Robert Kirkman on 'Walking Dead' Season 4's Theme: Can They Maintain Their Humanity?

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As "The Walking Dead" prepared to dominate Comic-Con this weekend (much like it dominated the TV season this year), "Dead" creator Robert Kirkman chatted with Yahoo! TV for a state-of-the-Kirkman-universe update, including his feelings about the 10th anniversary of the franchise, the big story arc premiering in the comic series in October, the third and final Governor novel, and, of course, what lies ahead for Rick Grimes and company when the AMC series returns for Season 4 on October 13.

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That just-announced premiere date will kick off 16 new episodes of the series, with eight airing in the fall, and the final eight premiering in February 2014. "The Walking Dead" will continue to be followed by the Chris Hardwick-hosted aftershow, "Talking Dead."

Meanwhile, a multicover Entertainment Weekly cover story reveals Rick has stepped down as leader of the survivors in favor of a committee that will rule the prison dwellers instead, while the survivors will continue to face even bigger swarms of zombies and a new threat that "is something you can't just stab in the face," according to new series showrunner Scott Gimble. "It would be a threat in any world, but in this world it is much more terrifying." Hmmm … sounds like some sort of virus, perhaps?

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In addition, Rick's prison group still faces the threat of the Governor's return, and, as Kirkman tells Yahoo! TV, now that the survivors have started to really get the hang of walker battling, they're about to turn their focus to bigger-picture matters next season. Like, have they, or can they, continue to maintain their humanity amid everything they've seen and done?

Watch the Season 4 trailer of "The Walking Dead":

Just looking down the list of everything you're producing and have in development, we feel like we should be asking you when you're opening the Robert Kirkman School of Time Management.

(Laughing) I feel like I should be taking classes in that, not teaching classes at that. I'm a bit of a basket case. I have no idea how it all comes together … terrifying depending on how you look at it.

Congratulations on the "Walking Dead" 10th anniversary. What would you have said to someone if they had told you a decade ago what a huge pop culture hit this universe you created would become?

I probably would have called them a liar. I certainly didn't set out to do this, and I never thought that this would be possible. It's strange — it doesn't even really seem like 10 years has gone by to me. For the book to have existed for 10 years and for it to be as popular as it is, as popular as it's ever been, on its 10th anniversary, I think is a really remarkable thing. I just feel really lucky to have gotten here, and honestly, I don't know what happened.

[Photo: Check Out the Season 4 Poster for 'The Walking Dead']

It's no small thing that even viewers who don't usually like zombie stories love "The Walking Dead." Do you try to figure out what the one thing is that draws so many different people to the show?

I don't think it can be boiled down to one thing, or else I'd be pushing that button every minute of every day on everything I do. I think that this is a story of the human struggle for survival, something that we all experience in varying degrees every day of our lives. I think that makes it a very relatable story that's set against a backdrop that's superinteresting, which is flesh eating monsters trying to kill you … it's telling very human, very grounded stories that everyone can relate to in the most fantastical, entertaining, unrelatable, bizarre way possible.

You were a freelancer at one point; it must be especially gratifying now that you not only have your own imprint, Skybound, but you're able now to help other storytellers launch their comics.

It's definitely a good thing. I like to say I use my powers for good. (Laughing) I'm very mindful of where I came from and what that part of my career was like and how stressful it was. If there is anything I can do with Skybound to ease the mind of a freelancer or shine the light on somebody who is extremely talented and needs to have a spotlight shone on them, I'm definitely happy to do that. It is something that I'm proud of. I think that Skybound as a company does a lot of good for a lot of people and also produces some really cool comics and merchandise and all kinds of other cool stuff, and it also will help me put my kids through college. My kids are very young. College is going to get very expensive when they get older. It's good to know that I'm chipping away at that now so that I won't be destitute later.

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Jumping to specific projects, production on Season 4 of "The Walking Dead" TV show is under way. What will be the overall theme of the next season?

We're really focusing a bit on maintaining [the characters'] humanity in the face of all this and seeing how these characters will still remain human after everything that they've lived through … whether or not the events of the show are getting them to a point where they're too far gone or they can't actually live a normal life. I think we're pushing the boundaries in a lot of ways, and if anything, the theme of this new season will be, how do we continue to survive, and how do we continue to maintain our humanity?

Survival will always be an issue for them, obviously, but can they get to a point where they can start to think about actually rebuilding a society, not just surviving the situation they're in now?

Anyone who reads the comic book series knows that that's eventually where it gets to. You reach a point where you've gotten the whole survival thing down, and now you have to figure out a way to live. I think we're just now beginning to chip away at the corner of that iceberg that's just poking up out of the surface in Season 4. That's really a big part of the show moving forward in Season 4 and beyond.

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In the "Walking Dead" comics, a new arc, "All at War," starts in October … the arc finds various groups of survivors at war with each other?

Yeah, now that survival is not really the main goal for these people, Rick and his group have kept their own little pocket of civilization where they live, and they're safe, and they interact with these other groups. There's this fourth group, the Saviors, and they are this huge threat that's on the horizon. There are three other groups of people saying, "Hey, let's get rid of this threat so we can all live in peace." They all go to war. It's really about getting to a point in the comic book series where survival is something that they're good at, but now, in order to continue surviving, they actually have to go and do battle and have strategy and outsmart other humans on a grand scale, on a scale that's never really been attempted before in a comic book series. ["All at War"] will be 12 issues, and they'll run over seven months. We're actually putting the comic book out faster during the series.

And what about the third novel in the Governor trilogy, "The Fall of the Governor"? Is that coming this year?

Yeah, that's still on the slate for October. I think Jay Bonansinga is working on finishing up his work on that, and then we'll be putting that out very soon.

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You're developing the "Thief of Thieves" comic as an AMC series, and the upcoming exorcism themed comic you're doing will also be developed for TV with AMC. Which will come first there, the comic or the series?

The comic first. That's still on the horizon. I haven't really spoken a lot about that. The "Thief of Thieves" [series] is in development, and that's ending up being a longer process than I think anybody would want it to be, but "The Walking Dead" show took five years to get on the air. These things do take time, but [they're] both still very much in progress.

Season 4 of "The Walking Dead" premieres Sunday, 10/13 at 9 PM on AMC.

Check out photos from "The Walking Dead" 10th Anniversary Celebration Event at Comic-Con:

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