On February 12th, the hit zombie series The Walking Dead returns to AMC. Picking up just where the last episode and big reveal left off, that huge event rocks all of the characters to their core, leading some of them down surprising paths in the last six episodes of Season 2. While zombies are always a terrifying threat, a new human threat is looming, as the capacity for humans to hurt each other proves infinite.
While at the TCA Winter Press Tour, executive producer/writer/comic book creator Robert Kirkman and executive producer/showrunner Glen Mazzara talked about the slow build-up during the first half of the season, how the second half will accelerate the storytelling, the decision to introduce a new human threat, fan favorite characters from the comics who will likely appear sooner rather than later, the hope to bring Lennie James back at some point, and whether the possible concept ideas that former showrunner Frank Darabont had for Season 2 could ever have happened. Kirkman also talked about where the comic book series is headed, and the types of comic book titles he’s looking to release through his publishing label. Check out what they had to say after the jump, and be aware that there are some spoilers:
Question: Where does the first episode back pick up?
GLEN MAZZARA: Five seconds later. After the finale, finding Sophia in the barn is just a huge event that rocks our characters and changes everything on the farm. So, I think the stakes are much higher and people are dealing with a lot more. The storytelling becomes denser and just brings everything to a full boil.
Looking back, do you regret taking several episodes to look for Sophia?
ROBERT KIRKMAN: I think it was important to take the time to get to know our characters. It’s a good thing to lull people into a false sense of security, when the characters are experiencing a false sense of security. I think their time spent on the farm made the Sophia reveal that much bigger of a payoff, but is also going to inform just how the last six episodes are interpreted. I think, if they didn’t have that moment of calm, where we got to know our characters a little bit better and we got a sense that things were looking pretty good for them, this farm would have been a great place for them to be. In the next half of the episodes, we’re going to see that the farm isn’t that great a place. You have to build up what they have, before you can take it away. That’s really what makes the story more interesting.
MAZZARA: Yeah, I think we have a story that we’re telling over 13 episodes. That first half had a great payoff, and the second half accelerates the storytelling. I don’t know if we’d say that we regret any of the episodes that we did. I’m proud of those episodes and, if some people feel that some of those episodes were slower than others, I could argue that we were spending time with our characters.
Were you surprised that audiences had a hard time with the slow build?
MAZZARA: Well, I could make the case that that’s true for a certain segment of the audience. People have expectations about the show, and the show is a difficult show to write because, if we have a zombie attack every week, people say it’s the zombie-of-the-week. And, if we don’t have zombies, people say there are no zombies. So, it’s a challenging situation. I think that we’ve looked at making each episode as interesting and as compelling as possible. I think we get better at that, as it goes on. There might be some folks who would love for the show to be more of a video game. I’ll say this: the show is improving. If there were episodes that felt as if they were stalling, or that they weren’t under threat, and that perhaps the farm felt too safe and the threats were outside off the farm, a lot of that changes, in the back part of the season. I think that things pick up. It just becomes more accelerated. The stakes are higher, it’s more action-packed and it’s more interesting. By the end of these six episodes, hopefully those fans will agree that this is a thrill ride because we really do feel there are huge pay-offs, coming up in each episode. You won’t have to wait for just the last episode. Maybe there weren’t pay-offs, along the way.
KIRKMAN: I think that building to that reveal of Sophia was a pay-off that we were working towards, and I think we did a good job of working towards it. I would also like to say that the Sophia reveal is really the beginning of an escalation that takes us all the way through to the end of our season. We started out searching for Sophia, and then things got a little bit heightened, when we found her in the barn. That’s going to lead to a lot of conflict. That’s going to lead to a new threat on the horizon, that you’ll see in our first episode back, which is really going to dovetail into a big series of events that’s going to lead us to our finale. So, having that big escalation would not work as well, we feel, if we didn’t have those episodes. We recognize this criticism, and it is valid, but we are working on a 13-piece puzzle that, as a whole, should be seen in a different light. We’re hoping that, when it’s all put together, people will see that it all came together in a good way.
MAZZARA: I think people will be satisfied, by the end of this run. You learn how to do a show, as you’re writing it. The story material reveals itself, so if there’s a way to break down that criticism and look at it moving forward, that’s valid.
Is the new threat what comes up in the last scene in the bar, in Episode 208?
