'Walking Dead' showrunner on season finale bloodshed, violence and yes, Norman Reedus

(Warning: The Walking Dead season finale is discussed in this story. There be spoilers here.)

Courtesy AMC
Glen Mazzara is not afraid to rack up a sizable death count. The show runner and executive producer who assumed leadership duties of AMC’s hit zombie drama The Walking Dead after Frank Darabont was unceremoniously dismissed last summer, Mazzara has made a mark on the show by not being afraid to kill off both a zombie child and major characters.

For instance, while last fall’s first half of Season Two was criticized for moving too slowly, the show ended with a mid-season finale that showed missing child Sophia (MIA for six episodes) show up as a zombie, who was swiftly put down by lead survivor Rick Grimes (Andrew Lincoln). Then, beginning with the show’s Feb. 12 return, the power struggle between Rick and Shane (Jon Bernthal) reached a fever pitch after several figurative head butting sessions and one literal one when the latter planned to execute his bestie/frenemy, only to have Rick kill him off first. When Shane immediately resurrected as a ghoul, suspicions were at last confirmed that death, not a zombie bite, is enough to become infected.

Of course, all this happened right after the voice of morality, Dale (Jeffrey DeMunn), lost his stomach for apocalypse politics when a walker freed by ragamuffin Carl (Chandler Riggs) dined on his intestines. Season Two also showed fan favorite Daryl (Norman Reedus) become a slightly more lovable chief interrogator, pregnant Lori Grimes (Sarah Wayne Callies) become more manipulative, and T-Dog (IronE Singleton) still quietly flying under the radar.

Oh yeah, and did we mention a massive hoard of zombies is heading straight towards Hershel's farmhouse for a Night of the Living Dead-esque smackdown?

On the heels of all this, Mazzara spoke to a group of reporters, including Paranormal Pop Culture, to discuss Sunday night’s Season Two finale (March 18, 9 p.m. ET on AMC) which he co-wrote with Executive Producer (and The Walking Dead creator) Robert Kirkman. He also spoke about Season Three, character deaths and introductions, and the divergence from the comic book source material.

On how important it is to still connect the show to the comic, and if the show is now completely separate from the source material:

Rick, Lori & Shane. Courtesy AMC
"That's a great question, thank you. There are characters (or) stories that are in Robert Kirkman's book that we're excited about writing for Season 3 and seasons beyond, so we take that material as inspiration, but we have to put our own twist on it. So we do our own thing. Robert is here. We're all fans of the book and Robert is obviously an executive producer and writer on the show so he's involved in all these creative decisions. And we're all excited about writing this material, so I think one of the things that I really wanted to focus on is to get closer to the spirit of the comic book. I think it is visual, it is shocking, it is exciting, it is a page turner and that's something that I think we've really wanted to get closer to so that it's a more faithful adaptation, at least spirit-wise, not necessarily story-wise … Well we're very aware of our comic book audience. We're aware of those fans and … we thought that was a nice playful twist to still orchestrate a scene but in a way that a comic book fans would be surprised. That's something that we intend to do, you know, as we start using some of the more famous storylines from The Walking Dead comic book. We realize fans have an expectation of certain material and we realize that fans might get frustrated if we deviate too much for material - we're still going to own it, we're going to do it our way, in a way that makes sense in the rules of our world."

On the graphic living-human on living-human violence that we is around the corner with the introduction of Michonne and the Governor (to be portrayed by David Morrissey), and the discussion of how far you can go with it while still remaining true to the comics:

"There have been those conversations and those conversations have taken place within the writer’s room where we're finding our own way … We have to be careful that - not to show any human-on-human violence in a gratuitous way. I think if you look at the show these past few episodes we really earned those moments of violence. We try to make them as heartbreaking as possible and that's where the show lives. We're not here for shock value, that's not what we're delivering and that's not - that's just not my intention. So I think that you have to pick those moments and I'll admit we have - when we've looked ahead, we do have very shocking, graphic moments, but they're all earned and they're all - they'll all mean something. I think the deaths and the acts of violence in this world play real; this isn't just a shoot ‘em up kind of Western. And they have consequences for our characters. Our characters feel the weight of those actions."

On the revelation and resulting Web chatter that the living could return as zombies:

"Obviously we're all very excited about how much buzz the show is getting. That's great and that's always sort of mind blowing. That's really been taking us all by storm. But we worked hard to make sure that that revelation landed - we knew what we were doing there. We knew that it was going to land a punch and that story's constructed in such a way that it does land a punch. I'll say that we revealed with Randall before that so that people were not completely baffled or thrown off when Shane rises. We built to that and we spend a lot of time crafting that story on the page."

On more bloodshed in the season finale:

"There's more bloodshed coming, I will say that. You know, these characters have felt that they are safe on this farm, they've been wrong, they've been looking for a safe place to hide and I guarantee you there will be bloodshed."

On the season’s character focus on Rick:

"I'm very interested in focusing on Rick, Rick is the leader of the group and I think that this season has always been to Rick dealing with questions of leadership. When we meet him at the beginning of Episode 1, he's on the rooftop and here's a guy, he's lost in zombie land and he's screwed and it's a question of, you know, what does he do with these people … And all of this stuff I think led to a very, very decisive act where Rick kills Shane, you know that's one thing people talk about Shane being killed off, well Rick kills Shane. Rick took action in a very big way and so that's a statement that I think we're saying about our main character, that he's evolving as a person and a leader and as life becomes more difficult, what is he willing to do. That killing was a lot messier then the killing in bar."

