At a special screening of "The Walking Dead" season two premiere, the creative executives behind AMC's hit horror series gathered to speak with CBR News and members of the press about the upcoming season. Assembling in a small screening room in Beverly Hills, "Walking Dead" creator and executive producer Robert Kirkman, executive producer Gale Anne Hurd, executive producer David Alpert, and showrunner Glen Mazzara told the press that the 90 minute long season two premiere would air October 16. Kirkman also told reporters that the hour and a half long episode was made by combining the first two episodes of the upcoming season.
"What you just watched was the entirety of the second episode and the first episode," Kirkman explained. "They were combined to produce a 90 minute pilot because we wanted to open with more of an event-feel like we did the first season."
The creator also said that after the October 16 premiere, AMC will air five episodes before taking an eleven-week hiatus, returning with the remainder of the season in 2012. Hurd stated they knew going in that the season was being split in two and worked this into the story, ending the five Fall episodes with a cliffhanger.
"With Christmas and both playoffs and the Superbowl, and we'll now be airing at 9PM, we felt and AMC also felt that it was best to have the first few episodes this fall and then pick up after the Superbowl," said Hurd.
As for the content of season two, the three executive producers and showrunner reiterated that this season will see Rick and the gang traveling to Hershel's farm, and both Mazzara and Kirkman said they hope to include the Governor storyline later in the series. While Kirkman has a new novel coming out about the popular villain, titled "The Walking Dead: Rise Of The Governor," he dismissed the idea that events in the novel will affect the TV series.
"[The novel] is based in the comic book continuity, so the novel is a precursor to what happens in the comic book series and is only related to the show in that it's the same universe as the comic," said Kirkman.
Season two also deals a bit more with "The Walking Dead's" biggest stars: the zombies.
"We have been playing a little bit with what zombies do when people are not around. I've always thought that they either just sit around or they go somewhere not knowing where they're going, and we're playing with that," said Kirkman. He also told reporters that "The Walking Dead" would not leave the fate of Merle or what Dr. Jenner whispered to Rick unresolved. Though those specifics may not be addressed this season, "It's not something we're going to be ignoring," reassured Kirkman.
The elephant in the room, of course, was the sudden departure of "The Walking Dead's" previous showrunner, Frank Darabont. Relieved of his position by AMC earlier this summer, Darabont's firing surprised fans as it came only days after his appearance promoting the show at Comic-Con International. With Darabont's name still listed in the opening credit sequence for the 90 minute season two premiere, Kirkman and Mazzara told the press that Darabont is still an executive producer and would continue to be listed as such in the credits.
"I think there's been all this concern that I'm going to fuck up the show," Mazzara told reporters when asked about the switchover. Praising Darabont's talent and managerial style, Mazzara said he was thrilled to have worked under him while scripting season two. "I believe in Frank, Frank's a talented individual. I think he's a terrific guy who was a mensch to me and I really loved working with him," said Mazzara. "I think part of the reason we've had such a smooth transition is that it's a fully articulated world, both coming from the comic and what Frank and everybody here has been able to put on screen."
"There's no plan to deviate from what we worked out, there's no different vision of the show," Mazzara added.
However, the new showrunner and the producers declined to discuss the specific reasoning behind Darabont's departure. "I'll be fair; I don't want to talk about Frank's situation or AMC's situation. I don't want to get into that…it's not appropriate for me to say," said Mazzara when asked to weigh in on AMC's decision to fire his predecessor.
Mazzara did discuss how Darabont's exit affected the cast, who have been rumored to be incredibly upset over the move, saying, "Let me be honest, it was rough. I went in there when everything went down that week and I met with the cast and that was tough." Saying that the cast looked up to Darabont as a "big daddy figure" and that they had a special connection with the former writer/producer, Mazzara confessed he was not sure what to expect when he went in to break the news.
"I just spoke to them honestly and said, at some point, there's going to be material that's going to feel different. I think the show would feel inauthentic if I tried to mimic Frank's voice. I'm not Frank Darabont. I shouldn't try to be and I think that would hurt the show," said Mazzara. He was touched when the cast voluntarily went with him to break the news to the crew.
"When they stood behind me, it really felt like they were invested and saying, 'OK, this is confusing but we're going to try to make this work. Were all in this together,'" said Mazzara.
"It wasn't like this was a palace revolt," added Hurd. "Frank blessed Glen as showrunner and made it clear to the cast and crew that he had his blessing, so that I think assuaged everyone's concern."
Interestingly, this is not the first time Mazzara has been in this type of situation, having been dismissed from his show "Crash" only two years ago in a manner similar to Darabont's dismissal. "When I was on 'Crash,' there was a leadership change there. I was the guy who got that show up and running, so I know it's painful," said Mazzara.
"I think it was a hard punch to take, but we're moving on and focusing on the work," he added.
Citing Mazzara's experiences on other high profile cable shows, from "Crash" to "The Shield" as one of the main reasons they were happy to have him come on board with "The Walking Dead," Kirkman, Hurd and Alpert praised his work on the show thus far.
"He keeps us all calm; filming a show like this there is always a crises whether it's weather, whether its ticks, whether it's how many more episodes we're going to have in the woods -- his ability to keep everything calm and running well is great," said Hurd.
"I'm such a giant 'Shield' fan that I just keep asking him questions about 'The Shield,'" admitted Alpert as Mazzara laughed. "But the truth is, having that sort of historical TV experience, where you know how to run a show, understand that process inside and out and having done it in such a successful way, for me, it's just been an amazing learning experience."
"I think he's ok. I haven't seen 'The Shield,'" joked Kirkman. He then laughed as Mazzara shot back, "I haven't read the comic books!"
Ending the event on a more serious note, Kirkman highlighted Mazzara's storytelling instincts and extensive television experience as why he was excited to work alongside the showrunner on the upcoming season. "He brings a lot to the table and we're lucky to have him," said Kirkman.
"The Walking Dead" season two premieres October 16 at 9PM on AMC