‘The Walking Dead’ Gets a 16-Episode Third Season; Kirkman and Mazzara Defend First Half

Rick (Andrew Lincoln) takes the final shot in the mid-season finale of "The Walking Dead" (AMC)

The AMC portion of the TCA press tour started with some news about the network’s highest-rated show, “The Walking Dead.” The zombie drama will be getting a sixteen-episode third season, up three from this season’s total. Before the panel, creator Robert Kirkman and showrunner Glen Mazzara were making their case for the second half of the show’s second season, which saw the forced departure of  original showrunner Frank Darabont as that first half was being shot.

Mazzara wanted to put to rest the notion that the second half of the season are “his” episodes, and the first half — spent mostly on the farm of Hershel Greene — were “Frank’s.” “The arc for the second half of the season was developed after Frank. I think that mid season finale was put in production after things went down. That midseason finale and moving forward is the type of story…. I don’t know if you can pinpoint to particular episodes. It is sort of a messy process,” he said.

While Darabont’s dismissal was controversial, it also seemed to be a story that had legs as the first half of the season dragged on, with many episodes exploring character more than seeing the ragtag Atlanta group running from zombies. A few weeks ago, Darabont sent an e-mail to Ain’t It Cool News detailing what he wanted to do with the season two opener, concentrating on the story of the soldier Rick Grimes found in the tank in the first seaosn.

Both Mazzara and Kirkman acknowledge the story was brought up, but it was dismissed early in the writing process. “Internally, we discussed that examined it, felt it was best to open the season on picking up our characters, so Frank moved off of that,” said Mazzara. “If Frank said that was an idea that was written or rejected, that’s not my recollection.”

Kirkman felt that the letter Darabont sent was misinterpreted. “I will say that we didn’t move off of it for the season premiere because of budgetary concerns; we moved off of it because of story concerns. Coming out of the Jenner story and the CBC (in the first season finale), we just felt that it would be more important to start the second season by getting back into it  with our characters and getting to know them and starting the season off like that.”

Mazzara, for his part, doesn’t think he’ll do too many flashbacks like that in future episodes, unless it drives the story forward. “I know people may not like that, but I’m hesitant to do that because I feel it slows up the narrative. I feel it breaks the timeframe and it’s not something usually done in horror movies.  We want to keep the show scary; we want to keep it driving forward. I think we really pick up the pace, we hurtle to the finale this year.”

Speaking of pace, Mazzara became a bit defensive when the subject of how slow the first half of the season was perceived, thinking that there was plenty of action in the first half, and the episodes built toward the mid-season finale reveal that little Sophia was a walker stuck in Hershel’s barn.

“Let me ask you a question,” he asked. “Here’s how I view these past seven episodes: We lose the girl, there’s a herd coming through, Carl is shot, we need medical supplies, we kill Otis, Daryl’s is injured both with the arrow and being shot by Andrea, there’s the pharmacy attack, the shoot out, then there’s the barn massacre…. where was the slow episode? If there was seven episodes…. tell me what was the slow material, because I feel that material was a very compelling interesting story which had a great payoff. So the criticism is interesting to me.”

Kirkman wasn’t so definitive. “I will say that there are some valid criticisms in there about these episodes, bit I will say that we have to recognize that we’re judging a piece of a whole. Making the farm seem like a tranquil safe place will add value to the episodes you haven’t seen yet in a way that you’ll be unable to recognize at the moment because you haven’t seen those episodes.”

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Speaking of the farm, it looks like it will still be the base of operations for the gang in most of the second half , but it’ll become less isolated. “That changes because the outside world comes crashing in, the farm isn’t as safe as people intended, and they’re getting painted into a corner,” said Mazzara.

“I’d say they’re both dangerous people off the farm and dangerous people already on the farm,” he said with a laugh. “There’s more than enough danger to go around in the second half of the season. ” He even called Hershel a “bad-ass,” to which Kirkman half-kiddingly said, “Whoa, spoiler alert!”

If it doesn’t look like the two are on the same exact page, which it seemed like during the interview, then that may bode poorly for the show going forward. However, Mazzara, who called taking the showrunner job “the riskiest gig I’ve ever taken,” thinks that the collaborative environment on the show ensures that fans will watch and enjoy the episodes he runs without worrying too much about who is running the show.

“I’m lucky that it came together. Because for awhile it was a lot of risk and I  got lucky that everybody rallied and said we’re going to keep putting on the show. Frank’s contributions to the show are incalculable, and as a showrunner, mine are now, too. And that’s just the job I’ve taken on. This is not a competition between Franks’ vision of the show and my vision of the show. Enjoy the show. judge the work on its own merit, hopefully you won’t know who’s cooking it; you’ll just enjoy the meal.”

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