With the season premiere of “The Walking Dead” this past Sunday, there is no better time to talk to the creators of the show. Glen Mazzara (executive producer) and Steven Yeun (Glen) discussed the season premiere and what we can look forward too for the rest of the season.
SPOILER WARNING FOR THE SEASON PREMIERE OF The Walking Dead AND The Walking Dead #100
You put a stamp on the new season by having a wordless opening. Were the small bits written out, or did they come natural? Was there any resistance from the powers that be at AMC to this style of opening?
Glenn Mazzara: Everything you saw was scripted. I think Curtis Dickerson (the director) did a great job shooting the cast. The last time we saw this group, they were around the campfire. There was a lot of questioning and anxiety, and since we were doing a time jump, I wanted to fuel that this group had come together. They could read each other’s body cues. AMC embraced and loved it. They thought it was a cinematic opening, and everyone got on board. It just felt right.
Steven Yeun: It was just right. I think we hit it. I can’t really say it in more words than that (laughs).
Steven, I know the actors don’t necessarily follow the comics books, but I can’t help wonder what your reaction was to The Walking Dead #100.
SY: When that happened, people made a bigger deal out of it than I did. For [Robert] Kirkman to do that was both brutal and amazing. He just took him away from everyone, and I thought that was ballsy, seriously grotesque, and awesome. For me now, I wonder how I’m going to live up to what Kirkman established in the comics.
What I’ve notice from the premier was the disconnect from the characters, like how easily they kill Walkers now. Maggie for instance, is almost gleeful when killing these Walkers. Can you talk about how the process?
GM: Part of the process as writers, as we approach the season, we put together a reading least. One of hte works was Sebastian Younger’s War. It’s really an incredible book. It’s about a group of soldiers fighting in Afghanistan. And the idea that the people in the armed forces bond together, and they want to protect each other at all costs, it’s really inspiring. They have a responsibility to keep their fellow service men/women alive. That was something that we really thought about. If you were in a zombie apocalypse, you care about the rest of your family or group of survivors. So when Maggie is excited about that, yes, there is an adrenaline rush, but she has also solved a problem that she can share with the group. And everybody immediately catches up and dispatches the rest of the Walkers. One of the residual themes you’ll see this year is that they are a tight knit group, and what they will do when they meet friends and foes. They don’t care about anyone else. That’s something we are getting too, and it was also importnat to show that they get wins. The show can be very bleak, and when she is happy about the Walker, or Rick is on the tower smiling, it makes it important they get wins. It’s a bleak show. And it’s important that the audience see them win, so that when they see the group lose, it’s much more devastating.
SY: I personally think we created this whole backstory before and talked about what these people have been through. Where have they come from? Do they have contingency plans? They are clearly weathered. There is one particular moment early on that shows where they are at, when Glenn pins a Walker against a fence, and Maggie finishes it off. To me that was very indicative of “they have done this before.” There are risks, but they have now figured out how to deal with Walkers.
GM: I must say that Glenn might have grown the most over these three seasons. He wasn’t a mature character in the beginning, and now he is very confident and a together person. A zombie apocalypse isn’t good for anyone, but it has brought out some good characteristics for him.
SY: I love playing Glenn, and I’m very blessed to play a character that is so loved. First season he was the kid that had good ideas and had the abilities, but he was drowned out by the bigger egos and characters. But now he has learned that everyone is vital. Maggie really hits that home. Now he doesn’t just cover his own ass, he wants to cover hers as well. That quickly asks of him to grow up. But the problem is that growing up quickly isn’t necessarily good.
Glen, what kind of challenges did you face writing the first episode, and getting it shot?
GM: Writing it was pretty easy. I was just lucky (laughs). I had it shot for shot in my head already. I really did get the sense of the story we wanted to tell and where we wanted to advance the characters, and what I wanted to hit. We had done a lot of work as writers discussing where our starting point was, so there was an extensive amount of prep work for the writing. It was actually some of the most fun I’ve had writing a script. I really just loved writing that script. It read like a battle, and that was not something that hadn’t been done on AMC before. Some were afraid we were ramping up the violence like a video game, but when it all came together everyone understood. AMC has been incredibly supportive for what we have laid out for the show. They are very happy with the show creatively. We had nine days to shoot that episode. We had a few things that were cut or didn’t have time to shoot. There is actually a deleted scene that is very funny, that sadly had to be cut for running time. It was all there I think, we just needed to figure it out how to shoot it. Like how many Walkers we needed for each scene.
SY: The shooting is a lot of work. But everyone mans up and gets the job done. I think that has been a general theme for the show.
At this point, Steven Yeun had a flight to catch, so he had to exit the interview
Are you afraid about the fan blacklash? Many weren’t happy with the group staying in one spot, and they seem to be going to another place for an extended period.
GM: That’s a great question. That was a concern. If you notice in the premiere that the prison is occupied. They even point out that there is damage and civilians are getting in. That’s something that is always going to be an issue. Last season, I think we were playing with that the outbreak originated in the urban environments and swept the countryside, so it took a while to get places. Now the landscape is different. The Walkers are omnipresent, and also within the prison itself are unsecured areas. I always want a sense of danger. The idea that this prison could be too safe like the farm isn’t an issue.
What do you think it says about our culture where we can get off on this kind of mayhem?
GM: I don’t know. I see the show as entertainment. I think it’s exciting. The zombies are the perfect victims, as they’re monsters. They are trying to kill innocent people. There is a certain amount of gore and violence, but it’s ok since they aren’t humans. They don’t feel pain, so it’s hard to sympathize with the Walkers. I look at it as good old Hollywood entertainment.
Are fans going to get any answers about the group and how they are all infected with the virus?
GM: I’d have to say no. That was a unique set of circumstances, talking to the scientist at the CDC. The story we are telling is more in line with the comic, where every day people have very limited information. We won’t have characters trying to figure out the nature of the virus. We do introduce a character named Milton who is part of the Governor’s crew who is trying to solve the Walker problem, but he is not a scientist. It’s really about people trying to make due.
The group seems to be thinking more tactically instead of guns a blazing. Was that intentional?
GM: Yes it was. We wanted to show this group being smarter than when we left them. They approached the courtyard slowly, thinking every move out. We thought of it as a police force invading a drug den. We wanted it to seem as if they had done this before. They have a tag team type of mentality. It made sense that they are literally getting each other’s back.
Can you explain the reason for the time jump? And will we see anything that happened during that time jump?
GM: The time jump was necessary for two reasons. We wanted to advance the story to the point where Lori is about to give birth. We wanted to give a tremendous amount of stress onto the group, and we felt this put on maximum pressure. The other reason was that we picked up shooting in the summer, and we didn’t want to fake winter (laughs). I am interested in shooting a winter scene. Maybe we could change the production schedule in the future. But we are not interested in doing a flashback episode.
Do you think not having a leg is going to keep Hershel from looking out for Lori’s baby?
GM: That is a great question. We definitely want to explore that. Have they thought of contingencies if he can’t help. We have thought about one of the women as his assistant when the time comes. My brother is an orthopedic surgeon, so I was asking him how we would cut someones leg off (laughs). He didn’t like that (laughs). I asked him how to care for it after it was cut off.
Why did you decide to focus just on the prison the first two episodes instead giving a balance of Woodbury and the prison?
GM: What was important was to get the character development of the group first. We need to see what that prison means for them. The first two episodes show the amount of sacrifice the group makes for this place. Once that has been established, then we can jump off of them. Then we can introduce other characters, but we needed that foundation first and what our characters are willing to do for this place. It’s a very thought out plan. I hope the audience is ready to go along for the ride (laughs).
Is each episode going to balance the two scenes once everything has been introduced?
GM: No. There will be some episodes that are only at the prison, while some will only be at Woodbury. There are some where Rick doesn’t even appear. It’s about telling the best story every week, and making sure that each chapter adds up to a great whole. I think there is so much exciting new stuff coming every week I don’t think everyone will be afraid of the change. We really tried to pack as much story into every episode.
If you need to catch up with the first episode, “Seed,” click here to watch it.
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