Welcome to Zombieville: A Chat with The Walking Dead Writer John Esposito

By , Contributor

Courtesy of Generate and AMC

The Walking Dead webisodes' Lilli Birdsell (Hannah) and director Greg Nicotero

In anticipation of the 90-minute second season premiere of AMC’s hit horror series The Walking Dead (Sunday, October 16 @ 9:00 p.m. EST/PST), the network is whetting fans’ appetites with a special six-episode web series debuting Monday, October 3 @ 2:00 p.m. EST on AMC's web site.

These webisodes will delve into the back story of Hannah (Lilli Birdsell), better known as “Bicycle Girl,” a face very familiar to fans of The Walking Dead. She was shot by Rick Grimes (Andrew Lincoln) in the show’s pilot episode and became one of the more recognized “walkers” in season one. Writer John Esposito penned this six-part saga, which looks at Hannah’s post-apocalypse life as well as her struggle to protect herself along with her family before tragically sliding down that slippery slope and winding up a zombie.

Having written screenplays for the feature films Tale of the Mummy and Stephen King’s Graveyard Shift along with episodes of Masters of Horror and the animated TV series Teen Titans and Legion of Super Heroes, Esposito was invited by The Walking Dead special make-up effects supervisor/consulting producer/second unit director Greg Nicotero to come join him in “zombieville.”

“I received a phone call from Greg saying there was a possibility that he’d be doing a Walking Dead web series and would I be interested in writing one for him to direct,” recalls the writer. “I jumped at the chance. As it turned out, AMC asked Greg to direct all six; check out his short film 'United Monster Talent Agency' and you’ll see why. It’s brilliant.

“I did an outline based on Greg’s concept and ended up getting the job for all six webisodes. Greg and I have been friends for 25 years. We’re both ‘monster boomers’ who were weaned on Famous Monsters [magazine] and Aurora model kits, and at this point we have an almost supernatural shorthand. That was a great advantage with this, since the scripts had to be written quickly.

“When it comes to prep, I re-watched the first season of the show and read through some of the early comics again. The heavy lifting had already been done, though, by those who came before us, starting with George Romero, and, of course, Robert Kirkman [The Walking Dead comic book writer/TV series executive producer], the current master. So it became a matter of staying within the guidelines of that universe.”

As the writer points out, George Romero started it all when he co-wrote and directed the 1968 classic hypothetical zombie apocalypse film Night of the Living Dead. Both The Walking Dead TV series and webisodes follow in those famous footsteps, and with that comes a variety of creative hurdles that need to be cleared in order to draw an audience in.

“Writing horror is always a challenge because, as genre fans, we’ve seen it all, particularly with zombies,” explains Esposito. “How do you surprise an audience inundated with 40-plus years of zombie movies, books, comics and video games? And with The Walking Dead, the bar has been set very high.

“We didn’t have the show’s budget or schedule [for the webisodes]. Fortunately, however, what we did have was Greg Nicotero. He wanted to tell a human story. The great special effects would be there, too, of course, but the human drama is what drives the show as well as the comics, and we tried to remain true to that spirit. The idea is that each and every walker had a life before they turned. In this case, a woman named Hannah wakes up to a living nightmare. The world she once knew is dying.

“Hannah’s back story expanded naturally from that initial concept, which was to have a woman waking up from a car crash, her kids mysteriously missing from the backseat - a mother’s ultimate nightmare. From there, you start asking questions: Who is Hannah? How did she get there? Where is she going?”

Unlike some writers, Esposito had the opportunity to see firsthand his words being lifted from the written page and brought to life by the webisodes’ cast and crew. “I was there for the entire shoot, thanks to Greg as well as the producers at Generate and AMC, and also served as a consulting producer on the webisodes,” he says. “It was first class treatment all the way - truly some of the best people I’ve ever had the privilege of working with.

“I’m very happy with the results, as is Greg. I truly hope that the fan base gets a kick out of it. Think of the webisodes as an appetizer,” teases Esposito, “with the main course being the second season. Bon appetit!”

Please note, all photos above courtesy of Generate and AMC.

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A native of Massachusetts, Steve Eramo has been a Sci-Fi fan since childhood, having been brought up on such TV shows as Star Trek and Space: 1999. He is also an Anglophile and lover of British TV. A writer for 35 years – 17 of those as a fulltime freelancer – Steve has had over 2,500 feature-length…

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