Earlier this week, I was invited to take part in a call with Glen Mazzara and Steven Yeun to discuss the premiere episode of The Walking Dead Season 3. If you’re interested in behind the scenes details, continue reading to learn about the reason for the unique intro, deleted scenes, the challenges of filming the first episode, and what we can expect from future episodes:
Was the Season 3 premiere episode introduction written the same way as it turned out? Did you receive any resistance to having no dialogue in the beginning?
Glen Mazzara: Everything you saw it was scripted, from opening on the walker’s eye to pulling back to the door breaking open. The entire sequence was scripted and I think Ernest Dickerson did a great job shooting it.
We wanted to advance the story. Last time we saw this group, they were by the campfire and there was a lot of chatter, questioning, and anxiety. Since we were doing the time jump, I thought it was important to show that these people came together and can pick up each other’s body language and subtle queues.
We didn’t really need any dialogue and AMC loved it. They thought it was a cinematic opening. I think everybody got on board it just felt right. Steven, what did you think about it when you were playing it?
Steven Yeun: I mean the tone is what we’re trying to hit and I think we hit it. I can’t really say it in more words than that.
The group seems disconnected emotionally when killing walkers now. Maggie’s reaction was at one point gleeful about killing these walkers, to the point that she seems like a different character. Was this intentional?
Glen Mazzara: Well let me say this; part of our process as writers when we approach a new season is that I put together a reading list. One of the books that was a seminal work for us this year was Sebastian Junger’s War. It’s really an incredible book about a group of soldiers fighting in Afghanistan. The idea that the people in the Armed Forces today bond together and that they want to protect each other at all costs is really inspiring. They have a responsibility to do their jobs to keep their fellow servicemen and servicewomen alive.
That was something that we really thought about. If you were in a zombie apocalypse, you care about and love the rest of your family, the rest of your group of survivors. And so when Maggie is excited about that, yes there’s an adrenaline rush. There’s something insane, but she’s also solved a problem that now she can share with the group. Everybody immediately picks up on what she’s done and they end up dispatching the rest of the walkers.
One of the central themes that you’ll see this year is our tight knit group against all others. And what happens when they meet both friends and foes. It was also important for us to show that they have wins because the show can be very bleak. I think that that’s important for the audience to see this group have wins so that when they suffer losses like at the end of the episode, it’s that much more devastating.
Steven Yeun: We all met up as a group and I remember talking with the writers and producers. They talked about where these people have been to and where they’re coming from.
They’re clearly weathered and I think there’s one particular moment early on that shows where they’re at. There’s that scene with Glenn where he pins the walker up against the fence and then Maggie finishes it with the hammer. That to me was very indicative of the fact that they’ve done this before. This is not something that they’re completely fearful of. Obviously there’s risks, but they have now figured out how to effectively deal with these walkers.
Glen, You previously mentioned that you were told that the season premiere was unshootable and you shot it anyway.
Glen Mazzara: That’s right.
This episode is much more ambitious than what we’ve seen before, so I was wondering: What kind of challenges did you face, not only writing this first episode, but getting it approved and then filmed the way you envisioned?
Glen Mazzara: Well writing it was actually sort of easy, believe it or not. I wrote that episode pretty quickly because I had it – I was just lucky. I just had it shot by shot in my head, you know?
Obviously Ernest did a great job of bringing it to life and everything, but I really did get the sense of the story that we wanted to tell and where we wanted to advance the characters and what I wanted to hit and everything.
So we had done a lot of work as writers and producers and spent a long time discussing where our starting point. There was a tremendous amount of prep work that went into the writing, but the script was actually one of the most fun that I’ve ever had the opportunity to write. I really just loved writing that script.
When it was written, imagine how a script like that reads: Rick runs up and hacks a walker and Glenn runs behind him and stabs another walker. And Maggie kills a third… And, so it reads like a battle and that was not something that I think is usually done on AMC.
So when this originally came in people said, “Okay how is this going to work? Is the show amping up the violence? Is the show becoming a video game or something like that?” But then there were all these character moments that were then earned and when it all came together on film everybody said, “Yes that’s the show.” Everybody understood.
So there wasn’t any problem of getting it approved. AMC’s been incredibly supportive of the vision that we as producers and writers have laid out for the show and they’re extremely happy with the show creatively.
Shooting-wise, we had nine days to shoot that episode. Ernest is a veteran director, but we had particular gags that we didn’t have time to get to. We had a couple of things that were cut. And then there’s actually a deleted scene; there’s a very funny deleted scene that had to be cut for running time.
And there was actually another scene in the prison. We call those dark corridors “the tombs”. There was a sequence that we just ran out of time and didn’t get a chance to film. That is just a part of filmmaking, but I’m very, very happy with this episode. I think we made all the right cuts and I don’t think you look at that episode and think anything’s missing.
It was all there and we were just trying to figure out how to logistically shoot this: How many walkers do we need in the field? How many walkers do you need in the courtyard? How do get this done?
Steven Yeun: Yes, Ernest is awesome and that episode was so fun. You know, you put all that stuff on the page and people think it can’t be done, but everyone just kind of mans up and does it.
And I think that’s kind of been a running theme with our show. Most people probably wouldn’t believe how we shoot it and how fast we do it, but we go for it and it works. That’s something that I’m very proud of.
Glen Mazzara: Yes, let me jump in. Again, like what you see in the first episode, that sense of scale continues throughout the rest of the season. We don’t pull back from that. So you may not have as much zombie killing as in that episode because that’s maybe not the story we’re telling that episode.
But the scope of what this cast and crew and this entire production outfit can do week after week is pretty staggering. I mean we have this one episode in the back half of the season that’s just huge and could play as the season finale and it’s just the episode of the week.
So I’m really, really impressed with the level of filmmaking that this crew in Georgia can produce every week. It’s fantastic. So we just write big and they get it done. And very, very few times have we been asked to pull something back because we can’t do it. We may have to make cuts because, we do have limitations, but it’s really impressive what the crew can do.
Come back tomorrow to learn more about what we can expect to see from future episodes and some details on a new character. If you want to see a preview from episode two or catch up on our coverage, visit the following links: