'Walking Dead' Showrunner Glen Mazzara Previews Darker, More Intense Third Season

The executive producer tells THR that the series will push AMC's boundaries and take a darker turn than what's featured in the gruesome comics on which the series is based.
Frank Ockenfels/AMC
"The Walking Dead's" Chandler Riggs and Andrew Lincoln

[Warning: This story contains spoilers from season three of The Walking Dead and the Image Comics graphic novels on which it's based.]

Shane, Dale and Hershel's farm are gone. Michonne, the Governor and the prison (and Woodbury!) are coming. Welcome to season three of AMC's The Walking Dead, during which Rick and his band of survivors will face new challenges as they seek the safe confines of the prison.

Heading into its biggest season to date (16 episodes), and with the arrival of new baddie the Governor (David Morrissey), the zombie drama has arrived at the meat of the comic series created by executive producer Robert Kirkman. The character provides Rick (Andrew Lincoln) with his first formidable living foe and sets the stage for what in the Image Comics series is an epic (and deadly) battle between the living. With "Fight the Dead, Fear the Living" already in place as season three's tagline, the series will for the first time explore the brutal humanity that exists between rival factions of the living and what happens when democracy crumbles.

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"We're expanding the scope -- we've added a lot of characters, new sets, new storylines, and it feels like a much bigger show," showrunner Glen Mazzara tells The Hollywood Reporter. "It would be hard, after those last two episodes of season two, to go back to a quieter version of the show. When those walkers come through the farm at the end and everybody has to hit the road, all hell has broken loose. It is hard to put the genie back in the bottle. The pace is very different this year; it's a lot more suspenseful and intense than it was last year."

Here, Mazzara breaks down what's next for the Ricktatorship, how the Governor's storyline compares to the dark and twisted events of the comics and previews the lack of brotherly love to come between Merle and Daryl. (And yes, there will be more for T-Dog!)

How does Rick's new "Ricktatorship" philosophy prepare him for the pending battle with the Governor?
That's very interesting because we put a twist on that. The Ricktatorship is important for establishing who our main characters are at the beginning of the season: what they do, how they take the prison, what they establish so that they appear to be a formidable force to the Governor. When the Governor sees Rick and his group, he considers them the threat. Look how Rick and his group wreak havoc on the farm, and Hershel's life on the farm. I've always said that in a way, our core group is really like the plague.

Rick's going to be isolating himself from the group to help salvage his marriage. Is that going to be good for him and Lori (Sarah Wayne Callies)?
He's emotionally shutting himself out. He's tried in the past to be a good husband, father and friend, and these things have not gone well for him. But he is a good leader, and he's keeping people alive. That's really what his comfort zone is, and that's the central story for the season: How does Rick deal with all these different demands?

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Will Lori deal with the guilt over her role in Shane's (Jon Bernthal) death after going all Lady Macbeth and telling Rick to do something about his growing threat?
I think so. It was never our intention for Lori to imply that Rick should kill Shane. But she does feel that she's played a part in this drama. She realizes that she has complicated feelings for both men and had some type of moral weakness. With this baby coming, she wants to make restitution and she wants forgiveness and to repair the damage because it is that emotional rift that is this small group apart. She's really wrestling with her own demons. Her pregnancy feels like a weight that the entire group is carrying while they were on the road.

The Governor's arrival signals a very gruesome part of the comics, including rape and murder. What notes have you gotten from AMC about what you can and can't do?
There is a tremendous amount of leeway. AMC is interested in pushing the boundaries. We do have material this season that's darker than the comics. There is some very dark material that's darker than how certain things played out in the comics.

How similar will the Governor be to the ruthless character from the comics? Does he have a soul in the same way that his comic counterpart does?
The governor has a lot of layers to him. When we meet him, he's more of a politician and very worried about ruling Woodbury and his legacy. Throughout the season, as things become problematic for him, we'll see that character develop. I definitely think our Governor has a soul. He's a very conflicted character. It's important that all of the characters on the show have some humanity. Every action that the Governor takes, no matter how horrific, should make sense to the audience -- just like everything that Rick does should make sense to the audience.

