While most television shows have gone on hiatus to avoid going up against the Olympics in primetime, “The Walking Dead” returned to television opposite the Sochi games last Sunday night and came out ahead among 18-49 year olds.
More young adults – 10.4 million – tuned in for “The Walking Dead” than the Olympics (although the games had more overall viewers in total: 25.4 million to “TWD’s” 15.8).
Taking home the ratings gold medal (in that advertisers’ favorite demo) came as a surprise to “The Walking Dead” cast and crew, according to Executive Producer Gale Anne Hurd.
“I have to say, we were all taken aback,” Gale told AccessHollywood.com when we spoke with her on Wednesday. “At the same time, our fans are so loyal and so engaged. We’d been gone a long time from the air and I think there was so much excitement to see what was going to happen now that the prison has fallen.”
Gale noted that the numbers might have been different if the Olympics had aired live in primetime.
“Because [the Olympics are] not live, I think that people were – you can watch during the day, and I’m hoping that people were,” she added.
On Sunday night’s “TWD,” fans saw Rick, Carl and Michonne find each other again, but with much of the group still splintered as a result of the attack on the prison, there are plenty of questions about what’s ahead. And, with just seven episodes left to go in Season 4, Gale teased some of the things to come, including more flashbacks. She also hinted at what’s in store for Daryl Dixon (Norman Reedus) and Beth Greene (Emily Kinney) this Sunday night on AMC.
AccessHollywood.com: So, a fun question… I saw it was brought to ‘Talking Dead,’ but did anyone get to keep Hershel’s head?
Gale Anne Hurd: That’s [Executive Producer] Greg Nicotero. You create it, you keep it.
Access: Tell me about the decision to open the second half of the season a little bit quieter following the prison siege. I guess anything following that had to be quieter.
Gale: Yeah… you didn’t have the tank firing shots or exploding after Daryl put a grenade in it. At the same time, I think [it was] one of the most compelling episodes in terms of — and I think it was compared to ‘Kill Bill Vol. 1’ — Michonne finally sort of coming to her senses in the midst of the walker herd, and taking their heads off. It was quiet, clearly, because a katana sword is pretty silent, but I have to say there was some significant action.
Access: For sure, but a lot [fewer] characters. Is that something that will be happening as we continue on… where we look at these pockets of people that have separated from each other?
Gale: With the characters separated and some alone, some in groups, you have more time to be introspective, to examine the characters, their relationships, in a way that [is] much more difficult to [do] when everyone is together. … There’s not a particular format that we’re following for the back eight.
Access: One of the things you guys had in the most recent episode was flashbacks, which we haven’t seen in a really long time. Whose idea was that?
Gale: It was discussion that [Executive Producer/Creator] Robert Kirkman and [EP/Showrunner] Scott Gimple had. It was something we were always planning to do, we just needed to find the right timing. I also think it can be frustrating if every episode has significant flashbacks and then it becomes a trope really, or a crutch, but I don’t think it’s the last of the flashbacks you’ll see.
Access: Now, obviously fans of the show would be curious if that could potentially mean the return of some of the beloved actors.
Gale: I can’t talk about that (laughs).
Access: What sort of challenges have been presented to the writers with everybody spread out? Does it make it tougher or does it make it more fun because everybody’s all over the place?
Gale: The great thing is that the show doesn’t follow a particular formula and even when [we were] in the prison we had forays out for supplies, we had some that were very prison-centric, but it is fun to have the time to get to know our characters better. This season we’ve really been able to delve more deeply into Tyreese, who is a character I’m particularly fond of. Obviously, Carl. We’ll get a great deal more insight into Beth as well.
Access: It looks like it is a Daryl/Beth episode this weekend. … What can you hint at about what’s coming up with them? I know the tagline is, ‘Sometimes all they have to guide them is hope.’
Gale: That’s another thing that’s very important is the characters who’ve chosen to survive. And that really is what you have to do every day is to make that choice, and Beth clearly was suicidal in Season 2. She’s come a long way. What is it going to be like now that she’s lost her father and she’s separated from her sister? Is she going to find the strength?
Access: Daryl had helped her out before. He’s sort of been someone she could lean on. Can we expect their relationship to deepen?
Gale: I think whenever you’re on the road and you’re isolated, that will bring out both the common ties that bind as well as the friction that develops from two people that might have very different values.
Access: One of the neat things about this season so far is that [Daryl’s growth]. We saw when you opened Season 4 that he had become a leader in the prison community. What kind of changes can we expect in him now that he is out in the wild?
Gale: That’s going to be something that’s going to be interesting to see. Clearly he’s one of the characters most suited to survive, especially survival on his own. Beth may be one that we would consider perhaps least well equipped, so that’s going to be a challenge. … We’re also going to see the impact of having lost everything on him, to lose that unit that became his surrogate family, to possibly feel somewhat responsible for not being able to prevent the loss of the prison.
Access: How soon can we expect to see Carol again? I know a lot of us miss her.
Gale: I can’t tell you when, I can just tell you that the Carol fans will be very happy fairly soon.
Access: Do you think she almost lucked out in a way, by being sent away several weeks or so before the attack on the prison?
Gale: Well, I don’t think being banished was ever a good thing. Did it mean that she was out of the firing zone? Yes. But at the same time, she may not even be aware that this went down. More than likely she’s not and surviving on your own — even as competent as she’s become — is always a challenge because no one has your back.
Access: [With everything that has happened], who is Rick at this point? Is he a different man?
Gale: I think that Rick has some challenges ahead, clearly. His relationship with his son, in the best of times, [is] fraught with difficulty. There’s a blame game going on I’m sure, and at the same time, Rick is made of very stern stuff. He’s gone to crazy town, he’s come back, and his will to live is driven very much by keeping his son alive and hoping that his baby daughter is out there safe and sound.
Access: Do you like the idea of Michonne, Rick and Carl being sort of a makeshift family? Whether there’s romantic stuff or not, she certainly serves as an adult figure who has a familial relationship with Carl.
Gale: Absolutely. That’s what I loved. We saw it develop in ‘Clear’ last season, in 312. … We saw her smile and joke, and I think we’ll get a sense that she’s very much changed now that she’s made that choice to come back. She saw the Ghost of Christmas Future in the walker herd. She does not want to become that.
Access: We’ve got seven more episodes to go this season. What kind of questions should we be asking ourselves as fans?
Gale: I think the question continues to be, ‘Who would you be in the zombie apocalypse?’ And we’ll be asking that question of all of our characters. How did the loss of the prison, the loss of loved ones, whatever form they may have taken — whether it’s separation or death — how does it affect them?
Access: Gale, who would you be in the apocalypse? Which of your characters do you most associate with?
Gale: Each season, each episode, it changes. Right now I think I’d want to be Michonne. [She is] great with a sword and she’s embraced her humanity.
Access: Who were you in Season 1?
Gale: I guess in Season 1, if I go back to my childhood, I was probably Carol in the sense that I was fairly meek and really didn’t speak up for myself and gradually started to change and become much more of a person who is capable of leading.
“The Walking Dead” continues Sunday night at 9 PM ET/PT on AMC.
-- Jolie Lash