KIRKMAN: Yeah. I don’t want to reveal too much, but I would say that it would be fairly unusual for those two people to be out there alone.
What made you decide to bring that human threat in and show there are people out there more monstrous than the monsters?
KIRKMAN: Well, anyone who’s familiar with the comic book series knows that, while the zombies are threatening and terrifying, and do represent a tremendous amount of danger for our characters, nothing compares to the danger that humans hold for each other. That’s a big theme that we deal with in the comic book series, and that’s something that we’re moving towards in the show, as well. The capacity for humans to hurt each other is just infinite. As we explore this world, in a broader sense, and open things up outside the farm, in these episodes coming up, we’re going to see that there are some tremendous threats out there, and they’re human in nature, not zombie.
MAZZARA: Yeah. Once they break down how to fight zombies, zombies are a relatively known quantity. The human quantity is never known. So, that is a new element where, now that we have our characters established and our world established, we want to break it down, mess it up, make it complicated, and give our characters as many obstacles as we can. They become obstacles to each other. They have to deal with the outside world. The farm is no longer safe. There’s nowhere to go. And, we just keep piling on problem after problem, like that.
Who are some of the new characters we’re going to meet?
KIRKMAN: Well, we’d love to tell you, but we can’t tell you. There are definitely a lot of fan favorites out there that haven’t appeared in the show, just yet. We’re hoping to get to them, sooner rather than later, but unfortunately we can’t really name names and reveal anything. There will always be a mix of characters from the comic and new characters appearing in the show, much like the characters that come in, in Episode 8 when we come back. Those guys aren’t from the comic book. Those are just people created for the show.
Any chance Lennie James is coming back, at some point?
KIRKMAN: Only when it makes sense for the story. That character is out there. That’s a plot point that we don’t want to leave dangling too long, but it’s got to make sense for the story, for that to come back. That’s something we’re going to be working towards.
MAZZARA: Right. If we do bring him back, it would be in a significant way. We’re interested, when we introduce characters, that they really affect our existing characters and they come in, in a big significant way. We don’t want to just bring people in and just give ‘em one or two lines. We do have a great ensemble and we want to make sure that everybody has a significant storyline, and that includes any new characters we would want to introduce.
KIRKMAN: A good example of that was the way we brought Michael Rooker back in Episode 5 of this year. It was somewhat of a strange appearance because he was a vision that Daryl was seeing, but that entire guest appearance by Michael Rooker was all about how that character affects Daryl and how that moves Daryl’s character forward, in the story progression. That’s a good example of what we’re trying to do. Anybody that comes in is going to affect our cast of characters in some kind of profound way.
Frank Darabont recently released some concept ideas for what his Season 2 would have been. Could that really have been what the show was, if he had stayed on?
KIRKMAN: That’s a strange thing. I will say that you’re pretty much watching what Frank Darabont’s Season 2 would have been.
MAZZARA: That’s correct.
KIRKMAN: Frank moved off of that idea, in the room, before he was ever taken off of the show. That was something that he came into the room with and did have planned, from the very filming of the pilot. I remember when we were on set filming the pilot, he was telling me about Sam Witwer coming in and playing the zombie, and how he had plans to come back to that, eventually. But, when we broke it in the room, with Glen and all the other writers, we all decided, as a whole, coming out of that Jenner episode, and how that focused on Jenner in the CDC and didn’t really deal with our characters in any real significant way, coming back for a second season, with a different character that isn’t our main characters, and telling his story, didn’t seem like the right way to open the season. That was something that really came out of the room.
MAZZARA: So, the point is that Frank Darabont was the showrunner, at the time we chose to move off of that idea. That idea was never outlined, as far as I know. It was never written as a script. It was never budgeted. It was never presented to anyone, except the internal writers room, in any significant pitch way. I’ve been surprised at the attention this is getting, so I’m glad to clear it up because that just wasn’t the case. I don’t know if Frank actually said that he wrote it, or it was a pitch. It was just something we talked about. The other thing is that this actor is on a show called Being Human. So, another thing was that we’d have to begin production with someone who’s tied to another show. That was an issue that Frank did not want to get into. Is this guy going to be available for our shoot, when we have to build out the whole season? That was another factor that we discussed. That’s the case behind that.
