There is no denying that The Walking Dead has a fan base like no other show right now, hence the announcement there is going to be a second spinoff coming in spring 2020 alongside Fear the Walking Dead. Fans have been reeling all summer from the Comic-Con announcement that Danai Gurira would be departing and this week the wait is finally over, as fans watched the premiere episode of her last season. Another change to Season 10, composer Sam Ewing will be scoring the series alongside Bear McCreary. Below, Sam gives fans a glimpse into his background and goes more in depth about his musical contributions to Season 10 of the show.
You are co-composing Season 10 of The Walking Dead with Bear McCreary. What does your collaboration with him look like?
Sam Ewing: Bear and I score every episode together. We sit down with the showrunner, Angela Kang for each and decide as a group how music will function and where it will go. It being Season 10 and having watched Bear successfully navigate through leadership changes and shifts in the sound of the score, I listen to what he has to say as much as I can. He’s full of brilliant and ideas and I think we work well together on TWD because I can take these ideas and implement them onscreen in an effective and musical way. We’ve been refining this process between us for about 6 years and truly share a similar musical vision and aesthetic. It’s why we’re a good match.
Before you started working on The Walking Dead were you a fan of the show?
Sam Ewing: I was! I remember when I was in college, I would fire up Season 1 on my laptop in between work-study shifts. I thought it was so fresh to have a gritty zombie apocalypse show shot on 16mm film, with Bernard Herrmann-esque style string ensembles in the score. But I never would have imagined I’d be scoring it alongside Bear 10 years later. I’m very fortunate.
The Walking Dead is based on comics by Robert Kirkman, Tony Moore, and Charlie Adlard. Do you look at the comics before working on the shows? If not, what sort of preparation do you do before working on the episodes?
Sam Ewing: I do read the comics. They’re of course iconic unto themselves and they’re heaping with information and storylines that are just really enjoyable and lay the foundation of the TWD universe for me as a fan. That being said, once we’re sitting in front of footage and it’s time to score an episode, I find it’s best to react to what’s in front of us and not think too hard about the comics. Maybe they inform the overall tone, but it’s a different medium and the filmmakers are saying something that often looks and feels like its own thing. We just make the show the best it can possibly be and let the comic-reading subconscious do its thing.
What has been your personal favorite episode you have contributed music to?
Sam Ewing: SEASON 9 SPOILERS AHEAD. Since I’m going to avoid the unaired S10 for now, I’ll go back in time. I wasn’t co-composing Season 9 but I contributed additional music to it. Episode 9x15 was great because it was so dramatic thanks to the number of deaths and the violent nature of the heads on the spikes - of course paying homage to the comics. The montage sequence at the end gave a great opportunity for music to say something dramatic, horrifying, and tragic, and let it led. These are often the most enjoyable moments for we composers - we get to really sink our teeth in and let our hard work be heard. I also loved 9x01 because I played the solo fiddle part in the opening. That really embodies the voice of the score in S9 and S10 - sparse, organic, slightly western in flavor.
It was announced that Thora Birch has been cast as Gamma, a member of the Whisperers. Is her character going to get her own theme?
Sam Ewing: Without giving any spoilers or character clues via “thematic real estate,” I’ll echo that she’s a member of the Whisperers. The Whisperers have an existing theme that we’re all quite fond of, so it’s going to be exciting to weave it in and out of their story and branch off and develop Gamma’s story alongside it. Fans will have to wait and see how things land musically and if Gamma gets her own theme, or if her thematic DNA will stay tied to the Whisperers and develop from there.
For Season 10 are you and Bear experimenting with anything new, musically?
Sam Ewing: I think Season 10 is effectively an extension and development of what Bear and Angela established in Season 9. We’re developing the “western” flavors a bit, so fans should keep an ear out for Sergio Leone-esque guitar colors, acoustic guitars, electric basses, violins, vintage reverbs and broken sounding analog synths. We believe the score should be able to be performed by a theoretical band in the show with instruments and parts they’ve found lying around in the world. It’s all in a conceptual effort to embody both the de-evolution of society and the re-embracing of older forms of innovation. For the characters, it’s windmills and radios, and for us it’s fiddles and guitars.
Michael Cudlitz, who also plays Abraham Ford on the series, is directing episode 3 this season. How involved was he musically with the episode? Or does the main direction come from the showrunner?
Sam Ewing: As a fan, I wish we had a chance to pick Michael’s brain for 10x3! However, it’s pretty rare that we interact with the directors on TWD, who in this case are usually out shooting in Georgia. An exception might be if they’re a double-duty editor, like Dan Liu was in Season 9. That being said, Angela Kang has a wonderful sense of vision and tone for the show that Bear and I are thrilled to latch onto. I feel fortunate to get to work with her.
In a few words how would you characterize The Walking Dead score?
Sam Ewing: Organic, raw, gritty, sparse, and slightly Western.