus on making the story as richly character-driven as possible because the scares and the sense of jeopardy only come with identifying with those characters when they’re in jeopardy.
Q: There are many new human threats this season, which you’ve always warned about, but what about the zombies. What new tricks can we expect from them?
A: Obviously we have the absolute best makeup effects team on the planet, led by Greg Nicotero… And every year he ups his game. So we’re not just seeing the same old thing. This season, we’re going to have puppeted animatronic zombies and that’s something that we haven’t seen before.
Q: Have the zombie extras improved their technique over three seasons?
A: [The zombies] get better and better. Now they’ve had three years of zombie college and they’re about to go to graduate school… Our Walkers all have a history that the performer brings to the table, which is, “Okay where was I bitten, what part of my body has been affected, and how long have I been in the zombie state?” And that determines whether one arm isn’t working or if they were bitten on the neck, maybe their head hangs over to one side.
Q: Next month will be your third visit to Comic-Con to give fans a look at The Walking Dead. What can fans expect?
A: We like to bring a special reel for the fans at Comic-Con so they can see a special sneak peak of Season 3 before everyone else. It’s sort of a reward for waiting in line to getting it into the hall. And we’ll be bringing a larger contingent of our cast and crew than ever this year. And also because we began shooting a lot earlier this year, the reel will contain a lot more footage than it has in the past.
Q: We’ve heard that you’re working on a pirate TV show. Any similarities between pirates and zombies?
A: The thing about pirates is they’re a little easier to kill, but at the same time they won’t stop at anything either. They’re all out, all the time, and they’re not easily dissuaded once they’ve got their eye on the prize.
Q: But who would win a battle between the two?
A: I think it would depend on how many zombies there were and how quickly [the pirates] figure out that you have to destroy the brain or they’ll keep on coming.