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It's well-known that on long-running successful shows, the salaries of key actors can cause an ultimately self-defeating situation (i.e. eventually even the most successful shows have to pay their cast so much money it becomes uneconomical -- cf. TNG and Friends).

In season 6 of The Walking Dead, we have a number of simultaneous plotlines playing out in separate episodes. This means that many key characters do not appear in several episodes:

For example, the following main characters appear:

  • episode 1 - all
  • episode 2 - Maggie, Eugene, Carl, Carol, Morgan, Gabriel
  • episode 3 - Rick, Michonne, Glenn, Daryl, Sasha, Abraham
  • episode 4 - Morgan (and Eastman) only, well plus Tabitha
  • episode 5 - Rick, Maggie, Carl
  • episode 6 - Daryl, Sasha, Abraham
  • episode 7 - everyone except Daryl, Sasha, and Abraham
  • episode 8 - everyone except Daryl, Sasha, and Abraham

The difference is that we have a series of episodes rotating among different cast, some of them overlapping in time, in which the other characters do not appear at all. In particular, Rick did not appear in three episodes, which seemed unusual to me personally.

So, how much of this style was motivated by cost savings?

This is significantly different from the previous five seasons, where, even with just as many cast members, the episode would jump around among the cast even when they were separated, except for pehaps an episode here or there. Here we have at leave five episodes in a row focusing on only a small subset of the cast. Actors generally are paid by the episode, and only for the episodes in which they appear.

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    It maybe a cost issue, but it may also be the fact that at least 12 main characters. Being forced to feature them all in every episode would hamper the story telling more so than splitting it up in my opinion. – Rigas Nov 17 '15 at 7:56
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    A salary can defeat itself? – Paul D. Waite Nov 17 '15 at 8:50
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    @Rigas, that may be, but everyone is missing the point that the other five seasons weren't like this except for an episode here or there perhaps. – ThePopMachine Nov 17 '15 at 14:58
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    Come on, @Praxis, show me the evidence and stick it to the downvoters. :) – ThePopMachine Nov 17 '15 at 15:00
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    @Taladris: You are entitled. I just question whether "is answerable" is the right metric, particularly because it is proven over and over again that many questions are only "unanswerable" until they are suddenly answered. And the content of the answers should not be what affects votes on questions. – ThePopMachine Nov 18 '15 at 0:08
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Maybe

It's true, actors in US television are paid per episode, not per season.

So, it is conceivable that actors may not be scheduled to appear in every episode of Season 6 as a means of lowering episode costs.

According to this article regarding Rick's hand,

The series has previously stated that the special effects needed would be too expensive to have the lead character lose a hand.

Certainly, costs are a concern at this point. Whether or not actors' salaries are preventing them from having the special effects they want, and whether or not actors' salaries are preventing them from having the entire cast appear in every episode, are matters of pure speculation.

It's not exactly the kind of thing the producers will wish to comment on directly at this stage, and it can always be spun as a creative decision — after the show has wrapped up and people start analyzing what could have or should have been done with TWD, statements of a more direct nature will be made by the producers and actors.

  • That's a lame answer for Rick's hand, after what they did for Hershel's leg. Something tells me they just wanted to spotlight characters and hold off on revealing that you-know-who is still alive. – Slacklord the Terrible Nov 17 '15 at 17:28
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    @Axelrod -- not really, Herschel was never very active, and he didn't last for very long. It's a lot easier to deal with green screen or a buried leg when someone is planting seeds or sitting around vs. routinely killing zombies. Plus there's the issue of raw screen time. – ThePopMachine Nov 17 '15 at 17:31
  • @ThePopMachine My only point was that it was very cheaply done. The effect would be the same as if Rick started wearing a jacket and just kept his hand (with some bandage tape on the end) in his sleeve. – Slacklord the Terrible Nov 17 '15 at 17:45
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    @Axelrod: That wouldn't be very convincing and it would be viewed as lowering the production quality. – ThePopMachine Nov 17 '15 at 18:03
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Apologies for the link, but these would all be gossip/entertainment sites anyway:

http://www.vulture.com/2011/08/walking_dead_frank_darabont_1.html

The Walking Dead is AMC's biggest show, but it's also expensive. According to THR, the network slashed episode budgets from $3.4 million to $2.75 million for the second season, and execs asked Darabont to move more episodes indoors and keep zombies off-screen to save on makeup costs. Darabont, who is himself an expensive talent from the feature-film world, refused to cut corners.

Cost is always an issue with a television show, but in the case of The Walking Dead it has been a problem since the beginning.

AMC is willing to do nearly anything (except let this show be gobbled up by another network) to be as miserly as possible. Including nuking the talent that made it such a hit that first season.

This has not changed to any great degree since. Costs have only gone up (despite any measures taken).

While it's impossible at this point in time to answer whether season 6 is specifically driven by cost control, in general this is true and your hypothesis can't be ruled out. If writers were to come out with the truth (that plot devices were kaboshed, that shooting locations were ruled out, etc) they'd probably be fired. So don't expect many details any time soon.

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