(CNN) -- Watching the season 4 premiere of The Walking Dead, it was easy to imagine you had fallen into a Rick Grimes-esque coma and missed a few shows. When did Andrew Lincoln's much-tortured cop become so handy with a hoe? When was David Morrissey's depth perception-challenged maniac The Governor going to make an appearance? And, perhaps most bewilderingly, when did it become okay for Carol to call Daryl "Pookie"?
To address these questions — and many more! — we spoke with Walking Dead comic writer and Walking Dead TV show executive producer Robert Kirkman.
Entertainment Weekly: How much time has gone by in-between the end of season 3 and the start of season 4?
Robert Kirkman: We say "a few months." Some people think a few is two, some people think a few is three. It's a vague answer.
EW: What's up with Rick and the gardening?
Kirkman: Well, we like to change things up. I have to say that is my favorite opening of any season thus far — just the fact that it's the Walking Dead but it's about a guy who comes out and starts hoeing a garden. I was thrilled about that from the moment that (Walking Dead showrunner) Scott Gimple suggested it.
We always like coming in and showing that there's been a passage of time and these aren't the exact same characters that we last saw. I've always been willing to push the envelope with that. I feel that's a really cool thing to do, to come in and reintroduce the show to people, and set the stage for all the new things that are going to be coming. The fact that every season of the Walking Dead has been somewhat different thematically has been a really cool evolution and is something we hope to continue every season.
EW: What would you say is this season's theme?
Kirkman: It's a lot of what comes from that woman [in the woods] in the first episode: It's "Aren't these people too far gone?" And "Can these people retain a little bit of humanity?" We're going to be dealing with those questions a lot more intensely than we have thus far on the show. It's all about Rick coming from this place where he kind of went off the deep end in season 3. Rick feels like he failed at everything he was trying to do and so this is him trying a different path and seeing if he can make that work.
EW: Maybe this a foolish thing to say based on having just seen the premiere. But this was the first ever Walking Dead show I couldn't at least roughly place in the chronology of the comic. Have you made a decisive break with that mythology?
Kirkman: There's a lot of new elements at play here but we're definitely still dealing with a lot of things from the comic book. You'll see, starting with the second episode, there's some very big moments from the comic book that are being worked in in a different way. There will always be moments where you're like, "Oh, that's exactly like the comic book!" A lot of that stuff is coming up in future episodes.
EW: I'm not a doctor — I just play one on TV — but I'm assuming there's some sort of nasty, swine flu-type virus abroad in the prison.
Kirkman: Well, it's definitely some kind of nasty illness. Something that can make a guy go from cough-cough-I'm-not-feeling-well-can-I-go-lay-down? to essentially bleeding out in the shower after a few hours is something on the swine flu level — possibly a little bit more deadly.
EW: And that kid Patrick coughed all over the water supply!
Kirkman: Well, that shower water supply is fairly contained. That's like a bag that they fill up. I don't know how this works, I'm getting a little too technical here. All the water is contaminated! It's very dangerous! Be careful!
EW: What did you name your family pig when you were a child?
Kirkman: [Laughs] I find it offensive that you think because I'm from Kentucky I grew up with pigs. But "Samuel" is the answer.
EW: Presumably Michonne is hunting the Governor, right?
Kirkman: Yes, that is who she is after. The story there is that, after the events of season 3 and the death of Andrea, Michonnne and Daryl spent some time out in the wilderness looking for the Governor and eventually Daryl decided, "Look, this is a futile effort and we're not going to find this person." And Michonne kept it up.
EW: She's heading to Macon. Is there any chance of her catching an Allman Brothers Band show while she's there?
Kirkman: We can only hope that they are still performing shows. If that's where the Governor is and that's what she's doing I don't know how Michonne's going to handle that. She's gonna want to watch the show, she's gonna want to get revenge. She'll be be torn.
EW: Here's a question you're not going to answer: How long before we see the Governor?
Kirkman: [Laughs] Is this the question your boss makes you ask?
EW: No one's the boss of me!
Kirkman: He's definitely going to appear at some point this season. It's possible there are elements of his return that have already been set up in some ways you might not have noticed. But when he returns it will be at a time when you least expect it.
EW: Is Woodbury now a ghost town?
Kirkman: That will be dealt with in an upcoming episode.
EW: The zombie hanging from the store ceiling by his intestines was a very nice touch.
Kirkman: Look, if they ever need to rappel down something they're able to do that.
EW: On the other hand, I'm not very happy with anyone referring to Daryl as "Pookie."
Kirkman: [Laughs] Yeah, Norman asked for that. He makes everyone on set call him Pookie. We worked that into the show.
EW: Judging from the premiere, I got the impression you will be exploring the character of Beth more this season than you have done previously.
Kirkman: I think that to a certain extent we will be exploring all characters more than we have. This show has been doing a lot of world-building for the first three seasons. Now that we've got that out of the way, this season we're going to be intensely focused on the characters themselves. You'll learn a lot more about Beth, you'll learn a lot more about Daryl, you'll learn a lot more about Rick. We're going to be doing a lot of character work this season.
EW: You're both world-building and empire-building. What's the status of the Walking Dead spin-off show?
Kirkman: It's currently, quote unquote, "in development" so there's not really a lot to say about that. But I can say that it's going to be awesome!