To the surprise of no one, AMC has renewed its ratings juggernaut The Walking Dead for season 4, but the news taking everyone by surprise is that the network will do it without current showrunner Glen Mazzara, who will part ways with the series after completing work on season 3.

Mazzara’s rather surprising departure marks the second showrunner to suddenly exit the hit zombie series in just three seasons on the air. Of course, many recall Mazzara landed the showrunner gig after Frank Darabont’s abrupt and contentious removal halfway through the series’ divisive second season – which put Mazzara in the driver’s seat for the second half of season 2, and all of season 3.

Since then, Mazzara has been applauded for his efforts on the series, which have steered The Walking Dead to its highest ratings to date (breaking cable television ratings records in the process). In addition to swifter, more action-packed storytelling, Mazzara’s success can also be attributed to decisions that brought in popular characters like the Governor (David Morrissey) and Michonne (Danai Gurira), as well as his willingness to kill off several major characters early in the season.

According to The Hollywood Reporter, the split has been deemed “amicable,” by both sides, but was once again rooted in a disagreement as to the direction of the show.

AMC stated:

“Both parties acknowledge that there is a difference of opinion about where the show should go moving forward, and conclude that it is best to part ways. This decision is amicable and Glen will remain on for postproduction on season 3B as showrunner and executive producer.”

In making his own announcement, Mazzara was gracious regarding his decision to leave, and had this to say about his brief tenure as showrunner on The Walking Dead:

“My time as showrunner on The Walking Dead has been an amazing experience, but after I finish season three, it’s time to move on. I have told the stories I wanted to tell and connected with our fans on a level that I never imagined. It doesn’t get much better than that. Thank you to everyone who has been a part of this journey.”

While it’s not entirely clear what AMC and Mazzara failed to find common ground on, the two sides have decided to file it under the obligatory heading of “creative differences” – which could be anything from storytelling disagreements to the much more likely scenario of issues regarding the show’s budget.

It’s worth noting that the network has had a troubling and somewhat touchy history with several of its showrunners. Many recall season 5 of Mad Men being delayed nearly 18 months after contract disputes could not be settled in a timely manner. A similar disagreement occurred prior to season 5 of Breaking Bad, which led to that series’ final season being split into two 8-episode halves for revenue purposes. Most recently, such disagreements have led to a delay in season 3 of Hell on Wheels, which was briefly put on hold while the network searched for a new showrunner to replace the departing John Shiban.

Still, despite the network’s disturbing pattern of clashes with creative heads, there’s the future of The Walking Dead to think about. In a statement regarding Mazzara’s departure, and what lies ahead, series creator Robert Kirkman said:

“I am in full support of both AMC and Glen Mazzara in the decision they have come to and believe the parties came to this decision in the best interest of the future of the show. I thank Glen for his hard work and appreciate his many contributions to The Walking Dead and look forward to working with him as we complete postproduction on season three. I am also excited to begin work on another spectacular season of this show that I know means so much to so many people. This show has always been the result of a wide range of extremely talented men and women working tirelessly to produce their best work collectively.  I believe the future is bright for The Walking Dead. Thank you to the fans for your continued support.”

Executive producer Gale Anne Hurd also stepped in to show a little solidarity regarding Mazzara’s departure:

“I am appreciative and grateful to Glen for his hard work on The Walking Dead. I am supportive of AMC and Glen’s decision and know that the series is in great hands with one of the most talented and dedicated casts and crews in the business. I look forward to the show’s continued success.”

At the moment there’s been no word on whether AMC will be looking to promote someone from within the series to the role of showrunner, or if they will bring someone in from outside the network. At any rate, whomever is chosen to replace Mazzara might not want to unpack right away.

Screen Rant will keep you posted on all news regarding The Walking Dead. Meanwhile, new episodes will begin airing Sunday, February 10 on AMC.

Source: The Hollywood Reporter