Editor’s Note: The following article contains spoilers about “The Walking Dead.”
"Anything is possible," showrunner Glen Mazzara says of "The Walking Dead"
New episodes of AMC's zombie-apocalypse drama return in February
"Our characters are always on the knife's edge," Mazzara says
Season three of AMC’s wildly popular zombie-apocalypse drama, “The Walking Dead,” wrapped its midseason finale on Sunday night. Fans will have to wait until February for new episodes, but the last eight weeks have been fruitful ones, with introductions to new characters such as Michonne (Danai Gurira) and The Governor (David Morrissey) as well as goodbyes for a few mainstays such as Lori Grimes (Sarah Wayne Callies) and T-Dog (IronE Singleton).
Along with a healthy dose of weekly zombie slayings, this season has also raised new questions about where the show’s heading, mainly with The Governor introducing a cryptic desire to research the reasons behind the zombie apocalypse.
CNN spoke with “The Walking Dead” showrunner Glen Mazzara about the themes and motivations prevalent in season three, what to expect in the second half and the joys of writing while listening to Prince.
CNN: We’re at the halfway point in season three. What’s the difference in storytelling and the visuals compared with season two?
Glen Mazzara: We’re swinging for the fences every week. We have a very accelerated pace of storytelling, where we’re trying to pack as much story into every episode, and yet, spending a lot of time developing our characters. We’re not afraid to have quiet scenes that have a lot of heart in them. We’ve really found a nice balance having those quiet, heartfelt scenes, mixed with moments of pure terror and action.
It’s important for us to realize that these are desperate characters, living in a frantic world. No place is safe; that’s something that’s really important. For example, in the episode in which Lori died, we wanted to make sure that prison never feels safe. If you look at it in the first four episodes, they have three major battles with zombies at the prison. That’s something that our audience responds to: that our characters are always on the knife’s edge.
CNN: Speaking of the knife’s edge, Michonne and The Governor were two highly anticipated characters at the start of this season. How do these actors bring these characters to life?
Mazzara: Danai was raised at some point in Africa. She comes from a cultural experience where there was a lot of war and very, very strong female survivors. That’s something she’s used as a model for Michonne – the strength of the women who suffered great abuses yet carried on. She has a strength and an aggressiveness but also a grace. That is unique. We haven’t seen that character to that extent on TV. I’m really proud of the work that she’s doing.
David Morrissey is an incredibly talented actor who is just interested in finding new layers and nuance to this character. He and I talked about what was driving The Governor, what his agenda was, and how that begins to unravel. He gives it a tremendous amount of thought to every scene. I’ve learned a lot about acting from just watching his work.
CNN: The Governor’s interest in trying to control this new world and adapt is very different from Rick Grimes (Andrew Lincoln) and his crew.
Mazzara: He expects to be the victor. Because the victor writes history. And The Governor wants history to be written about him.
CNN: The fight scene between The Governor and Michonne in episode eight (“Made to Suffer”) is pretty brutal.
Mazzara: Part of the experience of watching “The Walking Dead” is that you’re leaning in; anything is possible. In that particular scene, The Governor could kill Michonne; Michonne could kill The Governor. It could go any way. The idea that Andrea (Laurie Holden) walks in and the two women enter this spell of which so much is being said without dialogue is just a well-done scene.
CNN: Episode eight also saw the introduction of another new character, Tyreese (Chad Coleman), who’s probably best known for his role on “The Wire.” Did he audition, or did you all seek him out?
Mazzara: He was someone we had in mind. He was very interested in coming in and auditioning. One of our main directors is Ernest Dickerson, and he directed a number of (“The Wires” episodes). He said, “If you could get Chad, that would be great.” So Chad felt like a friend of the family, and he came in and we chatted. He’s just having a great time and is excited about being a part of the show. Tyreese is a good man who is faced with the same horrible situations that Rick has faced, but he may not have that darkness within him to make the same choices.
CNN: Human-on-human violence in this season seems much more prevalent versus the first two seasons. Do the actors have a different take on killing other actors versus zombies?
Mazzara: You’d have to ask the actors. I’d say in the conversation that I’ve had with the actors – it’s very interesting to see themselves as a part of that group and everyone else is a threat or the other. The actors come in, and I guess it’s the way that they are directed or it’s written. … They are very connected to their characters and their characters’ associations.
For example, episode seven (“When the Dead Come Knocking”) was the first time Rick had met Michonne. It was very interesting because Andrew had notes on that script that were like, “Why would I trust that woman? Why would I let her into the prison?” He was really living his character. He said, “Rick would never trust this woman.” You could see that there’s a lot of work that the actors do on their own characters, and we as writers listen and incorporate those dynamics into the scripts. It’s an incredibly collaborative process.
The way that the show’s been written in the third season is that the characters become more comfortable with killing because they are so used to killing the dehumanized walkers. So it’s easy for them to extrapolate that another threat can be dehumanized. Pay close attention to the language The Governor is using when he refers to Rick and his group and also in the back half of the season, how Rick and his group refer to Woodbury.
The audience has all this information. The audience knows that the people of Woodbury are decent people being misled by The Governor. The audience knows that Rick and his group are a bunch of good-hearted survivors, but yet it’s very possible for The Governor to portray them as blood-thirsty murderers to the people of Woodbury because that’s what they were. This question of humanity and dehumanization is right at the heart of the third season.
CNN: What’s in store for the rest of season three?
Mazzara: All of the pieces are up and running: Woodbury, the prison, The Governor, Michonne, the reintroduction of Merle. Everyone is now onstage. Now it will be interesting to see all of the shifting alliances and all the dynamics. We don’t slow down the pace, and we continue to have very high stakes. But we’ll see a lot more nuanced character drama and some real interesting personal dilemmas for these characters.
CNN: Correct me if I’m wrong, but I believe your Twitter (account) said you were writing the final episode of season three while listening to Prince.
Mazzara: That is true. I got into a Prince groove. I was listening to a lot of Prince. What’s great about Prince is – first of all, he’s a musical genius. But he plays so many different types of music: R&B and funk, and I have some stuff where he’s playing jazz. Listening to Prince is listening to a lot of different types of eclectic music.
CNN: I love the idea that you can get into the head space of writing a very dark episode, and something like “Let’s Go Crazy” is on in the background at some point.
Mazzara: Maybe. I don’t know if it was ever officially released, but he has a song called “The Undertaker” that’s really great to write to.