KIRKMAN: And, it wasn’t that we moved off of the idea because we had any kind of opinions on it. We thought that was a cool thing to do and a great idea, in and of itself. It just wasn’t for that time. We didn’t feel like, and Frank agreed, it was the best way to open the second season.
Will you have more featured zombies, like the one stuck in the well, in the second half of the season?
KIRKMAN: Yeah, there are a lot of zombies.
MAZZARA: There’s a tremendous amount of zombie action. That’s a very particular zombie. That’s a showcased zombie, with several scenes revolving around that particular thing. Greg Nicotero designed that and had the whole thing fall apart, as disgusting as possible. It was fantastic. We continue to do that, to try to make sure our zombies are special. We certainly have that in our second episode back. We just have a tremendous amount of zombie action coming up.
KIRKMAN: There are a lot of good moments like that coming up. I don’t think you’ll be disappointed. The well zombie is definitely not going to be the be-all, end-all of this show.
MAZZARA: There was some really cool stuff that Greg was able to design for, “What would happen to a zombie, if . . .?,”and that kind of stuff. It’s fun.
How difficult is it to write in romance and make it organic?
KIRKMAN: I think this is an environment where people have to come together, or they won’t survive, so romance is easily born of these circumstances. It’s somewhat natural to have people coming together like that. Really, the Glenn and Maggie relationship, in particular, is one of our rays of hope, in this storyline, watching these two people come together. It’s something that holds the show together and keeps it from being a little bit too bleak, and is something that we really have a lot of fun exploring.
Will there be more fun ways for them to find and get supplies?
MAZZARA: That’s going to become more and more of a challenge. That is something that we talk about a lot and do a lot of research about. Unless you have factories up and making something, and until civilization comes back, that’s what life is reduced to – trying to safely go from one meal to the next, and not becoming a zombie’s meal. That’s what is their life because everything is broken down. That’s interesting.
Do you worry about how often you can put the same people, and this one particular family, in peril?
MAZZARA: No, not really because it feels plausible. I’ve done cop shows and it’s like, “Well, how many times can this guy’s kid be kidnapped?,” so I know what you’re saying. But, because the world is so threatening and Rick’s central quest is to keep everyone safe, it hits that heart of the show, right away. There might come a point where we can’t put certain people in danger again because otherwise they look klutzy, but we haven’t maxed that out yet.
KIRKMAN: The comic book series has been running for nine years, at this point, so I don’t feel like I’ve run out of ways to put people in peril. If this were the real world, I think it would start to be a little bit unbelievable, at times. But, because this is a world after the fall of civilization and there are zombies around, I think it would be more unrealistic, if they weren’t in constant danger.
MAZZARA: We actually have a lot of ideas that we haven’t gotten to. That’s fun to write. That comes together pretty quickly.
Robert, where are you going with the comic book series?
KIRKMAN: Well, we’re coming up on our 100th issue, which is a big milestone. There’s a lot of cool stuff coming up. We’ve got a storyline now, called “A Larger World.” Basically, Rick and his group are holed up in a walled-in community that is fairly safe, and we’re going to open up that world and watch them re-establish civilization, in a big way. They’re going to be encountering other pockets of civilization that are near them, and some of those pockets of civilization are going to be providing them with trade routes and supply lines that will continue to help them be sustained, and other pockets of civilization are going to hold tremendous amounts of threat for them. It’s going to be a big evolution in the kind of stories that we tell, in the comic book series. It’s going to be the next step that’s going to get us going for another hundred issues. So, I’m pretty excited about all the stuff that’s coming up.
And, what’s going on with your publishing label?
KIRKMAN: Skybound has a lot of cool stuff coming out. We’ve got a new book, called Thief of Thieves, that will be launching in February. We’ve got another book, called Witch Doctor, that we do. It’s basically just continuing to expand our brand and getting more comics out there, but also trying to bring more of a universal sensibility to comic books. We’re not doing any superhero titles, aside from the one that I’ve been doing for decades. We’re going to cap it at that. And, we’re just going to try to open up the genres that are told in the comic book medium, and try to tell more real-world stories and some things that you can’t really get out of comics. That’s what our focus is going to be.
Click here to watch a teaser trailer for the final six episodes of season two. The Walking Dead returns February 12th at 9/8c.