‘The Walking Dead’ Showrunner Reveals How it Doesn’t End

Glen Mazzara's dreaming up an entirely new way to cap a zombie story

(Spoiler alert: Don't read this if you don't want to know anything about what's coming up on "The Walking Dead."

"Walking Dead" showrunner Glen Mazzara doesn't want to reveal too much about the upcoming third season of the show – but he will say, emphatically, how the entire series won't end.

Also read: 'Walking Dead' Writers: We Don't Know What Created Walkers

The Wrap talked with Mazzara during a crucial day of filming of the third season — which is set largely in a prison and features a vicious new villain called the Governor. We noted during the interview that there are generally three types of endings for zombie stories. One involves the survivors finding a safe haven, perhaps by taking a boat —

"No," Mazzara interjected, seeing where we were going. "There is no safe haven in this world. I want to make that clear. At the end of our season 2 finale that farm is overtaken and that farm was that last safe haven, and there's no safe haven in that world. I want to be very clear about that. No one is safe. There is no safe haven."

So Rick Grimes and the other survivors can't just catch a boat to France and —

"Nope. Nope. Nope," Mazzara said. "That's against our internal rules here."

So that settles that.

Mazzara and his cast will provide an extended look at the third season of the hit AMC drama at Comic-Con next month. In the meantime, he told us how closely season 3 will follow the comic books that inspired the show (written by "Walking Dead" executive producer Robert Kirkman), and what it was like to take over the series from original showrunner Frank Darabont.

He also explained why the prison where much of season 3 is set won't feel at all like a safe haven.

Without giving anything away, can you give us a taste of what you're shooting today?
We're actually shooting on a major scene for the entire season, and we're shooting on one of my favorite sets on any show ever.

Would that set be a prison?
Yeah. It's part of the prison set.

You've said that this season you'll be getting into the real meat of the series — Michonne (left), the Governor, the prison. How closely are you sticking with the comics?
We're taking the major tentpole characters and storylines from the comics and adapting them to our alternate universe of the TV shows. So it will be just as surprising to comic-book fans as to non-comic-book fans as to how all of it lays out.

I loved how you stretched out and heightened the comics' Shane storyline. You really got every little bit of drama out of it that you could.
That's a great template for how we intend to use the comic-book's source material. We need to make it our own.

What are the advantages and disadvantages of shooting inside the prison for so much of the upcoming season?
The prison itself will be a threatening, malevolent character. It is a challenge to live in the prison. And I think we've really been able to get a lot of story out of it. So it will not feel like a safe corner keeping our characters away from central action. It will really play that they are in a shark cage. Life in a prison is life in a shark cage.

How soon before we meet the Governor?
He makes a surprising appearance. I don’t want to give anything away as to the exact episode, but the audience will certainly be ready for his appearance — and they won't have to wait too long.

"The Rise of the Governor," the novel last year by Robert Kirkman and Jay Bonansinga, made him a somewhat more sympathetic character than he is in the comics. Do you see him as a person who's not necessarily forgivable, but understandable?
We do. I haven't read the novel because I didn't want it to influence my concept of the TV show's version. But we're interested in having a very complex, nuanced, multi-layered character. This will not be simply an arch villain who is committing an evil act in every scene. That's too cartoonish for what we do here. We want that character to feel as real and human and fully developed as possible.

If you stick with what happens in the comics between him and Michonne, it's going to be the most brutal thing on a show that doesn't hold out on violence. Do you feel like you have to temper what's in the comics? Or do you expand on it? Does TV allow you to be more or less graphic?
Certainly there's challenging material in the comic book, and I would say there's equally challenging material on our TV show. I think at the end of season 2 we showed that we don't pull punches … We're not going to get soft now. However, we'll do things on our own time, or when it makes sense for the show. And we're definitely looking at this Governor-Michonne-Woodbury-prison storyline as a longterm arc. 

You took over the show from Frank Darabont last season, and in my opinion, the show kept getting better and had some of its best moments. Did you have a sense of where Darabont wanted it to go? And do you ever keep in touch with him through back channels?
We were really focused on breaking season 2. So I think the material that we're using from the comic book, this is our design. I did not know of a longterm plan, so I've used the comic book as something to lean on. I think Robert's done great work there, and we're excited about getting to what I consider the heart of the matter. This Michonne-Governor-prison-Woodbury storyline to me is what equals "The Walking Dead."

There are some serial shows like "Lost," where you think, well, what I ultimately think of this show depends on how they resolve it. Does "The Walking Dead" feel to you like a show that needs a big answer at the end?
That's something that I think about obsessively. There's a component of this show where the audience wants to know, "What happens next? What happens next?" However, this is not a show that is based on revelation. This is a show that is based on character action. And I think as long as we stay true to our characters — and the show rests on Rick's shoulders right now — as long as we're true to the spirit of those characters and true to the spirit of Robert Kirkman's original work, I think that's how we should be judged.

It's not about necessarily having an answer that sums it all up with a pretty bow. This show is more about how these people survive in this apocalypse.

I know walkers aren't exactly zombies, but it seems like in zombie movies there are three ways to go: Everyone dies, you find our what caused the outbreak, or they get to some safe haven. You've already said you don't know what created the zombies. It sounds like something you don't worry about very much.
Robert is not interested in proposing a theory of what caused this apocalypse in his work, and that's something that I think is important for us. It's about surviving in this world. We're lucky in the sense that we're able to draw on a lot of great zombie films. And one of the things we really pride ourselves on is adding to that literature. Adding original bits with zombies that no one has ever seen.

When you look at possible endings, I really am interested in finding new territory and a new type of ending, a surprising ending for this series that no one's ever done before, that no one's ever thought of.