It’s that time of year again for AMC to roll out another season of their hit zombie apocalypse show, The Walking Dead, and last night’s premiere did not disappoint. After seeing the first episode, and watching the Comic Con panel, trailer and interviews with the producer Scott Gimple and other creatives, we know a few key details about season 10. Negan’s out of prison, Daryl and Connie continue to develop their romance, Danai Gurira (Michonne) will be departing, there will be a time jump and the Whisperers are back. Behind the camera Angela Kang is back as the showrunner and composer Sam Ewing will be scoring the show with Bear McCreary. To learn more about what fans can expect musically from the upcoming season, we spoke with Sam about everything from why him and Bear are a great musical match to why Negan is his favorite character. Read the exclusive interview below.
How would you describe the score for Season 10 of The Walking Dead?
Raw, rustic and organic, if I had to pick a few words. The palette and voice of the score are a continuation of what Bear and showrunner, Angela Kang, established in season 9. It’s a bit of a throwback to the earlier seasons of TWD where you’d hear violin solos, guitars and small string ensembles. The score is kind of devolving into its organic and acoustic roots, much like the characters of the show have resorted to using windmills, waterwheels and horses.
You have worked with composer Bear McCreary on the show for many years, you have a new role this season. Can you tell us about that?
I’ve been a supportive figure for Bear on The Walking Dead since season 5, when I jumped in and helped out with logistical, managerial stuff and gradually increased my additional music contributions over the years. I think Bear wanted to honor the work I’ve put into the show and I’m thrilled to have my name next to his in a more official capacity for season 10. He’s one of the most talented guys in Hollywood right now, so it’s a dream come true for me. Angela has been very warm and welcoming as well and I just love getting to work with both of them.
How would you describe your personal musical style?
I’m classically trained music nerd meets synthesizer/noise freak. So, my first love is for orchestral music. This is why Bear and I are a great musical match. We both love orchestral music and deeply appreciate skilled writing and orchestration. However, I’m a bit more obsessed with tech and noise-making toys, so I might spend hours recording ambient violin loops and analog synth drones that are full of mistakes and weird artifacts, and then use those as musical backbones for pieces later.
How do you and Bear decide who is scoring what?
We both touch every episode. We sit down with Angela, the editor and the whole team, and decide as a group where music is going to go and how it’s going to function. Bear and I then throw out a bunch of ideas and see what sticks. Next we implement those onscreen in a musical and effective way we’re both happy with. Ultimately, of course we want the score to align with Angela’s vision of the show. Angela is not only an executive producer but this season marks her second season as showrunner. I really like how she ushered in the Whisperers story last year and am excited to see the rest of this season. We are on episode 6 now.
What is your favorite part of scoring The Walking Dead?
Sitting down with Bear and Angela and spotting the episodes, as described above, is my favorite part. I love interacting with these people and figuring out what the needs of the show are. At the end of the day we are sitting around a screen and imagining what we would like to happen, and then we part ways and make it happen. No other animal is capable of this kind of creative thinking, so it’s fun to tune in to those moments and enjoy the process. But more importantly, Angela and Bear have great ideas and very pure creative visions.
Do you have a favorite character on the show? If so, why is he/she your favorite?
I’ve got plenty, but I’ll go with Negan. He’s a deeply complicated character who has carried out the most gruesome acts of evil, like the dual-killings at the top of season 7. Yet at times you still manage to connect with him and feel sympathy for him as a viewer. I love characters who complicate your emotions like that. But most importantly, I feel that as a fan of the show, he still has so much potential in his storyline. I can’t wait to see where it goes.
Why do you think that The Walking Dead has lasted so long? Why do you think it resonates with fans/viewers so much?
I think for a few reasons: the show has sunk its claws into a vein of pop culture that really struck a chord with the world (i.e. zombie apocalypse), and at critical time in television history when the “golden era” began to crank out shows with incredibly high production value. But The Walking Dead caught its momentum before the era of “binge-worthy overnight sensations on Netflix” began taking over households, where now viewers have an ever-shortening attention span. I think the show is a tradition for many people. It also benefits from having great source material to work with, which itself draws many fans.
You scored The Walking Dead: Red Machete. Can you talk about your experience scoring that?
I scored this alongside Bear and my friend, Jason Akers. Avi Youabian, who was an editor on TWD for many years and eventually director, sought to direct the web-series and hired Jason and I after we scored his Amazon movie, Ghost Recon: War Within the Cartel. Avi really injected style into this thing and I was just so impressed. A series of 1 minute, dialogue-less episodes practically moved me to tears the first time I watched it. He’s got a really great sort of Tony Scott flare that is a dream to write music for. We borrowed a thread from the TWD main title, but otherwise, it’s just totally its own thing. That was a lot of fun.
Many thanks to Sam Ewing for taking the time for this interview.