We’re now two episodes deep into Season 3 of “The Walking Dead” and it’s clear the furious pace of the season premiere was no fluke. A lot goes down in the season’s second episode, “Sick,” possibly none of it more shocking than Rick’s brutal murder of shady convict Tomas in the immediate aftermath of a walker bloodbath.
Is this a sign of the new Rick? Last season he was hesitant to take the life of dubious interloper Randall, preferring instead to hold on to some semblance of the morality of a pre-walker world. But now, after killing his loose cannon of a best friend Shane and keeping the group alive during a very long winter, it seems like Rick has a whole new way of seeing things.
We asked executive producer and showrunner Glen Mazzara to fill us in on exactly how dark Rick’s journey might become and how he plans to keep “Walking Dead” dangerous and surprising without going too far over the top.
Has Rick reached a point where he no longer questions taking a human life? What he did to Tomas was shocking on several levels.
Glen Mazzara: That kill is very important because Rick actually de-humanizes Tomas. Rick has spent an episode and a half hacking and slashing his way through the prison. When he kills Tomas it’s basically just muscle memory. That’s who Rick is. That’s a very, very different Rick than we’ve seen in the past. That’s a very telling kill and I think tells us who Rick is for the season.
And I assume this is also a sign of how he’s changed since killing Shane, as well as dealing with the debate over how to handle Randall last season.
Rick’s mission is to protect his core group, that’s it. It’s his family and the people who made it off the farm with him. That’s what he cares about. He doesn’t care about doing the right thing, he doesn’t care about other survivors. He is simply focused on the people who made it through the winter with him.
On “Breaking Bad,” Walter White’s justification for every horrible thing he does is that he’s doing it to protect and help his family. But most viewers understand Walt is a monster. Is it possible we’d ever view Rick that same way?
Possibly. But I think Rick would wrestle with that [justification] more. It’s a central question for the season. The “I’m committing evil for the good of my family” [idea] is something I explored on “The Shield.” I know “Breaking Bad” does a great job with it, it was one of the central theses of “The Sopranos.” It’s not something we really talk about [for “The Walking Dead”]. Rick is more just trying to keep people alive and I think it’s a little more black and white. What characters like Tony Soprano, Walter White or Vic Mackey do in the name of their family is clearly illegal behavior. That’s not the question in “The Walking Dead.” There are no laws. This is survival of the fittest, this is a primitive state. Walter White, Vic Mackey, Tony Soprano gain money for their actions. That’s not what’s being gained here, it’s life itself.
So, we don’t have to worry about Rick spiraling out of control (at least for now)?
When Rick kills to save the group, hopefully the audience is along for the ride. I’d be surprised if a lot of audience members did not think that [killing Tomas] was a justified kill. The guy is not attacking him at that point, but he did just try to attack him by throwing a walker on top of him. [Rick] has learned his lesson from Shane. He’s not going to let things play out. He wants a quick answer and he’s moving on. That’s what he said at the end, “I’m making decisions and we’re moving on. There’s no questioning it.”
It feels like we’ve seen more zombie kills in these first two episodes than we saw in the first two seasons combined. In the past, there was criticism the show didn’t have enough action, but do you worry about going too far in the other direction?
There is a point that the audience could become over-saturated. There certainly is a breaking point. What’s important is to not feel that there’s a quota of zombie kills that we need for every episode, but I do want the show to be intense and thrilling and surprising. That’s what we’re shooting for. We’re not necessarily shooting for a great amount of violence or gore, that’s not what the show’s about. The show has to be emotionally engaging, I want it to keep you on the edge of your seat. If that requires one zombie, great. If that requires 100 zombies, great. Every episode is different.
And right now, the massive amount of zombies is dictated by the prison storyline?
They’re working hard to take that prison. Look what they’re sacrificing. One of the things I want to avoid is feeling like the prison is safe. The prison can never feel safe. In the past, perhaps, the zombies felt too distant and the threat didn’t feel immediate. These people are in a shark tank, they’re living on the knife’s edge. That prison is flooded with zombies. They’re able to take a little bit of territory each day at great sacrifice, that’s interesting. Now, if that’s where they’re living, and all of a sudden you’re introducing an antagonist like The Governor and all of the pressures of the outside world, that’s what ratchets up the tension for the new season.
Lori’s pregnancy this season has made me nervous about how the group could possibly handle the challenges of a newborn. And I’ve read that one of the very influential TV moments in your life was the revelation in the “M*A*S*H” finale that Hawkeye Pierce felt responsible for a woman smothering a baby to avoid being caught by enemy soldiers. Should we be prepared for a variation of that scene on “The Walking Dead”?
Well, that “M*A*S*H” scene is a classic scene, it’s very meaningful. I would never rip it off. But I would certainly use it as an inspiration. You steal from the best and try to make it your own. If there was ever a way in which we could go into that territory, it’s something I would certainly consider. But we would have to do it in a way that felt fresh to “The Walking Dead.”