February 27, 2015 at 07:56 PM EST

The Walking Dead is entering a strange, dangerous, and potentially awesome new era. After spending seven episodes on a go-nowhere search for an angelically boring little girl, the midseason finale back in November ended with Rick Grimes cathartically putting a big old bullet in Sophia’s pretty little head. That’s reason enough to be excited. But there’s a big change behind the scenes of Walking Dead, too. We’ve finally caught up to the moment that made headlines last summer: the departure of Walking Dead developer, showrunner, and chief creative force Frank Darabont. Pause to imagine the executives at AMC firing a metaphorical bullet into Frank Darabont’s metaphorical zombie head.

To be fair, it’s unclear why Darabont left. It’s equally unclear if this season’s brutally slow pace was due an artistic miscalculation by the showrunner or a stingy budget from cost-conscious AMC. (Support for theory #1: Darabont directed the overlong The Green Mile and The Majestic. Support for theory #2: Darabont apparently wanted to make one episode into a total-warfare depiction of the zombie apocalypse, and instead the characters spent seven episodes at Hershel Greene’s Cut-Rate Prefabricated Farm Set.)

But we’re officially in the post-Darabont era now. Walking Dead‘s new showrunner is Glen Mazzara, who worked on The Shield and Life (yay!), but also Crash and Hawthorne (meh!) And in a fascinating interview with Vulture, Mazzara addresses all the major criticisms of The Walking Dead, and seems focused on fixing the show. He wants to make the show feel “less safe, more dangerous, more in your face.” He’s worried that the show was becoming “a little insular…a very small cast of characters on just a farm,” and he pointedly wants to use the back half of season 2 to widen the show’s world.  He’s also set on making the show feel more cinematic, and he talks about bringing a “seventies style of filmmaking” into the show’s aesthetic. Perhaps most pointedly, Mazzara gently notes that Darabont had a sensibility better suited to features than long-form television: “Just wait for it, just wait for it, then you’ll be satisfied.”

Of course, there was a time not so long ago when a showrunner named Tim Kring was giving lots of erudite interviews explaining his totally logical master plan for fixing Heroes. But to paraphrase an old John McCain quote, the fundamentals of Walking Dead are strong. The status quo could feasibly change at any time. (If Mazzara wanted to, he could bring in a herd of zombies to kill off all the lame characters.) The show is based on an incredible series of graphic novels — comics that are positively filled with characters and story arcs that are vastly more interesting than anything the TV show has ever done. Walking Dead has proven that it can do all sorts of different tones: Tense horror, gory action, dark comedy, neo-western American myth.

So I’m optimistic about the show, even though last night’s episode of Walking Dead seemed to represent a major step back from the thrilling midseason finale. The hour kicked off exactly where we left off in November. Rick lowered his gun and looked down at Sophia’s zombie-corpse. One of Hershel’s random children ran over and cried for her zombie mother, who promptly staged a Carrie and turned out to not be properly dead. Fortunately, T-Dog was around to kick the zombie-mama in the face, which is I believe the most T-Dog has contributed to the show all season. (Andrea found a creative use for a scythe, earning herself this week’s Zombie Kill of the Week by default.)

It was an interesting and unexpected way to kick off the episode. Unfortunately, starting immediately after the zombie massacre meant that this was yet another episode in which everybody constantly talked about Sophia.

NEXT: Lori tries to be useful, and is greeted by sad trombones.

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