War! Guns! Zombies! Weird Rick Grimes hair! Things heated up big time in the last 10 minutes of Sunday’s episode of The Walking Dead, and if you have yet to watch the episode, you really should stop reading right now. [SPOILER ALERT: Read on only if you have already watched Sunday’s episode of The Walking Dead.]
Yet another character bit the dust as Axel, the last remaining inmate of the West George Correctional Facility, was on the receiving end of a deadly bullet to the brain courtesy of the Governor. It was a shocking jolt, and followed by a firefight between the prison group and invading foes from Woodbury, who drove a truck full of zombies through the gates to aid in their attack. Walking Dead showrunner Glen Mazzara spoke to me about why he killed off an intriguing character that was just starting to grow on viewers, the inspiration for the big battle scene, and why this episode’s action sequence represents “Walking Dead filmmaking at its best.” (Also check out my exclusive interview with the man who played Axel, Lew Temple.)
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: So I was watching the episode and thinking how I was really getting into Axel and the different, less-stressed vibe he brings to the show — especially with all the drama everyone else is going through — and then you go and kill the guy! What gives?
GLEN MAZZARA: That was a really tough choice because we had to have the Governor exact some revenge. If he just shot up the prison without resulting in someone’s death it would have looked completely impotent. So now you start looking at characters and which character is going to go. And we evaluated almost every character — is it time to kill this character or that character? Unfortunately, the axe fell Axel’s way. It was tough because there may have been more story with him. I think we were just finding that character. I loved what he added. It was just that someone had to go and that was a really, really tough choice. That was something that I wrestled with almost more than say, Lori, because I knew we were getting story out of Lori’s death. So this was a different kind of death that was tied into the existing story but it didn’t prompt further story. I did really feel that loss. That was a tough one. I wish…. I didn’t see another way out of it.
EW: Unlike the Shane or Lori deaths which build up over a few minutes and you have time to prepare for something horrible to happen, this just came completely out of nowhere, which provides a completely different kind of shock for the viewer.
MAZZARA: Yeah, he didn’t know what hit him. He’s telling a story and says “One time…” and then he’s hit. And you know what? If that bullet didn’t come, maybe there would have been a nice little romance with Axel and Carol. Because I think she really was enjoying that conversation. And it was nice to see her somewhat happy for once.
EW: I spoke with Lew Temple, who played Axel, and he felt there was something brewing there romantically with the two of them. Obviously, in Axel’s head, he would have liked that, and Carol seemed to be warming to the possibility as well.
MAZZARA: I think there was. Yeah, I do think that. He was fun to write. He was a good guy. And you hate for the good guys to lose.
EW: Tell me about the whole siege that followed it.
MAZZARA: That was the sequence that whenever I was getting stressed out on the job just from the pressures of showrunning, I would just go and watch that sequence over and over. I just love it. I think it’s flawlessly directed and I love the sound design and the music and the editing. I think that’s Walking Dead filmmaking at its best.
EW: The truck crashes through the gate and there’s a silence while everyone tries to figure out what’s going on, and then the back goes down. That scared silence while they tried to figure out what is in that truck was the scariest part for me.
MAZZARA: What we were trying to do is go for a scene from say, Band of Brothers, where an entire battle is not just a random shootout, but it has its ups and downs, and its moments of chaos, and then moments of silence and fear, and then another round. And then it really came together. I couldn’t be happier about that episode. It was kind of funny because last week some people were saying the first episode back was slow and were saying “Where’s the action?” and in my mind I’m just thinking: It’s coming. We do know how to tell this story. We just don’t give it to you in a way you’d expect. This is The Walking Dead where you’re on the edge of your seat.
EW: Of course, the Daryl Dixon fans are going to be happy with the way he reintegrates himself with the group by saving Rick.
MAZZARA: That’s the first time you’ve ever seen Rick since the pilot and said, how is this guy ever going to get out of this? Last week on Twitter a lot of people were saying “Curse you, Glen Mazzara, you’ve written Daryl out of the show! He’s off the show now because he left with Merle.” And I’m just thinking, no, he’s off walking around the woods until he figures out his brother’s a jerk and he comes back at just the perfect heroic moment to save Rick. Because if he didn’t show up, Rick would have been a goner. That arrow comes in and it’s hopefully a Rocky moment where people will cheer.
For more Walking Dead news & views, follow Dalton on Twitter @DaltonRoss.