The Governor's arrival also brings with it a story that ultimately ends with Lori's death. Is that something that the writers already are discussing? How close will this season stick to the events of the comics?
We've always put our twist on our material; we take a good storyline and stretch it out. Look how long Shane's death took compared to what it was in the comic. Yet look how quickly Dale (Jeffrey DeMunn) was killed off in comparison to the comic. We play very fast and loose with this material from Robert's work, and it's important to stay true to the spirit of the original work. We're going to make it our own, and I guarantee that this is a different story. People will be very surprised at how we're choosing to tell the story.

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Milton (Dallas Roberts) is a new character to the Walking Dead mythos. Is he friend or foe? Considering he's examining how zombies behave, might he be the key to the arena battles that the Governor stages in the comics?
He could be. Milton is a benevolent character; he's in the Governor's circle, but he's a person who's looking to contribute and who has a lot of value for the Governor. As he learns the Governor's true side, that puts him in an interesting position.

Might we see other new additions or familiar faces from the comics, like Tyreese?
There are a lot of characters from the comics that we will eventually work into the show -- Tyreese, Abraham, this new character Negan, who is the latest bad guy. They all exist in the world of The Walking Dead, and it's just a matter of time before we meet them all. Right now, we've got the Governor onstage, and we're just getting him up and running, but seasons from now, I could certainly see bringing in Negan. He's a really scary and compelling character, but we have no current plans now.

Merle (Michael Rooker) is returning! What's his mind-set when we meet him?
He has a grudge to bear. He was forced to amputate his hand, and Meryl's not a guy who forgives or forgets. So he really has an ax to grind. Or, if you look at the pictures, he has a bayonet.

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How will his return impact Daryl (Norman Reedus) now that he's become so valued to Rick's group?
That's a major storyline that we intend to explore. Merle would expect Daryl to fall in line with the behavior that these two brothers have always had in the past; he expects Daryl to be the little brother looking up to him, but he has a new family and would see Merle as a threat to that family. Brother against brother is a dynamic that is fresh to the show in the sense that that's not an element from the original comic book.

How will Andrea (Laurie Holden) evolve now that she's splintered from the group? Will the group not searching for her play a role when they do eventually reconnect?
When and if all the groups come together, that's something that people have to answer for. Andrea would feel a sense of betrayal, a sense of loss. We're interested in developing that character, and we have some other interesting new female characters that we will meet throughout the season. As this apocalypse goes on, the strong are surviving -- and that's strong men and strong women. We're very interested in pushing Andrea further along so that she is not just a victim licking her wounds. Part of the reason for separating her from the group was to put her in tough spots and see her make difficult choices and learn who that character is. Andrea was always under Shane, Rick or Dale's shadow. So who is that woman as she stands out on her own?

How will she respond to learning of Shane's death?
That's going to be exciting to watch. One thing that I would love for the audience to keep in mind is, we have 16 episodes to answer all these questions. So not all of these questions are being answered in the first half. By the end of episode 16, all of these questions will be answered.

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How will Michonne (Danai Gurira), who in the comics is a lone wolf-type, respond to being taken into the Governor's fold?
Just like Merle is his own man, Michonne is her own woman -- and she is not exactly the friendliest or cuddliest person. She is a warrior, and she is an excellent walker killer, and she would have a hard time fitting into any group. She doesn't easily fall in line with anyone.

T-Dog (IronE Singleton) didn't have much to do last season. What's his role this year?
He has some great stuff. Last year we needed to pay off the Rick-Shane-Lori love triangle. Now that that has been resolved to some extent with Shane's death, we still have the emotional fallout of that going forward, but we have some more room that we can explore other characters. I think the T-Dog fans will be happy.

How will Carl's (Chandler Riggs) role with the group change now that he has killed a walker and ultimately put down zombie Shane?
I've been referring to him as a child soldier. Carl is out there with the rest of them -- he's a young boy becoming a man who wants to learn how to protect his family. We've stopped thinking of Carl as a child and have started writing him as one of the adult characters as far as what he can handle. However, he is still a child and still has to deal with childish things in some ways. He is no longer a young child that we have to worry about his whereabouts. He is a fully integrated part of the team.

The helicopter featured in the trailer -- what can you say about where that was coming from and where it was headed? Whose people are those?
They are remnants of the civilization that existed before the apocalypse. If there are bands of survivors, there are also rescue workers, soldiers and people who are still on watch trying to put the pieces back together. That helicopter is somebody who we'll meet in an episode, and that will be answered.

The Walking Dead's third season premieres at 9 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 14 on AMC. Hit the comments with what you're looking forward to seeing. How do you think the Governor will change the series?