Among the people shocked by the news of Frank Darabont being fired as showrunner on The Walking Dead was the man Darabont had brought in as his number two and would now be replacing him: Glen Mazzara. “Something similar happened to me when I was a showrunner on Crash,” says Mazarra, “and I know how painful it is when there’s a change like that made. And I know how hard Frank worked, so emotionally, I felt his pain. I really just felt horrible that he was going through that because I had a similar experience.”
As if taking over the reins from the man who brought him in wasn’t difficult enough, then Mazzara had to meet with a cast fiercely loyal to their former boss. “I met with the cast a day after everything went down, and I met with them privately,” recalls Mazarra. “It was a scary meeting, and I came in and I was honest about my mixed emotions. So, at first it was a lot of confusion and people thought ‘Well, maybe Glen’s responsible’ — that I wanted to take over the show. Once I told them that that was not true and explained to them how I was working with Frank and we were executing his vision of the show, I think they felt comfortable and they saw that I was also in new territory as much as they were.”
The key moment for Mazzara was what happened next when the new showrunner had to then speak to the entire crew for the first time. “I had to go out and address the crew and the cast said to me, ‘Don’t go until we can be there with you. We want to stand behind you.’ And that was really a beautiful moment because they didn’t have to do that, and I had only met them face-to-face a few times. Some of them I had never met. So here I was standing before a crew trying to say that we’ll get through this crisis, and the cast rallied around me and that really meant a lot to me. I think it meant a lot to the crew. It showed how professional they are, how graceful they are, how committed to the work they are, and it was really a huge win, I think, for all of us. I put that on the cast and I am in their debt for that.”
As for the cast, their continued affection for Darabont is clear. “This will always be Frank’s show,” says Jon Bernthal, who plays Shane. “This is Frank’s creation, Frank is the heart and soul, and as far as I’m concerned he always will be. That might piss some people off to hear, but Frank is all over this second season.” Bernthal insists, however, that while the cast is united in their appreciation for Darabont, they are are equally united in their desire to carry on without him. “Look, I’d be lying to you if I said it wasn’t a very tough, jarring thing for us to go through. I love Frank. He is one of the best creative minds that I’ve ever had the pleasure to work with. He’s one of my heroes and I miss the hell out of him. That being said, this cast and this crew loves the heck out of each other, we love the heck out of this show, and nothing was going to slow us down or keep our eyes off the prize.”
“It is a sad situation,” says Steven Yeun, who plays former pizza delivery guy Glenn. “We all absolutely love Frank. And at the end of the day, this show still has Frank written all over it. Frank created it on television, and I think what it did do was make all of us as a cast come together and realize we got to carry on this vision, and we’re going to do it to the best of our abilities. We are dying for this show. People are working out in the 100 degree weather everyday, three days in a row, screaming, crying, bleeding. That is all we can do, and that’s what we’re aiming to do.”
In the end, many of the cast and crew express not only thanks to Darabont, sadness over his departure, and resolve to carry on, but also hope that they will one day cross paths again soon. “I love Frank,” says Sarah Wayne Callies, who plays Lori Grimes. “As a man, as a creator, as a writer, as a friend. I will always be grateful to him for creating Lori and letting me play her, and I hope to work with him again as soon as I possibly can.” It just won’t be on The Walking Dead.
For more about both the on- and off-screen drama surrounding season 2 of The Walking Dead, check out the new issue of Entertainment Weekly, on stands now. And for more TV news and views, follow me on Twitter @EWDaltonRoss.