On the zombie virus itself:

Courtesy AMC
"There are answers regarding the virus coming in the finale … It's consistent with how we internally approach how somebody becomes a zombie and what type of zombie and how - and it becomes a walk around and what type of walker they become. So in all rationale, you know, Amy was a weaker character than Shane and she was attacked, okay. Shane was, you know, is full of life - he's in a murderous rage, there's just more energy. So he's obviously going to be a scarier zombie, he's going to reanimate quicker, there's just more life in that zombie believe it or not. So we do have zombies of different strengths, we do have some catatonic zombies - not all zombies play the same and we do have internal rules for that, so what you saw was very, very consistent with how we approach it here. And those are rules that the writers work out and Greg Nicotero's involved with that and Robert Kirkman so we do take our internal logic very seriously and that was - what you saw was consistent … [But] I like our characters being in the dark, you know that's something that is - we've been pretty faithful I think, particularly in this second season and moving ahead to Robert's comic book, you know, the survivors on the ground don't have a lot of that information. They don't know what causes - and they're just trying to live in this post-apocalyptic world."

On flashbacks and the initial zombie outbreak:

"I’m not interested in that because I want to propel the story the forward. I want to drive it forward. There’s a lot of adrenaline involved in a story, and that’s just my natural inclination as a story teller … I want to keep people confused on the edge of their seat so they don’t know what’s coming next. They don’t have all the information and they’re trying to figure it out and they’re on the run. That’s exciting … So to go back and tell people how the outbreak: Who gives a shit? The outbreak started, and everybody’s screwed, and now we’re running from these zombies. I love that. I love that, you know. So, that’s just kind of my personal take as a storyteller. I just want to push it forward and have people frightened."

On the criticisms that Season Two has moved slowly:

"I think that I'm very proud of the work we did in the first half of Season Two and I'm very proud of those episodes and I'll admit I was surprised that people thought that they played slow. I did not think they played as slow as some of the feedback seems to have indicated, I'll admit that surprised us here internally. That being said, it was always my intention to sort of amp up the pace when we knew we were rushing to a great finale and I think that our episodes have been better crafted as having a beginning, middle and hopefully a great punch at the end … We still have slower episodes, we still will have character felt episodes that this is not something where again that we would ever go to just gratuitous shock value - that's, you know, this is the story about characters we care about. But I do think that the pacing for the Season 3 is - really feels like freight train."

On leaving Hershel’s farm:

"Questions are answered, things are … propelled forward in a big way … We're moving forward. We're really not interested in going in and filling in back story, you know, our characters are, you know, at the end of Episode 212, you know, that herd of walkers are coming over that hill and our guys are on the run. And I think that I would love to see our characters always on the run after that, I think that makes for a dynamic kinetic show and a very, very frightening one. And that's something that, you know, I think just brings a great energy and suspense to the material."

On some of the fan hatred of Lori and if killing a pregnant character is over the line:

"I will say this, there’s - if it’s earned, and it’s character-based, and it propels the story forward, nothing is over the line for us … we have certain criteria for any death and I will honestly say that no character is safe -- that we have examined at different times killing every character. No one is safe on this show … By the time at the end of the finale, you know, in the past six episodes we’ll have more deaths than - than number of episodes. You know, I won’t tell you what those numbers are, but you know, if you count up all the deaths we’re - we’re certainly, you know, on a good killing spree right here."

On the power vacuum left by Shane and Dale, and the rise of Daryl:

Daryl leads the survivors, courtesy AMC
"If he survives the finale, I would certainly lean on that character heavily. I think Norman’s done a fantastic job … What I’m very happy with is that character’s arc in the season. He has taken on this quest to find Sophia. He failed. I think he questioned whether or not he ever had a chance. He withdrew from the group and now he’s - he’s plugged in, interestingly, through violence. We see him beating Randall. We see that he is able to emotionally disconnect and put down Dale - to do what even Rick hadn’t done. So yes, he is a viable leader. He is a viable Number Two; there’s certainly not the personal baggage that Shane had, so I do think that, moving ahead - if he survives the finale - that that would be a character that would play a prominent role. Daryl is the character that is in a sense pre-adapted to the apocalyptic world, and he seems to be the most qualified to survive."

On T-Dog’s chances of survival:

"T-Dog fans will be happy to see some terrific stuff from IronE Singleton in the finale. I will say that, okay … part of our thinking is - and this has not been translated, okay? And this might be something that comes out at some point - if you look at T-Dog’s statements at the beginning, he realizes that he is very much an outsider within this group. And he doesn’t trust anybody. In our minds - in our internal logic -he’s very very smart in that he keeps his mouth shut. He’s not drawing anyone’s attention. He’s not drawing anyone’s ire, and his agenda has been to survive, and he doesn’t trust any of these people … In the finale there’s some reason to love T-Dog and - but there is a method to our madness here."

On future seasons and the series finale:

"At the end of the second season I sat down and I wrote sort of a big paper on what I wanted Season Three to be, and what characters we were introducing, what storylines, and just what it should fell like in inspirations and all of that. And I shared that with the writing staff … But that document that I wrote really does bring us into Season Four and I’ve spoken with Robert on what I feel is the series finale … Robert hopes the show never ends, okay? He’d like it to be like the comic book and go on for 30 years. I don’t know if that’s plausible, but I do have a feeling of where this show ends ... We’re just starting to write season three now. We know pretty much the entire arc of Season Three, you know, almost beat by beat. Certainly pushing into Season Four I have ideas and then skipping ahead to the end of the series I have very strong ideas."