Q&A with The Walking Dead's Showrunner Glen Mazzara
In anticipation of tonight's season finale of AMC's "The Walking Dead", Dread Central recently had the opportunity to take part in a conference call with showrunner Glen Mazzara, who chatted about what you can expect from tonight's episode, Season 3, and more about the virus itself.
Check out some of the highlights from the conference call below- be warned, though; there are SPOILERS ahead if you haven't watched the last few episodes.
Question: We've seen the death of some pretty major characters: Shane, who dies very early on in the comic book, and Dale, who survives quite a long time. How much do you feel at this point it's important to connect to the comic, or do you feel like at this point you're just completely, you know, away from that source of material?
Glen Mazzara: Yes, that's a great question, thank you. You know, there are characters (or) stories that are in Robert Kirkman's book that we're excited about writing for Season 3 and seasons beyond so we take that material as inspiration, but we have to put our own twist on it. So we do our own thing - Robert, you know, is here, we're all fans of the book and Robert is obviously an executive producer and writer on the show so he's involved in all these creative decisions. And we're all excited about writing this material so I think one of the things that I really wanted to focus on is to get closer to the spirit of the comic book.
I think, you know, it is visual, it is shocking, it is exciting, it is a page turner; and that's something that I think we've really wanted to get closer to so that it's a more faithful adaptation, at least spirit-wise, not necessarily story-wise.
Question: Yes and I mean, you know, it's one thing for - the show has been exceptional as far as showing really great violence on zombies and, you know, good kind of zombie gore, and yet one thing we've not seen as much of is sort of a living human on living human violence and we're about to see a lot more of that with the introduction of characters like The Governor- has there been a conversation about like how far we can go with these very graphic depictions of violence amongst the living humans and like where the line is going to be drawn while still being faithful to the spirit of the comic?
Glen Mazzara: Actually those - yes there have been those conversations and those conversations have taken place within the writers room, really, you know, where we're finding our own way. Those are questions that I've faced with Sean and Kirk and the writers on The Shield and we have to be careful that - not to show any human on human violence in a gratuitous way. I think if you look at the show these past few episodes we really earned those moments of violence.
We try to make them as heartbreaking as possible and that's where the show lives. We're not here for shock value, that's not what we're delivering and that's not - that's just not my intention. So I think that you have to pick those moments and I'll admit we have - when we've looked ahead, we do have very shocking, graphic moments, but they're all earned and they're all - they'll all mean something. I think the deaths and the acts of violence in this world play real, you know, this isn't just a shoot-um-up kind of western. And they have consequences for our characters, they really, you know, our characters feel the weight of those actions.
So that's something that's important and it's really a writer's choice - it's something that the writers and the producers come together and really feel our way through.
Question: Yes and finally were you surprised by how much (bodies) and how much chatter resulted in, you know, not just seeing the death but Shane's resurrection as a zombie without getting bit, you know, it seemed like that was really dominating the, you know, social media - everybody was talking about, oh wow you become a zombie without getting bit. Were you, you know, surprised by how much people had been talking about that?
Glen Mazzara: Well yes, obviously we're all very excited about how much buzz the show is getting, that's great and that's always sort of mind blowing, you know, that's really been taking us all by storm. But we worked hard to make sure that that revelation landed - we knew what we were doing there. We knew that it was going to land a punch and that story's constructed in such a way that it does land a punch.
Question: I know there were some thing alluded to at the end of season one at the CDC building; are we finally going to learn more about the virus in the show?
Glen Mazzara: I like our characters being in the dark. We've been very faithful, especially in this second season and moving ahead, to Robert's comic book. The survivors on the ground don't have a lot of that information. They're just trying to live in this post-apocalyptic world. That's something that I think is one of the rules of The Walking Dead. We really don't know what's going on, and it's a matter of ‘How do we survive?' That's the paramount question. We'll answer some questions, and then always have other questions. But it's actually more exciting when our characters don't know what's going on and don't know if they'll ever be safe again.
Question: So will we see the beginning too of the outbreak then?
Glen Mazzara: I feel like that story's been told in many zombie movies and many outbreak type movies. We've seen that. You can even do it using a map at the end of Planet of the Apes. Maybe that's something we would go back and do [in a] standalone movie. Maybe that's something we can do in a webisode. But it's not something that really interests me or comes up with the writers. I'm not particularly interested in using flashbacks or going in and filling in bits of people's histories. And I would consider showing how the outbreak started in flashback, [but] I'm not interested in that.
I want to propel the story forward. There's a lot of adrenaline involved in a story. That's just my natural inclination as a storyteller. I don't want to go back. I want to keep people guessing. I want to keep people confused on the edge of their seat so they don't know what's coming next. They don't have all the information, and they're trying to figure it out and they're on the run. That's exciting. That's a show I want to watch. So to go back and tell people how the outbreak… Who gives a shit? The outbreak started and everybody's screwed and now we're running from these zombies. I love that.
Question: Had you always planned to have Shane die this season from the beginning of the show?
Glen Mazzara: Well, It was always the plan, coming into this season, for Shane to die. That was something that we had worked out from day 1, and that was a storyline that was taken from the comic book. We moved that up to episode 12. That was not a finale. We moved that up because as we started working on the material in the back half, and as we changed the pacing of the show, that story just ended up moving up. We just had a much better finale to land on.
