Fear not, Walking Dead fans: The man who replaced Frank Darabont as series boss wants to calm your fears. "There's been all this concern that I'm going to f--- up this show, and really, we're just trying to get it done," Glen Mazzara told a handful of reporters who screened the Season 2 premiere on Thursday.
Mazzara certainly has some big shoes to fill. Darabont, who adapted the AMC hit from the comic books created by Robert Kirkman, parted ways with the series just days after attending its Comic-Con panel in July. (Fortunately, he had already mapped out the entire season with around eight episodes already written.)
"We all did a lot of work on plotting this season under Frank, and part of the reason we've had such a smooth transition is that it's a fully articulated world," said Mazzara, who had never read the comic books before starting Season 2. Previously, he wrote an episode in Season 1 as a freelancer. "This [season] is consistent with the material that we did last year. I think, like any second season, you work out the bugs. You try to improve. What you're seeing is the usual growth of any TV show, creatively. There's no plan to deviate from what we worked out, there's no different vision of the show."
Though the producers declined to elaborate on the why Darabont is no longer running the show, they did reiterate that he'll remain an executive producer. (His name appears in the opening credits of the season premiere.)
"Let me be honest, it was rough," Mazzara said of breaking the news to the cast. "There's an emotional connection to Frank that they're never going to have to another writer/producer."
"So, now I'm in this situation where I have to take over and try to fill Frank's shoes. Well, that's a dangerous situation," he continued, explaining to the cast that at some point, there's going to be scripts that differ from Darabont's voice. "I think the show would be inauthentic if I tried to mimic's Frank's voice. I'm not Frank Darabont and I shouldn't try to be. I think that would hurt the show. I asked them, please help keep me honest, keep the writers honest and be collaborative."
The cast then insisted they be present when Mazzara broke the news to the crew, so they could be standing behind him in solidarity. "Frank blessed Glen as showrunner and made it clear to the cast and crew that he had his blessing," executive producer Gale Anne Hurd added.
As for the second season, the show will take a long 11-week break after the first seven episodes have aired. Hurd said they knew about the split from the beginning, which gave them time to create a great cliffhanger to keep fans anticipating the February return. Kirkman likened it to having two seasons in one year.
Compared to what some critics have called a slowly paced first season, the producers said they'll have more event episodes this time around. "Season 2 is just jam-packed," Kirkman said, later adding that Season 2 is very intense. "It's a much bigger season than the first season. There's a lot going on."
Part of upping the excitement will come from more fantastical and gruesome zombie kills — a few of which in the season premiere may actually make you scream out loud. "Breaking Bad keeps setting new precedents for us to try and top," Kirkman joked, noting that AMC didn't attempt to censor the gore. "The fight really, for me, is to find something that they're not going to let us do, so we have to continually top ourselves."
Just because it's more extreme, that doesn't mean it will be constantly grim. "You need to break the tension," Mazzara said of infusing more comedic moments. "This is not a bleak world, it is an intense world, but you need to have humor and hope in it otherwise it's a very bleak, ugly world and that's not something we're interesting in doing."
The 90-minute second season premiere of The Walking Dead premieres Sunday, Oct. 16 at 9/8c on AMC.