The Walking Dead: New Showrunner Speaks

Season two is nearly here (it launches in the UK in October on FX) and Rob Power talks to new showrunner Glen Mazzara about the direction the show is taking

Any showrunner who takes over on an already established show is going to be exposed to close scrutiny from fans. Glen Mazzara has it more intense than most on The Walking Dead . Not only is he replacing the near-legendary Frank Darabont – big shoes to fill – but he’s also taken over under controversial circumstances. Nobody outside the immediate production is exactly sure of the circumstances, but Darabont and the studio bosses clearly had “creative differences” and the split wasn’t exactly amicable. Mazzara, who was Darabont’s right hand man, suddenly finds himself in a spotlight that must increasingly seem more like an interrogation lamp shining in his face. But he’s keen to assure fans that The Walking Dead season two is still infused with the spirit of Darabont, and that it’s going to deliver exactly the kind of stylish horror and human drama that the fans have come to expect.

SFX : How are you feeling about season two?

“I’m incredibly excited, we’ve just screened the 90 minute premiere episode for some critics in LA and New York, and there’s been an incredibly strong response, so today’s a very good day. I’m very happy with the reaction. That’s exactly what we wanted, and I think people realise that there’s a lot of great character development, more thrills, scares, a lot of drama. So I think it’s coming together quite nicely.”

SFX : Where does this season pick up? Does it follow on directly from the end of last season?

“It does. When we meet the group they’re in Atlanta preparing to leave the city, so I would say it’s perhaps a day or two after the ending of the previous season. What’s been interesting is that the Hershal Farm segment of the comic book I believe was only a few issues, and we’ve been able to mine it for many episodes. We’ve been able to discover new character dynamics and stories that can play out on that farm, so the way we’ve been approaching it is that Rick and his band are like a plague of locusts descending on poor Hershal’s farm. Hershal would be much better if they had never landed there. Scott Wilson is playing Hershal, Lauren Cohan is playing Maggie and they’ve done a terrific job of integrating into the cast.”

SFX : Will we see any more new characters that weren’t in the comic books this season?

“In the later part of the season we do introduce some new characters, who we’re just working on and developing now, so there will be. The only new characters we’re introducing right now are Hershal, Maggie and the people living on the farm, and so we didn’t want to bring on too many new characters because I believe our characters are so well defined, and it being an ensemble show, I didn’t want anyone getting lost in the shuffle.”

SFX : Were you a fan of the comics before you got involved in the show?

“Not at all. I had seen them, my friend was a fan, but when I wrote episode five of the first season I had not read the comics. I was hired as Frank Darabont’s number two for this season and started working on the show and still had not read any of the comics. So one day I was sitting with Robert Kirkman in the writers room – we were putting together pitches for the second season – and he said: ‘You haven’t read the comic book have you?’ I had to admit that I hadn’t, I was planning to but I hadn’t yet, because I was afraid it was infect my creative process. I was worried that I would then lean too heavily on the comic itself and not be able to step inside the world of the TV show and follow those characters and generate stories from within. So sometimes when I’m working on a project, I’ll sort of sit down taking in input from other creative sources so that I can just focus on my material at hand. So I had not read the comic book until season two when I was already working on the show for maybe a month or two.”

SFX : You mention working as Frank Darabont's number two – are you feeling the pressure, stepping up into the showrunner role?

“Of course. Frank is a huge talent, he treated me extremely well and was really a mensch to me. And, you know, I turned down other showrunning opportunities to be Frank’s number two, because I wanted to work with him and believed in the show that he was creating. So when I wrote my first episode last year, when I wrote episode five, that was great experience and I enjoyed working with Frank. We had met when I was on The Shield , and obviously I was a fan of his work, so now to be elevated to show runner after Frank Darabont – I’m certainly faced with the challenge of filling very, very large shoes. The way that I’ve approached that is to not try to do so. I feel it’s important for me to find my own voice on the show and to try and use the road map that Frank developed for the show, to stay true to his vision of the show. But as a writer I think the show would suffer and feel inauthentic if I was just trying to mimic Frank's voice. So I used his intention as a guidepost for the material we’re developing, but I certainly intend to do the best I can and trust myself as a writer”

SFX : How far into the production process were you when you had to step up to the show runner role?

“That’s a great question. We were shooting the fourth episode, and prepping the fifth episode, and we had scripts through to the seventh episode. We had delivered seven scripts before we started shooting, which was unprecedented in my experience. Frank had all of the writers write their drafts simultaneously, and then we tabled them and went through them together. This was after about a six week process of breaking the first part of the season. So we had a lot there, and I was very lucky that material was already there. We had talked about the arcs of the back part of the season, and some of that stuff was more developed than other material, but really I’ve had to work with the writers and start filling in all of the holes for the back part of the season.

“It’s been a very, very interesting process; there have been times when I’ve wanted to deviate from Frank’s material, but I didn’t necessarily think that deviation would be better, so I deferred to Frank’s vision and kept what was there. In a few instances I did deviate from when material was already written, but I only deviated if I felt very, very strongly about it and thought that it would generate more story, thought that it was good for the show. I never change things just for the sake of changing things just to put my stamp on the show. I tried to be very respectful of the work that Frank had done.”

SFX : Did you have any indication before Frank went that you were going to have to step up into that role, or did it come as a surprise?

“It was a surprise to all of us. Frank is a large personality, and a celebrity writer/director, and I just never thought that someone of that stature could be replaced. The cast and crew has been incredibly supportive; I find the writing staff to be absolutely terrific; we have fantastic directors and a wonderful set of producers. You know, there was no sea change necessary. There was an infrastructure in place trying to execute Frank’s fully articulated vision of the show, so I would have had to work against a lot of people to screw up the show! I was very lucky on that front.”

SFX : Did you have any indication as to why he left?

“Well, I’ll say this: I’m happy to say that Frank was very good to me and I enjoyed working with Frank, and I’m happy to say AMC has been good to me and I enjoy working with AMC. I don’t want to speculate about people’s personal business, I’m afraid that would be inappropriate.”

Oh, and did we mention … The Walking Dead season two premieres in the UK in October on FX