I am someone who prefers to watch a TV series when it is released as a complete season and even waits to check out an entire series run when possible. I find that I am more critical of a show when watching it episode to episode because of the week-long wait.
There also is something lost in not being able to see the creative vision as one piece. Of course, I had no choice when it came to watching The Walking Dead, but I felt that the perceived pacing issues in the first half of season 2 wouldn’t be a problem when watching the season as a whole.
With The Walking Dead’s second season now wrapped up, I was interested in talking again with showrunner Glen Mazzara about pacing and changes in a season 2 post-mortem.
**Spoiler Warning: We discuss the end of season 2, so do not read this if you haven't finished the season. There are also some comic book spoilers, which are related to events in season 2.**
I wanted to start by discussing season 2 as a whole. My understanding is that the writers for this show try to map out the season as one piece. Do you think it’s better for people to watch the entire season at once?
Glen: I do. I think that most cable shows hold up better on DVD when the audience is binge watching over the course of a weekend or two. A lot of cable shows play slower when it is one hour of TV interrupted by commercials. I think that is especially true for the first half of The Walking Dead’s second season.
I wouldn’t be surprised if criticism about season 2 pacing goes away when people are blasting through the DVD’s several episodes at a time.
You took over as showrunner of The Walking Dead a few episodes into the second season. When that happened, did the original plan for the second season change?
Glen: I changed the plan when I took over as showrunner. I wanted to push the story further by accelerating the storytelling. It was certainly my idea under the writers’ direction to kill Dale, which was something that had not been on the table before.
It was our idea to have Rick kill Shane with a knife instead of Carl shooting like he did in the comic book. It was also our idea to introduce Michonne and the prison in episode 13. We moved Shane’s death up to episode 12 instead of 13. Given the fact that Shane’s murder was leaked on various accounts, I’m glad we did that.
Let's talk about some of the other character deaths. With Sophia still being alive in the comic, can you tell me why it was decided to kill her so early?
Glen: That was something from the original team that we were driving toward. We felt it was a big emotional payoff and it was something that all of the writers bought into.
Do you feel that you lost anything by not having Sophia interact with Carl in the future?
Glen: We felt that the whole storyline gave us the opportunity to push in on our characters, put them under the microscope, and examine them. The one thing we wanted to do this season was make sure we were telling a story about our characters and not just zombie action every week.
We wanted something with real characters that we cared about. So we thought that the dilemma of a missing girl was really interesting and it put all of our characters into play. We really believed in that story, but unfortunately it meant killing off Sophia. We felt we gained a lot more by doing so earlier on than in the comic book.
This is something that I previously heard you talk about regarding Dale. You said that you got a lot of mileage out of his death and weren’t interested in killing characters unless there was an emotional or story payoff.
Glen: There was an event from the comic where they smash open the barn and zombies slaughter Hershel’s family. We needed to put a twist on that. We can’t just take events from the comic book and dramatize them clearly, so we need to put our twist on any event in the comic.
For example, we put our own twist on the introduction of Michonne and the killing of Shane. We spend a lot of time with Robert on this and we’re immensely familiar with his work. This is something we all work on and present it as a united front to AMC. We don’t receive any direction from AMC regarding what to use and what not to use. It’s really us as artists feeling our way through very dense material and trying to make it our own.
I think it’s interesting for the comic book audience because they don’t know exactly what to expect.
Glen: Yeah, I think the comic book audience is just as adrift and full of suspense as those who haven’t read the comic book. No one knows what’s coming next except for the writers and that’s exciting. On a show where there is a great appetite for information, spoilers, and leaks, we really need to dig in and make sure that we are playing with people’s expectations and delivering a satisfying story that goes against the expected.
Knowing what you know now, is there anything on season 2 that you would do differently or that you think didn’t work?
Glen: I’ll be honest. I was surprised at the criticism that the show was so slow paced in the first half of the season. We were all surprised about that. Some people said it’s like watching paint dry, but I can’t think of a boring episode. Even the one with the well zombie had interesting character work. It has been fun for us to work with the audience’s expectation. What is interesting about the show is that it is exciting and raises people’s emotions. People are like sports fanatics about this show and are very invested and passionate.
What would I change? There are probably a couple of scenes I would rewrite, but overall, I’m very proud of the way everyone rallied around the material and gathered as a team to make a very dynamic show that I think will hold up years for now. Especially considering the fact that we had a change of leadership and that was a surprise to all of us, including me.
I look at those last few episodes and I’m more proud of that than anything I’ve ever done. I look at this season as a success. Now that we’ve worked out the kinks, as you would on any show, I’m excited to just continue. So what would I change? I don’t know because I think it’s all a process.
I think part of the criticism is because people have never seen a zombie show before and don’t know what to expect.
Glen: We’re in new territory. Has there been a long-running horror show that is not an anthology? I can’t think of one. So this is new territory for us and what’s interesting about The Walking Dead is that you have 3 different forms of media converging in a way that hasn’t really been done before on TV. You have a cable drama for adult audiences, the graphic novel, and then you have a strong horror film background. Those three things are intersecting in a unique way on this show and I can’t think of anything else in horror that is connected in that way.
If there were particular episodes that were unbalanced or leaned more one way than another, it’s because this is a difficult show to write and get in balance. I think by the end of the season we were in balance, but I don’t think that discounts an episode like Nebraska that did not have a lot of zombie action.
So I think by the end of the run, like you were saying, all fans will hopefully be satisfied because we have a satisfying story. It is conceivable that you could have an episode of The Walking Dead without any zombies. I won’t say I will do it, but that is conceivable if the drama was interesting enough.
Like we said before, that pacing issue will go away when people are streaming it on Netflix or watching it on DVD. When you watch episodes back to back and there are multiple viewings, that will change the viewing experience.
I want to thank Glen Mazzara for taking the time to talk with me. Keep an eye out for season 3 interviews in the near future. Visit our recent coverage for more answers from Glen Mazzara and The Walking Dead Season 3 details: