In late December, AMC announced that its megahit series — which drew a whopping 10.5 million viewers for its midseason finale — was renewed for a fourth season, but it would go on without Mazzara, who will be replaced by Dead writer Scott Gimple. This wasn't the first time that this has happened, either. Mazzara had actually replaced original showrunner Frank Darabont.
Despite his exit, Mazzara is still promoting the show because of his work on the latter half of Season 3. Below, Mazzara discusses his exit, any regrets he may have and then teases the impending war between the prison and Woodbury. Lest we forget, Daryl (Norman Reedus) is in the clutches of the deranged Governor (David Morrissey), who just lost his eye, and Rick (Andrew Lincoln) is going crazy, literally:
What does the build-up to the war between Woodbury and the prison look like?
The Governor is taking in a lot of information and developing a plan. The veil is lifted from Andrea's (Laurie Holden) eyes, and she realizes that she is uniquely positioned in the middle between these warring groups. That leads to a lot of exciting and surprising character developments in the back half of the season and just some very interesting character choices. One of the things I'm really excited about is that Rick's group realizes that they have poked a tiger, and they are waiting for The Governor to retaliate. They have to decide what to do. Do they now strike first? Do they wait for that retaliation? We are, of course, building to big, kickass finale, but The Governor acts quickly, so I don't think fans will have to wait too long before blood is spilled.
The Governor is hell-bent on revenge and Rick is descending into madness. How is that even a fair fight?
Well why should it be a fair fight? I don't want it to be a fair fight. I want the odds stacked against our heroes. That's the interesting story. Right now, there is a very formidable component coming to that prison, and it's throwing Rick's group into disarray because people have different agendas and Rick's own sanity is cracking. Now, how does he try to — or can he even — save his group? That's the story.
While Rick is dealing with questionable sanity, will anyone step up as a leader?
That's part of what we do in the back half of the season. Now we get to spend time with some other characters. Glenn (Steven Yeun) comes to the forefront, but has a personal agenda. He wants revenge because Maggie (Lauren Cohan) was assaulted by The Governor. Maggie has her own thoughts about the nature of that assault. Hershel (Scott Wilson) has certainly stepped into the foreground too because he realizes Rick's a good man, has been a great leader, but now is perhaps not up to the task of defending the group. Everyone right now has an agenda. And even Carl (Chandler Riggs) has a plan. Carol (Melissa McBride) has thoughts. This is not the group that was at the end of Season 2 that was huddled by the fire, pleading with Rick to save them. These people are battle-tested and any one of them could take a shot at The Governor.
What will Rick do to actively try to gain some of his sanity back?
There's an episode that's coming up that deals with Rick trying to hold on to his sanity, and I really think it's going to be a fan favorite for the entire series. It's a very special episode. It's very different, and it's the curveball. Sometimes fans like curveballs, sometimes they don't, but it's a pretty exciting episode, so that question gets dealt with head on.
What makes this episode so different than the rest of what we've seen this season?
You'll know it when you see it.
How will Andrea's relationship with The Governor change now?
Andrea has been kept in the dark. Now she sees exactly what's going on. She has a lot of questions. She wants to reconnect with Rick's group and see things for herself. Back in Woodbury, The Governor, who's bent on vengeance, abdicates his role as leader of Woodbury and Andrea is forced into a leadership position to protect innocent people who The Governor begins to train into an army to march on the prison against the people that she loves. So, again, she's really caught in the middle. She's going to have to make some tough choices and she's going to have to deal with both the machinations of this coming war, but also with a lot of unresolved personal business with Rick, Michonne (Danai Gurira) and the others.
Will the group ever be able to trust Andrea again?
It's not quite the homecoming that she was looking for.
Is Andrea's relationship with Michonne irreparable?
There's always hope in the world of The Walking Dead and these are characters we care about, but it's not going to be easy. We do some surprising things to illuminate that relationship and there'll even be a peek into Michonne and Andrea's history.
How will both Michonne and Tyreese (Chad Coleman) have to prove themselves to be able to stay with the group?
The pressure is really on them to prove themselves, and that's not going to be easy because Rick is now convinced to some degree that he's the touch of death, that he incorporated these prisoners into his group and all of them except Axel (Lew Temple), are now dead. His own wife (Sarah Wayne Callies) and T-Dog (IronE Singleton) and many others died, so he does not want to be responsible for more lives. He doesn't want people to join his group, and yet they need numbers on their side if they're going to face The Governor.
How will being pitted against each other change the relationship between Daryl and his brother Merle?
Daryl and Merle (Michael Rooker) being pitted against each other is, in a sense, nothing new for Daryl because he's always pitted against his brother. He's always fighting his brother and trying to prove he's not the weak little brother. So from the minute he sees Merle, he's back where he started from and he really has to try to step up and hold onto the man he's become so that he doesn't fall back into the same old patterns.
Turning to your exit from the series, AMC released a statement saying it was because of creative differences. Were you surprised about the differing of opinion on how to move forward in Season 4?
No. I wasn't surprised. We've been working together for a couple of years now, and you just know when, or you can sense when, people are approaching the material from two different points of view, and that really was the case. There really were creative differences. We all thought it was best to just split amicably and I'm very proud of the work, and I'll let my work stand for itself. AMC will continue the show in the best way they see fit.
There was a lot of shock on Twitter when it was announced, with your former colleagues Shawn Ryan and Kurt Sutter in particular coming to your defense. How did you feel about receiving that support?
The support that I received has really been very heartwarming and endearing, and I just appreciate everything that fans and friends have said and reached out. It's nice to know that people value my friendship and value my work, and it's really been a very positive experience for me, so I just thank everybody for their support and hope that fans are as excited about my next project as they are about this one, and I just feel a very, very special connection, so it was positive.
How does it feel now having put these final episodes to bed?
I feel good about it. I'm happy with those episodes. I'm happy with all of my cuts and the final product. It's definitely the story that I wanted to tell and I think it leads to a great satisfying conclusion, so I'm very happy with that. I'm slowly putting together ideas for other shows and films, so it's good productive time, and I'm going to go have lunch with Mike Scully, who I'm a big fan of, so that'll be fantastic, and I'm enjoying myself.
Looking back on the season, is there anything you regret doing that could've changed this outcome?
Absolutely not. This is the exact story that I wanted to tell. I wouldn't change a thing. I think this is a pretty exciting season. I think it's pretty remarkable given how complicated the show is through film. Our cast and crew worked so incredibly hard and we have a fantastic postproduction team. I'm just really, really happy with each and every episode. I think it's certainly a highlight of my career and I have just really have loved telling this story.
What lessons have you learned during your time with The Walking Dead?
That is a great question. Do you have an hour? [Laughs] What's important about doing a genre show is it needs to remain grounded, and it needs to take its time. You do need to have action and a bit of heightened circumstances to it, but I think it does need to remain grounded and I think the key to that is the cast, and if the cast feels real and these are characters we care about and their reactions are grounded and not over the top, it feels real, and people will buy into the fantasy element. I am particularly proud of how well I was able to learn that lesson and keep that consistent for the entire season.
The Walking Dead returns Sunday at 10/9c on AMC.
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