Showrunner Glen Mazzara is merciful — OK, maybe not to the characters on The Walking Dead, but to fans. His belief is that midseason finales should be managed with care, not leaving too much hanging for too long. “Sometimes I worry about cliffhangers, that they can be frustrating to the audience,” he said in an exclusive interview with Amazon Studios.
Which isn’t to say that Mazzara won’t put beloved characters in peril — he’s done it plenty this season, the show’s third, and delivered monster ratings in the process (the midseason finale attracted 15.2 million viewers in December).
We talked with Mazzara shortly before news broke that this season, which resumes in February, will be his last as showrunner and executive producer for The Walking Dead. Be warned, spoilers abound in this interview. Don’t listen or read further until you’re caught up.
On midseason finales vs. season finales:
We come together as writers and producers and the studio, network executives and we design with that midseason finale in mind. We really want to make sure that we’re paying off some of the arcs that we established, and really setting up the back half of the season. So last year, we had an arc to pay off about “Where’s Sophia?,” and that really could have played as a season finale. …
This year, I really wanted to concentrate on setting up the back part of the season. So what we did in these eight episodes was introduce a lot of new characters. We introduced Michonne, re-introduced Merle, the Governor, Milton, these two worlds. We needed eight episodes to bring everyone together in a plausible, believable way. Now that everything’s crashed together, everything’s all set up for the back half of the season. There was a lot of plotting required to get it done, and what was interesting about this midseason finale is that we do have this cliffhanger.
Sometimes I worry about cliffhangers, that they can be frustrating to the audience. I would not want to do a major cliffhanger like this at the end of the season because on cable sometimes you’re off for six months to a year, and I do feel that would be frustrating.
On what makes the zombie apocalypse such an effective tool for revealing humanity:
The world is so incredibly high-stake. Every decision you make is the decision you make is between life and death, and our show now is a show about making decisions. It’s not necessarily a show about discussing philosophy. All the pressure is on. There are zombies over there, there are zombies over here, there’s no food, there’s no water, there’s no ammo. We now have the Governor and his group out there, what are we going to do. I think the audience watches that and they feel the pressure, they buy into the reality of the show … and they in a sense play along at home by making decisions as well: What would they do? How would they get out of this? Who would they be willing to sacrifice?… In any drama, you reveal character through the choices they make, so I think people really believe in this world and believe in the characters.
On the appeal of Daryl:
Daryl’s just the everyman. Norman [Reedus] does a great job of playing that character just as cool as possible, just understated. Norman’s just a wonderful actor, and his biceps look great when he’s running around holding a crossbow. He’s also just a guy who doesn’t get rattled. He’s the guy you want by your side in this zombie apocalypse. He has a heart, he’s smart, he’s a survivalist. He’s the perfect person to have by your side. People just trust him and are rooting for him. …
He could lead this group. Now here comes his brother, who’s going to complicate his life and possibly undo everything he’s worked so hard for. It’s a very, very good challenge for him.
More from Mazzara at the Amazon Studios Hollywonk blog.