After that absolutely excellent season finale, The Walking Dead’s showrunner Glen Mazzara once again took the time to answer questions from the press. He talked about the finale, about season 3, about Michonne’s hood, about Carl’s ability to sneak away, and more. At SciFi Mafia we’re particularly excited that he answered my question about Season 3 writers with a pretty big announcement.
Michonne is one of the lead characters in the graphic novel, so we’re excited to finally introduce her. She is a loner. She’s a kick ass character. She’s very dynamic and we really see her as a very, very important addition to the cast. She’s a significant character and she’ll be carrying a lot of story, so we’re excited about her.
We’re also excited about Danai Gurira who is the young actress who is going to play this role, so we’re lucky to have her and look forward to seeing what she does with it. The reason that the character’s cloaked at the end was because we had not cast the actress. So that is a cheat there. It’s interesting because we were thinking about that character during the casting process, and we were just wondering, you know, how theatrical is Michonne? That’s quite a theatrical entrance and that was something that we didn’t realize at the time. But then yesterday we were in the writer’s room talking about her and her back story and some of the writers had, you know, very heightened pitches, let’s say. And my sensibility is to keep the show grounded, to keep it gritty. That’s where I’m comfortable as a writer and as a story teller.
I do think that that’s an interesting character. She comes from the comic book. She feels like she stepped off those pages into the show. I think that’s exciting. That’s a challenge for us but knowing me as a writer, I think I’m going to , you know, keep it real, keep it grounded because if it doesn’t feel real I think the audience will not be able to put themselves in the immediate circumstances of the story.
I think our show is successful because people watching say, oh, I’d be dead now or I’d kill that guy or I’d shoot him in the leg and get away. I think that’s what’s fun about the show. We’re very consciously trying not to keep the show too serialized, not have an overdeveloped mythology so that it’s accessible to people in the way that a good horror movie is. I find the best horror movies to be very simple and that’s something that’s important and so I think overall my entire intention of the show is to keep the show grounded, real and Michonne is going to be a great challenge.
Casting Danai for Michonne, we wrote an audition scene, not a scene that would ever be in the show and we opened that up and we went through a more traditional route where actors came in… we had to be careful that the sides did not say Michonne so that, you know, that wasn’t on the Internet or whatever.
And people came in and we had different actors and we really had a lot of very talented people and it was a difficult choice. But Danai just possesses a lot of the qualities, again. We really feel like she’s going to bring this kind of character to life that she’s going to make this character her own. And I really feel that someone of her caliber will establish the character in such a way that years from now hopefully people cannot imagine anyone else ever playing that character. I just really think she’s going to own it in an exciting way. So I’m really happy with our casting. I think we’re lucky and these are great actors and we’re going to, you know, f*** them up and give them a lot of hard stuff to play and they’re saying bring it on, so I’m looking forward to it.
With T-Dog, I’ll admit, T-Dog has been off to the side and has been forgotten. And part of my goal as show runner was to really address developing Rick’s character and some other stuff. So poor T-Dog was left by the side. That’s something that now that he has survived the finale we’re going to correct. I think IronE Singleton has done a fantastic job of establishing a character and making people interested in him with just very, very little to say. So that’s a strength of the show. I think moving forward hopefully we’ll make it a strength and that’s a character we’re looking to develop in a significant way. So that’s a fair question and we haven’t done our work yet with T-Dog but we’re going to roll up our sleeves and get to it.
I think Lori is a compelling, interesting character. I think she is realistic in a lot of ways and she’s certainly a character that people are talking about. So I don’t find her irritating. I think it’s interesting that people are so focused on her and I think the work ahead of that is to see where the — in Season 3 we really have to look at the Rick, Lori relationship and what it means that she put Rick and Shane in motion to try to kill each other. So that’s an interesting place to start and we’ll certainly examine that character. But I don’t know if we really need to start creating false beats to make her more likeable. I don’t — that’s not part of the plan.
And her reaction to Rick’s confession?
Well, I think that’s a very, very difficult scene. And I give a lot of credit to (Sarah Wayne-Callies) because she has no dialogue in that scene and this is really, you know, I think some terrific acting where she is listening to him and you’re going through her internal process with her.
I mean, that’s, you know, we do have great actors. That’s one take. Go back and look at that. Rick is speaking and she is listening and that’s just one take.
And so the way that I, you know, I actually wrote that scene. And so I could tell you that, you know, to me she did not ask for Rick to kill Shane. She just said take care of it because Shane struck an emotional cord when he said you know it’s true.
She’s confused and this is a character that sanitizes the truth. She chooses to believe what she wants to be. She’s a control freak. That’s why she’s running around the kitchen saying we need to, you know, do this and that. Everybody, you know, thinks she has sexist roles. No, that’s what she can control. You can’t control the world.
So here she tried to control Rick. Things got out of hand and led to a murder. We play the deaths in our show as very, very real, okay. We really feel the effects of the deaths on our characters. That’s something we put a lot of effort into and so do the actors and the directors.
So when she learns that Shane was not killed by the zombie herd that he was killed by Rick’s own hand and Rick wanted to kill him, she’s horrified by the entire circumstance, she’s horrified by her own role in that as a catalyst, her own culpability and she I believe is dealing with thoughts of guilt and self hatred.
She projects those onto her husband because who could possibly accept the idea that I made my husband kill my former lover? That’s a horrible thought. So she’s going to push that out of her mind and just as she’s trying to do that, bam, oh, and your son’s involved. So she’s got a lot going on in that scene and she is appropriately fucked up.
Is Carl’s ability to sneak out an indication of bad parenting?
Yes, that’s a funny question. Here’s my rationale for this. I have three sons, young sons. And, you know, a lot of times they’re under foot and I’m trying to kick them out of the house. Go do something else. Stop playing video games or whatever, you know.
So obviously you may not do that in a zombie apocalypse but let’s say this. There was a scene in which — and nobody noticed this scene — but in the scene where he is walking through the woods. He’s walking through the woods and he finds the zombie in the mud. Before that, he comes out of the house he’s just kicking up dirt outside the barn. He’s actually picking up shell casings, the same shell casings that were used for the Barnmaggedon slaughter, the guns that were used to, you know, kill all those zombies when they came out.
So he’s just kind of, you know, kicking around in the dirt. He’s bored. He’s a kid. He’s going to be precocious. He’s going to be mischievous. And he’s trying to establish himself in this world. He’s trying to find his way. So, there have been scenes where he’s sitting under a tree, he’s whittling and the kid is obviously bored and trying to find out what else is going on in this camp.
I don’t know if it’s plausible that he would always be within, you know, in her eye line or wouldn’t he, like most boys, try to give mom the slip and go out there and get in trouble? That feels plausible to me. If it means that she’s a horrible parent, or Rick’s a horrible parent, well, it feels real to me. So I hear that criticism but it kind of feels like it’s not really thinking it through to the way we are. It makes sense to us and if people don’t like it, well, then we’ll have Lori lock him in a cell when we get to the prison and won’t have any story for that character.
Right now I do see that prison as a significant storyline for Seasons 3 and Season 4. I do think that’s a major story line. You know, and I know we were on the farm for longer than perhaps people wanted. There were reasons for that.
I think what we want to do is make sure that that prison does not become claustrophobic. I think the farm played a little claustrophobic for people. The farm — now that the entire landscape has fallen to the zombie apocalypse and zombies are literally at the gate of the prison — if you see the graphic novel, that prison is really, you know, a very, very small, safe corner and there’s a lot of danger around. So it won’t feel like we are bottled up in the same way that we were on the farm.
Casting the Governor
With the governor, we had a list of actors and we talked about.. And David Morrissey was someone whose work I was not really familiar with. But, you know, he came in and read and I just thought was terrific, really had a lot of the qualities that we were looking for in the governor. I don’t want to give away any story by saying what those qualities were but he had a take on the governor and he understood what the role was.
You know, some actors realize they’re going to play a villain and they say, well, yes, but he’s not really so bad. David was saying that this is the role of a lifetime and I’m excited to play this. David and Andy Lincoln were also friends. So Andy called me and said this guy is one of the best actors in Britain right now. We’d be lucky to have him. So that was exciting, you know, to us that Andy felt so strongly in David’s talent and his craft and then David came in and met everyone and we all were unanimous that he was fantastic.
Season 3 compared to the comics
I love Robert’s material and I think that if anything, by introducing the possibility of the prison, by introducing Michonne and by, you know, obviously everyone knows we’ve cast the governor. I’m interested in drawing the show closer to that comic book material. I think that, you know, the stuff coming up in Season 3 is really the heart of his work and I’d be crazy not to say let’s go in that direction. So I think we’re interested that we have to do it our way so that it really still feels realistic and gritty and grounded. But I’m interested in getting a little closer to some of the stuff Robert has because I just think it’s worthwhile. It’s just great source material.
I would say this, there’s no place we won’t go. Everything is on the table. This is a cutting edge cable drama. I’m comfortable with that material and we answered a lot of these questions on say The Shield and when I worked there, so I’m comfortable dealing with very, very edgy material. That being said, you want to make sure that things are not gratuitous, that things are not offensive for the sake of being offensive. I don’t ever want the show to get too bleak. I think we’ve done a good job of creating characters that people care about. I think there’s a heart to the show. So we will tackle issues in our own way but right now everything is on the table and I think if you take a look at those last few episodes we’ve been making some pretty bold choices and that’s where the show lives and that’s where we will feel we get the most entertainment value out of the story we’re telling.
I thought that Nebraska, which did not have a lot of zombie action, had a very, very compelling last scene with Michael Raymond James. So we will continue to have fast-paced episodes. We will continue to have slower-paced episodes. The episode in which Dale was killed was a little more thoughtful. There was some more debate and I think we had a terrific ending there. So week by week we want to keep throwing curve balls at the audience, so that you sit down and you never know what kind of episode you’re going to get. We are constantly playing with people’s expectations because that’s what horror movies do.
The minute that you know exactly what you’re getting at the beginning of an episode, I think it becomes less scary and less entertaining. So I’ll just say this. Next year we’re just throwing curve ball after curve ball. That’s the goal.
Did viewer reactions to the first half of the season have any influence on what you did on the second half?
That is a fantastic question. Let me answer it honestly. The answer is no because we were getting ready to shoot the last few episodes when the Season 2 premiere came out in October. So I was already deep into the story on the second half. So I’ll admit all of us were surprised that some of those episodes were criticized for being slower, that the pace was so slow, because I’m happy with those episodes and I didn’t see the pace as so slow. I just thought that that was the show revealing itself to us, that if any story has its own weight and its own merit, that’s the way that story was being told.
People gave it a few episodes before that criticism really landed for us. But we had shot everything. So it was always our intention in the first half to land on the big revelation of Sophia coming out of the barn and I think that was a very successful episode.
And then just my inclination as a show runner and as a story teller in the second half was just to amp it up. That was something that I’ve done on every show that I’ve worked on and I felt like that was right and we had also told a lot of our story that we as writers wanted to challenges ourselves and say, okay, let’s get past this. Let’s get to this. Let’s try to find new material.
For example, Lori whispering in Rick’s ear. That was a new dynamic. That was something that when we wrote it was, yes, that’s a new layer to that character. That was exciting to us. So we started sort of playing with things and finding new ways to tell the stories and it just sort of came together in the back half of the season. But that was absolutely not because of viewer response because we were so far ahead in the production process.
