The Walking Dead: When The Dead Come Knocking

Until now, the third season of “The Walking Dead” has been structured as two parallel stories: Rick and his crew at the prison, and the Governor and his crew at Woodbury.  In last week’s Hounded, that boundary was finally broken. Tonight, in When the Dead Come Knocking, these two worlds are irreversibly careening towards one another and inevitable conflict.

The series is beginning to branch off into unexplored territory. The score, too, makes an unexpected departure tonight, by introducing a relentless synthesizer pulse as a new layer of The Governor’s Theme.  Hear it in action in tonight’s video blog:

Sampled, synthesized and otherwise manipulated sounds have been an essential ingredient in my “Walking Dead” score from the beginning.  However, this is the first time that I’ve brought one of these elements to the forefront like this.

The sound was achieved by layering several software synthesizers with metered LFOs (low-frequency oscillators) controlling, among other variables, a wide filter. Perhaps I’ll get into more detail in a future blog entry, but for now, think of an LFO as a parameter in a synthesizer that can be repeated in any pattern. By assigning LFOs to various filters, I was able to achieve the unique “wow”-ing pulse sound in the low register. Other parameters were used to create jagged subdivisions in the upper frequencies.

This synth pulse is a sound that I made entirely from scratch, starting with square and sine waves, building up layers of activity.  I probably spent a full day designing this sound before I actually composed a note of music.  That’s not because the process is hard, it was simply outside my area of expertise.  I owe an enormous debt of gratitude to my frequent collaborator Jonathan Snipes, who invested the time to teach me the basics of synthesis.

The details of how I synthesized that sound are not as important as the thematic usage of that sound and what it implies for the future. The pulse weaves throughout the entire closing sequence of the episode, but it makes its strongest statement during the last shot of the Governor. As we stare into his eyes, terrified at the thoughts lurking behind them, the synthesizer pulse pounds into our brains, forever connecting this musical idea to him.

The pulse is now a permanent part of the Governor Theme.  It represents the inner-most regions of his psyche, that he tries to keep hidden from the rest of the world. In coming episodes, we will see more of what lies inside this man. The synthesizer pulse will augment his journey.

There are also lovely emotional scenes in this episode, giving me the chance to expand upon the subtle character themes I’ve written. Rick and his crew say their goodbyes and set out to rescue Glenn and Maggie. This scene has a lot of weight to it. They all know they’re heading off on a dangerous mission, and that its possible they won’t all return. The audience knows, even better than they, the dangers they face.

The producers and I agreed the score shouldn’t underline the external threat. This cue is emotional, almost romantic, and plays against the sense of dread. It allows us this one final breath, to connect with these characters and feel their deep bonds, before we venture out into the figurative and literal wild.

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I’ve been so busy lately that I haven’t had a chance to blog as much about “The Walking Dead” as I’d like. There have been some exciting musical sequences in the past two episodes. I’m going to hop back in time and touch on just a few of my favorite pieces:

“Say The Word”

The festival celebrations in the streets of Woodbury featured live musicians jamming in the streets in the background. We see them on camera early in the episode and hear them again during the important scene where Andrea and Michonne finally part ways. I produced these two folksy blues pieces that were composed by my brother, Brendan McCreary. Since I don’t play guitar, I relied on Brendan’s great blues sensibility. And here’s a fun little trivia fact for you: the down-home harmonica solo is performed by Steve Bartek, who normally plays electric banjo for this score. He also played guitar for Oingo Boingo and flute for Strawberry Alarm Clock.  Is there nothing Steve can’t do??

The other knock-out scene was the end, when Daryl places the Cherokee Rose at the grave site.  This elegantly shot scene is completely free of dialog, and provided the perfect opportunity to play the deep sadness he feels at losing Carol.  The haunting violin and viola solos here were performed by Michael Beach, whose Kentucky roots are clearly on display with his folk-inspired double-stops and pitch bends.

“Hounded”

The closing scenes of last week’s episode feature some incredibly powerful moments, including Rick bonding with his infant daughter and Daryl finding Carol. For this sequence, I composed one of the most beautiful string pieces I’ve ever written: a gentle chorale of contrapuntal moving lines, scored for our small string orchestra.  Each line is equally important: there really isn’t a melody or theme to draw your attention. Yet, the interweaving lines form an emotional backdrop for these scenes as they unfold.

At the end of sequence, Rick is drawn to the outer fence by a mysterious figure.  As he walks, leaving the stability of his new family behind him, the emotional strings drift away.  Gradually, a bizarre tense cloud of dissonant clusters crescendos and peaks as we reveal Michonne, standing freely amongst the walkers while holding a basket of baby formula.

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Sadly, only one more episode remains for this year.  Last year, “The Walking Dead” set a pretty high bar for jaw-dropping mid-season finales.  Nevertheless, I promise you won’t be disappointed.

-Bear