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Laurie Holden, who plays the oft-reviled Andrea, says that the protracted character arc of a TV show allows her to explore human behavior in a complex and honest way, even if that also means one that’s less sympathetic as well.

“Because it’s a survival show, this is an exploration of humanity, and you don’t always behave your best,” Holden says. “Andrea was hated on the show -- for a while, she was the Number One person people wanted to see eaten by a zombie. But you just have to trust the process, that you can go from suicide to strength and the journey throughout it.

"Sometimes you’re the most hated character on the show, and other times people are rooting and hoping you get out of the woods,” she observes. “So it’s mercurial and an ever-changing process, and we’re ever-changing as humans, I guess.”

Walking Dead 7

On Killing Off Characters

On a show where the threat of zombies is everywhere, equally constant is the possibility that any character could fall victim to an attack from the undead. Mazzara says that although he and the writers want to keep viewers on their toes, they don’t merely knock off characters in order to be sensationalistic.

“It’s something we take very seriously,” he insists. “People become very close to these characters, we care about the characters, and it becomes difficult when you call and actor and say, 'I’m sorry but we’ve got to blow up your character.' But we’ve got to do what’s right for the show, and people do expect the fact that no one’s safe.

“There’s a version of this show that you watch and say, 'Oh, they’re not going to kill that character -- they wouldn’t do that.’ That happens a lot on TV. I don’t think that’s this show. I think we make bold choices and we take it very seriously.”

Glen Mazzara and Gale Anne Hurd
Jordin Althaus Glen Mazzara and Gale Anne Hurd

Zombie Metaphors

Notwithstanding their encroaching presence as a physical foe, zombies have long existed as a metaphor for various larger themes -- the numbing effect of widespread commercialism, for example, or a physical manifestation of cultural forces that people feel like they cannot escape. Gurira admits that she sometimes draws upon real-world issues to find a throughline for her character’s behavior and motivations.

“I like to function from a macro level and then go micro,” she says. “Sometimes it makes it feel more familiar to me. One of the things that really connected me to the world in preparation for my audition, when I was watching it, it reminded me of the Liberian war zone because that was one I was familiar with from researching it as a playwright. When I can attach that to something in my own humanity, then I can bring that to the dynamic on the page.”

While it seems as if there are ever more monsters representing audiences’ fears and concerns on the small screen, Holden thinks that zombies have a special place in our culture because they offer a physical embodiment of often intangible concerns, allowing viewers to vicariously escape -- or even destroy those forces that oppress them in their own lives. “I do think it is in the zeitgeist right now because the economy is so bad,” Holden says. “The reason this is such a phenomenon worldwide is because there are relevant things here, and we are surviving.

“Zombies are a metaphor for that. It’s something tangible that people can latch onto right now and it’s real. There are so many unknowns that we’re living with, so it’s entertaining to look at zombies and say, okay, we know what it is -- it has a face to it. And I think people can relate to the primal aspects of it, because I think we’re getting kind of primal ourselves.

"Things are breaking down universally,” she acknowledges. “And then there’s those cute zombies that are so entertaining.”