Question: So how come you decided to change up who kills Shane from the comic series for the television series then? Was it just a creative decision?
Glen Mazzara: We do want to see Carl grow into that badass, but Shane's death really became about Rick taking action. That's a very, very personal death. So my paramount concern was our lead character, Rick. Here's a guy who's best friend who he's given every opportunity to; they beat the hell out of each other two episodes prior. He even gives him a gun and says, "You need to find your way back. He's overlooking the fact that there's been this affair. He's really given this guy every chance to repent, and the fact that Shane is leading him out to his murder…
Rick has had enough. Rick has to take action. So that murder became about Rick. We realized there were concerns that it was different than the comic book. Obviously Carl shoots him in the comic book. But we did not want Rick to be passive and just watch his son kill Shane. We did not think that that was the right story. It had to be Rick's story.
In the comic book, Carl shoots human Shane and Rick executes zombie Shane. We had the reverse. And we thought that was a nice playful twist, to still orchestrate a scene, but in a way where comic book fans would be surprised. As we start using some of the more famous storylines from The Walking Dead comic book, we realize fans have an expectation of certain material; and we realize fans might get frustrated if we deviate too much from material. We're still gonna own it. We're gonna do it our way, in a way that makes sense in the rules of our world.
Question: So will we see Carl then grow up more in season 3? Does he play more heavily into the storylines? He seems to be going through a lot of quick changes…
Glen Mazzara: I think there's a process, let's not forget that these last few episodes are taking place, you know, really within I think within a week and a half or two weeks of the Sophia incident, you know and that was a huge event for everyone. So I think he's raw, I think he's trying to find a place, you know, he is still a boy. I think that when he's walking along in the woods, you know, that's just, you know, Huck Finn in the woods and he comes across a zombie, he's throwing rocks at him and stuff, you know, he's very much a boy there.
And then, you know, that results in Dale's death and that really racks him. We got a lot of mileage out of Dale's death where, you know, his initial reaction is to withdraw, his father hands him the gun, so I think there's an (ark) there - to me it's tracking, it's making sense. And I think that it's a process of him growing up in this world, you know, whereas everyone else is trying to hold on to the pre-apocalyptic world, Carl is quickly forgetting it. And Lori and Rick are at different levels of recognizing that, but I think Lori recognizes it more than Rick.
But it's a problem for them because Carl if he survives will grow up in a world and probably, you know, the pre-apocalyptic world will just be a very distant memory. So I think that it's not only a question of Carl growing up, but Carl growing up and forgetting what came before.
But we do have a strong storyline for him in season 3. We're very interested in showing how he's growing up in this world. The tension that that leaves between him and the rest of that group. Chandler's done a fantastic job and brought this character to life in a way that we're excited about writing. He will certainly be featured.
Question: Now with Dale and Shane gone, could Daryl could get bumped up to second in command?
Glen Mazzara: I'll say this. If he survives the finale (laughs), I would certainly lean on that character heavily. I think Norman's done a fantastic job. That character, as you know, is not established in the comic books. He's a viable leader, a viable number 2. I do think that moving ahead if he survives the finale that that would be a character who would play a prominent role.
Question: Will we see more from T-Dog in the finale too?
Glen Mazzara: T-Dog fans will be happy to see some terrific stuff from IronE Singleton in the finale. I will say that. I won't talk about his fate or moving ahead. But I think that's a great character ... In the finale, there's a reason to love T-Dog.
Question: Can you talk more about the evolution of Andrea's character as well?
Glen Mazzara: Andrea is a unique point of connection of Dale and Shane. We talk about [Dale's] moral voice being lost, and Andrea connected with Dale. I think she may not have agreed with Dale's argument, but she's the one who stood by Dale in that scene in episode 211. She and Glenn are at the RV and are mourning Dale. So she has a very strong connection, and I think she's internalized that voice…
But she also has a strong connection with Shane. She thinks perhaps his methods are wrong, but we do see that she sides with Shane in a lot of ways. So [when someone] says ‘Those voices are gone,' I would argue that's not the case, that they are not internalized in one of our lead characters. So if she makes it out of the season finale, it'll be interesting to see what she does.
Question: Did you guys hold back on big zombie kills or gore this season to go out with a bang in the finale?
Glen Mazzara: No, we didn't not have zombies in other episodes to have more in the finale. That was not the case. We had zombies as we felt was necessary to our story.
Question: How much do the comics play into the season two finale, if at all?
Glen Mazzara: There's an event in the finale where we were talking about something where Greg said, ‘Let's use what Robert did in the comic book.' So there was another in the comic book that we adapted and Greg pointed it out. We had something that wasn't working out, and Greg said, ‘Robert just did something in the comic book…' We said, ‘Great, we'll use that.' It's different characters and a different scenario, but what was great was we had this treasure trove of Robert Kirkman's work. That was a great way where the whole Walking Dead team came together to solve something in the finale. I think it'll be hopefully an iconic moment. It's certainly a standout.
Question: In terms of the finale and what we can expect, it's already been a really bloody season so far, you know, how much more bloodshed can we expect?. You know, how safe are, you know, these characters we've come to...
Glen Mazzara: There's more bloodshed coming, I will say that. You know, these characters have felt that they are safe on this farm, they've been wrong, they've been looking for a safe place to hide and I guarantee you there will be bloodshed.
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