The Walking Dead season 4 had barely begun before AMC announced that it was being renewed for a fifth season - hardly surprising in the wake of the excellent audience numbers that the show has been drawing in recently. Season 4 follows the continued struggles of the survivors in the prison grounds, as the walls threaten to come down and a grave new danger threatens to wipe the group out from the inside.
Season 5 will once again be helmed by Scott M. Gimple, the third showrunner to be placed in charge of the show's direction. Prior to Gimple the position was filled by Glen Mazzara, who was fired after running the show for just a season and a half. Mazzara, in turn, took over from The Walking Dead's original showrunner, Frank Darabont, who was also unceremoniously kicked off the series at the beginning of the second season.
Darabont's departure was quite controversial at the time, since stars like Laurie Holden and Jeffrey DeMunn were veterans of Darabont's previous works, and in many ways AMC owed the success of The Walking Dead's first season to Darabont's ambitious handling of it. It's worth noting that actor Jon Bernthal also departed the show shortly thereafter and is currently starring in Darabont's new crime drama, Mob City.
During an interview with Variety on the subject of Mob City, which premieres on TNT in December, Darabont was asked whether he still watches The Walking Dead. The short answer? No. No, he does not.
"Oh god no, why would I? If the woman you loved with all your heart left you for the Pilates instructor and just sent you an invitation to the wedding, would you go?
"There’s a deep commitment and emotional investment that happens when you create something that is very near and dear to you, and when that is torn asunder by sociopaths who don’t give a shit about your feelings or the feelings of your cast and crew because they have their own reasons to screw everybody, that doesn't feel good."
It's safe to say that this is one wound that time has not yet healed. Being situated so far outside of the meetings and e-mail inboxes and on-set discussions where the breakdown of the relationship between Darabont and AMC took place, it's nearly impossible to know whose side to take on this issue, especially since we can now only view the dispute in retrospect. Even with possession of all the facts and details, it would probably still be difficult to assign blame to just one party.
Perhaps one of the most in-depth accounts of Darabont's dismissal was a report by THR that was based on sources close to production. It's been widely reported that the budget cuts for The Walking Dead's second season caused a strained relationship between Darabont and AMC (read more on that HERE), and according to THR's sources the network sent production notes that, among other recommendations, suggested shooting at least half of all the scenes inside, and only playing zombie sounds rather than actually showing the zombies in order to save on makeup costs.
A number of fans did voice their disappointment with the show's second season, due to its sedately-paced farm setting and dearth of memorable action-oriented setpieces. Those episodes did feel like the budget was necessitating lengthy scenes of the characters sitting around and talking, whereas the prison story arc of season three and four has allowed room for a healthy balance of character development with more active exploration and, of course, plenty of gross zombie executions.
The overall conclusion that can be garnered from the various accounts of Darabont's firing is that The Walking Dead was launched at a time when AMC was still finding its feet in terms of original programming, and the combination of this inexperience and Darabont's strong personality culminated in a very messy break-up. On a more positive note, the show does seem to have firmly found its feet again as the fourth season gets fully underway, and hopefully in the future any drama will be kept strictly on-screen.
The Walking Dead continues next Sunday with ‘Dead Weight’ @9pm on AMC.
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