Strolling into the hotly anticipated Season 3 finale of “The Walking Dead” Sunday night, perhaps the most moronic question any journalist could ask a cast or crew member of the hit AMC series is what’s going to happen next. That’s because if the show has proved anything, anybody can unceremoniously get killed off at any given moment, and the network has gone to great lengths to protect vital plot details.
The lid is kept so tight on “The Walking Dead” in fact, that cast members like Dallas Roberts, who plays the pivotal role of Milton Mamet, is kept in the dark. Even the shocking death and zombie transformation of Merle (Michael Rooker) came as a complete surprise to him.
“They keep the lid so tight that, since I wasn’t in the last night’s episode, I wasn’t sent the script,” Roberts told me in an interview Monday. “I eventually figured what had happened when I found pictures in the makeup trailer of Merle. That’s how I found out about it. I was like, ‘What?’ They know how to keep secrets over there.”
Roberts, 42, joined the cast of the show this season as Milton, an introverted scientist who conducts experiments on the walking dead for the Governor (David Morrissey), a charismatic, Jim Jones-type leader of Woodbury — a makeshift town that’s guarded by barriers and guns from the “biters” (the survivor group led by Rick, played by Andrew Lincoln, refers to the zombies as “walkers”).
The actor (pictured, above center, with Rooker, left, and Morrissey, right) is thrilled that audiences have embraced the newest cast members this year, as the show’s core cast has grown — and consequently thinned out — considerably from Season 1 to Season 3.
“It’s one of the amazing things about the big concept of the show, as you huddle together with as many people can find early on to try to determine what to do next. It would be terrible if the show were like ‘Friends’ in the zombie apocalypse, where you follow six people for 12 years,” Roberts said, laughing. “Plus, the introduction of Woodbury and a different set of survivors — that sort of dynamic has given the writers more latitude in terms of the kinds of stories they can tell. I’m never surprised when they do a smart thing. They’re good at what they do.”
Anybody who follows the show knows very well that Milton’s fate in hanging in the balance, as it didn’t look good for him in the eyes — make that eye — of the Governor nearly the conclusion of the episode before last. But teetering on the brink isn’t something new for Milton, Roberts said, given the storyline’s unpredictable nature.
“I receive the information about Milton episode by episode, the way the audience does,” said Roberts, who previously starred on CBS’ “The Good Wife.” “There was never a clear map from ‘here to there.’ It was like, ‘In the next episode he does this and the next episode he does that.’ It’s like you’re building a house, brick by brick.”
While Milton started the season firmly believing in the intentions of the Governor, the character has undoubtedly grown more wary of his boss and become more of a protagonist in the ensuing episodes as the embattled leader has reared his ugly head.
That’s not to say Milton was ever an antagonist, however. He was merely a person who thought he was contributing to a greater good, especially as a scientist who thought he could somehow reverse the biter metamorphosis after members of the town died.
“Once they got the walls up in Woodbury and got the supplies, got the water running and solar panels, it was a place where we were going to build society back from that base,” explained Roberts, a Houston native. “I think Milton dedicated himself to that idea, and was allowed a laboratory, although with crude equipment. Plus, he’s got some razors to keep himself shaved and fabric softener to keep himself clean.”
The turning point, of course, came when the Governor’s intentions were ferreted out by Michonne (Danai Gurira) and Andrea (Laurie Holden) — formerly of Rick’s survivor group — sending his thinly-veiled dictatorship into a tailspin.
Still with only one perspective, Roberts said, Woodbury residents like Milton really understood one thing and really couldn’t be held accountable for their actions.
“It’s been great to watch Morrissey play the Governor, and watch that sort of slow creep-in of madness,” Roberts said. “From our perspective on the Woodbury side, somebody from the outside came in, unprovoked and stabbed him in the eye and killed his kid (a biter he kept in a controlled environment) in front of him. So, from our perspective, they’re the bad guys.”
Perhaps the most interesting thing about Milton in the show is that, due to his extremely vulnerable nature, almost appears to be in fear more of the living – particularly the Governor — instead of the walking dead. It’s that particular wrinkle in his character that makes Milton such of an interesting character to play.
“I think it’s safe to say that Milton fears human interaction more than the walkers,” Roberts observed. “He’s just not a guy who’s not comfortable with himself in terms of relationships with other people. At the beginning of the season, it was very clear that he was like, ‘Keep your head down. Do what the Governor says and advise him.’ The role was really clear. But then Andrea comes and forces Milton to deal with her, and conversely, himself. It’s been a fun journey to take.”