Status of Season 3, and the (very unusual) writing room procedures
We have submitted outlines for Episodes 1 through 6 to AMC. They’re very excited about the material. We have pitched out through Episode 8. We’re currently working on those outlines. And then all eight scripts will be written simultaneously. This was a process that Darabont took from George Lucas I think on Young Indiana Jones where we talk about all the episodes and then all the writers go off and write simultaneously instead of writing sequentially on other shows. Every other show I’ve done you break Episode 1, someone goes to write it and then you break Episode 2. So we’ve got a very unique system here that really works well for our culture. I’m excited about using that method. I think it’s terrific.
So I’ve obviously been very excited about the finale having to do press and all of this stuff and then I look forward to sort of the smoke clearing in a couple of days and then I will write the season premiere. That’s all been worked out and we’ll have scripts done pretty quickly, I believe, because we’re excited about the story. And then we start shooting in May. So the trains are moving and we’re very far along.
Season 3 writers – including an announcement
We have Robert Kirkman obviously there and we’ve brought back Evan Reilly who is just fantastic. Scott Gimple is brilliant. Angela Kang, also brilliant. And we’ve added two writers, Sang Kyu Kim, he’s a writer I’ve worked with on Crash and I just love working with him and Nichole Beattie who just recently did Prime Suspect and she was also on Rubicon, and so they’ve been terrific additions.
Let me also announce this, that we’ll have Frank Renzulli, who was one of the original writers on the Sopranos will be doing an episode for us in the first half of the season. So I have not announced that yet but Frank Renzulli who worked with me on Crash and is just, I think, one of the best writers out there really has a very, very exciting and pretty scary episode to write. So he’s working with us, too, so we’re looking for him to do that freelance.
He also confirmed that there are no plans for Stephen King to write an episode as had been rumored; “that was Frank’s connection.”
Zombies will never take a back seat, okay?
We will always have the human drama and we would like to introduce a significant human threat. But we love writing the zombie material and I think those zombies are now fully integrated into the world. We’re not waiting for the zombies anymore to reach us. They are there. They are within, you know, in our eyesight, you know, all the time. They are, you know, part of the landscape.
I don’t want to rule out (an episode with no zombies), but there’s no safe place from the zombies… We always see zombies as part of the world, as part of the threat and that just kind of ratchets up the stakes.
What were your favorite Season 2 scenes?
That is a great question. You know, I don’t know. It’s not a holy sh!t moment but you know what I think is really a wonderful scene that just kind of came out is where — in (Better Angels), Rick hands Carl the gun and he says “I wish I had something more profound to say. My father was good like that.” And he hands him the gun. And yes, we do have a lot of holy sh!t moments but that is a scene that shows that this show has heart. And that was something that I know a lot of people are asking for, flashbacks and are we going to learn something about the characters? Rick’s opening up about his past there and that his son is not going to have the kind of life that he had. So that was kind of an intricate scene that was really beautifully photographed by Ron Schmidt and Guy Ferland and well acted by Chandler and Andy. I love that scene.
I love any of the Hershel stuff. You know, I really love writing that character. I think Evan Reilly did a phenomenal job with the Michael Raymond James scene, just blew me away. You know, I didn’t touch a word there. Evan just really knew how to write that. Angela Kang with the jury scene where Dale is saying isn’t anyone going to stand with me? You know, it’s these little heart breaking moments that make me love the show the way I do.
So the big scary moments, those are fun. Those are great. But I know they’re coming, so I kind of forget about the impact that they’ll have on the audience. But those little heart breaking moments where Andrea decides to stand with Dale, those break my heart every time I see them, and it makes me love those characters more.
Thanks once more to Glen Mazzara for being so accessible to the press and to the fans. If you haven’t had a chance to check it out yet, go to Glen’s Twitter stream and read all of the questions and answers; he is the best showrunner ever in answering questions on Twitter.
The Walking Dead season 3, starring Andrew Lincoln, Sarah Wayne Callies, Chandler Riggs, IronE Singleton, Melissa McBride, and Laurie Holden, premieres in the fall on AMC.