Glen Mazzara gives people nightmares for a living. But the 'Walking Dead" showrunner says he doesn't have any of his own.
"I don't have zombie dreams, I don't have anxiety dreams," he told TheWrap. "If I wake up in the middle of the night, it's because I have an idea that I'm excited about, and maybe I'll get up and write it down. My job is to give other people anxiety, not to have it myself."
Also read: Famous Zombie Coming to 'Walking Dead'
One of his middle-of-the-night ideas, in fact, will turn up at the end of the show's third season, which begins Sunday.
"You'll have to watch the season finale," he said. "I just had this crazy idea."
Mazzara took over the show last season after its original show runner, Frank Darabont, had a falling out with AMC, which airs the series. But in that second season, Mazzara only expanded the zombified world of "The Walking Dead," which grows this season to two new and insidious locations.
Both a prison and a heavily fortified town called Woodbury look like possible safe havens. But there are no safe havens on "The Walking Dead," thanks in part to a new villain named The Governor. He dominates Woodbury and wants the prison as well.
Mazzara talked with TheWrap about this season's body count, finding the show's "frenetic" pace, and how long he wants to live among the dead.
TheWrap: The last time we talked you were in the middle of filming something big. Can you say anymore about what it was? Glen Mazzara: Actually, yes. It's fantastic. It's the end of episode 10, and I think it's just an incredible piece of filmmaking… I just really feel like they did a great job and the entire cast did a great job. In fact I went into the editors room today and like you want to hear your favorite song, I just said, 'Hey, can we take a look at that sequence again?'
So does this top the zombies being released from the barn and Herschel's farm being completely overrun? It's on par. It's episode 10, so it'll be in the next half [of the season]. But it's so big it feels like a season finale. And we'll still have six episodes after that. The show's gotten very big this year, it's just playing on a very large scale.
Can you say how much of this season is set in the prison and how much is set in Woodbury? Some episodes are prison-heavy and some episodes are Woodbury-heavy. It's a story taking place in these two locations. … It's a very, very fleshed-out story for 16 episodes.
Is there any body count we should prepare for? High? Low? You know, I really haven't figured out a body count. Last year in the back half of the season I think we had eight deaths in six episodes. I'm sure our body count is higher per episode. But I'll also say I think the deaths that are coming up this season are just as memorable as Shane's or Dale's. They'll hit the audience just as hard. And yet feel completely earned. All I can say is get ready. It's coming.
You must get a lot of questions from actors who've read the 'Walking Dead' comics or have had someone told them, 'You get killed in the comics.' Do you have a standard reply when they ask if their characters are about to die? The actors actually don't read the comics. They come to this material fresh. Some of them may have read some of the comics, but I believe all of them have stopped.
When we went to Comic-Con this past summer, ['Walking Dead' creator] Robert Kirkman had just published episode 100, which had a major character's death in it. And everybody was asking me and that actor about that death: Are we gonna work it into the show? And we don't work like that. We don't feel an obligation to do exactly what's in the comic books.
When we have character deaths, I make the calls myself. They're never easy calls to make. I know some of the actors are afraid when they see that it's me calling their cell phone. I know for a fact one actor was afraid to answer the phone and took about 20 minutes to listen to the voicemail, because they were so rattled that I was calling. They're all professional about it. They all understand we're doing what's best for the show.
That actor must have died, right? I was actually just calling this actor to say hi.
I don't know if you were nervous when you took over the show in the second season, but you sound like you're having fun now. I'm having fun. The producers, the cast, the writers, the directors, we're just really excited. It just feels like we're getting everything ready for a big party on 'Walking Dead' street.
Now that you have a successful season under your belt, can you say if there was a point when you were intimidated to take over? It was a daunting task. You know I was brought in to work on the show as a No. 2, so I hadn't really thought about how I would run the show. There was a culture in place. But I had some showrunning experience in the past and I do love the material, so I felt like my passion for the material and the incredible support of the writers and producers – Robert Kirkman, Gale Ann Hurd – you know, [lead actor] Andy Lincoln was really instrumental in saying to people, 'Let's give the new guy a chance.' We work on the material together, so it was a growing process for all of us. I gained everybody's trust and they gained mine and then when we went into season 3 we just focused on the story.
And also, coming off of season 2, I now had two episodes, particularly at the end, where I said, 'That feels like the pace of the show.' I had a vision of the show but it hadn't been filmed yet. And by the time we had that finale in the can, I could say, 'That's my version of the show. That's what I want the show to be.'
I think people are very comfortable with the fact that the pace is very frenetic, that the material is very challenging. And I stay in very close contact with the cast and the crew. … We all feel that this is the best show we've ever worked on.
It's been a while since we've heard about AMC having any run-ins with showrunners. We used to hear about problems a lot. They're good. AMC has been a terrific partner. And they certainly are involved in the show in terms of giving notes and giving thoughts and being incredibly supportive, and in asking the writers and producers to clarify things or explore this area or that. They lend a guiding hand, which is exactly what a network-slash-studio should be doing. I think we have a great working relationship.
We may have differences of opinions sometimes, but that's true of every show. … Everybody involved with the show, including AMC, is supportive of my vision of the show and they've been great, great creative and financial partners.
Do you know how it ends? Yes, I do have an ending. I have something that I want to say at the end and it'll probably change a thousands times, but if I had to write an ending today, I could do it.
Are you writing toward that ending? Do you have a particular number of seasons in mind? Well, we don't ever want to overstay out welcome. But I think we're just getting started, to tell the truth. I think we have a lot of stories to tell. The comic book has a lot of material. But I also have some arcs for future seasons, and a lot of new characters to introduce along the way. I think the show will always evolve and never settle into a rhythm. It's important to continue to reinvent the show almost every episode. Certainly every season.
And you plan to be there through the end? If AMC and the fans would have me. I would love to be the guy shutting the lights off.