Frank Darabont’s unceremonious exit from AMC’s The Walking Dead left many fans wondering what season 2 would have been like had he remained the showrunner.

Well, ParanormalPopCulture and AintItCool have apparently nailed down Darabont’s original plan for the season 2 premiere. And, if true, it was a fantastic idea. But so far, Darabont’s office, AMC and Walking Dead creator Robert Kirkman all refuse to comment on these reports, which include a letter purportedly from Darabont himself. So there may be more news to come on this subject…

The opener allegedly flashbacks to the early days of the zombie apocalypse. The entire episode would have tracked a squad of Army Rangers dropping into Atlanta. They get trapped in a zombie outbreak. “All they have to do is travel maybe a dozen blocks, a simple journey, but what starts as a no-brainer scenario goes from ‘the city is being secured’ to ‘holy shit, we’ve lost control, the world is ending,'” Darabont describes in a letter to AICN. So, yeah — Black Hawk Down with zombies.

Along the way, the soldiers encounter some familiar faces from the show. “Picture our squad arriving at a manned barricade where some civilians are being held back from leaving the city on shoot-to-kill orders to stop the spread of contagion, it’s a panicked high-intensity scene, and in this crowd of desperate people we find Andrea and Amy. The barricade gunners panic, the civilians start to get mowed down by machine-gun fire, and in this melee the girls get pulled to safety by some old guy they don’t even know. It’s Dale. He’s nobody to them, just some guy who saw the opportunity to do the right thing and reacted in the moment.”

The end of the episode concludes with the last surviving member of the squad, now infected and dying, hiding in a tank. A very familiar tank…

“After the soldier dies this squalid, lonely death … and after a quiet lapse of time … we do a shot-for-shot reprise from the first episode of the first season: Rick comes scrambling into the tank to escape the horde … blows that zombie soldier’s brains out … now Rick’s trapped … fade out … the end.

 The notion was to take the ‘throwaway’ tank zombie Rick encountered in the pilot, and tell that soldier’s story. Make him the star of his own movie, follow his journey, but don’t reveal who he is until the end. The idea being that every zombie has a story…”

Darabont compared the plan to the way Lost would occasionally break format with a “wild card” episode. Then Episode 2 would pick up back with Rick and the other survivors.

Darabont doesn’t say why the team jettisoned this episode, but there’s a few obvious guesses: It’s expensive and not essential to the story. But of those two, the potential cost issue is likely to get to the most attention from fans. Squabbles over budget were one reported reason Darabont was booted, though AMC has assured viewers wouldn’t really notice a qualitative difference. After all, it’s not like season 2 has taken place entirely on a freakin’ farm or anything … right?

Over on Paranormal, the actor who played the tank zombie, Sam Witwer, blamed budget worries for cutting the story.”This is all because people wanted to save money,” Witwer said. “This is all because they felt it necessary to cut the budget by — when you add in the tax breaks they’re pocketing — like 35 percent. Really? Budget cut? So, I’m not happy about it. And here’s the thing, it’s not as simple as don’t support The Walking Dead because there are a lot of good people on that set. People who are busting ass to entertain all of us … People who have been threatened to not speak out over what happened. It’s ugly … it’s really ugly what happened.”

I’d also suggest that Darabont’s plan wasn’t simply an expensive and ambitious episode, it’s actually smart from a business perspective too. Serialized shows are always fighting to bring in new viewers. By launching the second season with a stand-alone zombie battle that re-introduces some of the key characters, it would have served as a great hook for Walking Dead newbies to try the show. After that, it’s easier to get away with a slew of slower, character-building / Sofia-searching farm-based episodes.

If you’re fan, I recommend you click over to AICN to read Darabont’s letter in full. Witwer’s interview is here (the actor describes the Atlanta battle as a potential Web series, Darabont corrects that description). Check back on this post and we’ll update if more clarity become available.

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The Walking Dead

AMC's zombie thriller, based on the classic comic book serial created by Robert Kirkman.

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