Glen Mazzara on rape, season 3 and apocalypse survival

As writer, executive producer and show runner, Glen Mazzara has been the central architect of The Walking Dead’s second and third season. In this time, he has presided over the highest drama ratings in basic cable history. Mazzara’s Walking Dead is also one of the key examples of what critics are calling the golden age of subscription television. Along with Game of Thrones, Breaking Bad, Boardwalk Empire and Mad Men, The Walking Dead has pushed the limits of what was thought possible on television in narrative, character development and production quality.

Mazzara is moving on from The Walking Dead at the end of season three, but we caught up with the Writer’s Guild Award-winning creator to pick his brain on the rest of season three (now screening in Australia on FX), what he would do in a zombie apocalypse, and dealing with sexual assault on screen. Just a warning, he's also full of spoilers.

On how the rest of season three will play out

"The rest of the season is really about Rick and his group having their backs against the wall. They’re in disarray. We’ve seen that group be very efficient, we’ve seen them deal with crises and be heroes that can take on really staggering odds. Now the Governor is furious at them, he’s coming after them and now it’s a question of how they will fight to protect their prison, how they’ll fight to protect each other and how they’ll fight to survive. It’s really about the coming war."

On writing about sexual assault

"I had a lot of concerns about Maggie’s scene with the Governor. I actually wrote that material and was very adamant that rape and sexual assault, (which would be a factor in this world where the rule of law has broken down) needs to be handled in an incredibly sensitive manner. On television, especially on a cutting edge cable show, there’s the temptation to push the envelope as far as possible, and to be as dramatic as possible, and yet The Walking Dead is also always entertaining. It has a very large audience and we’re mindful that there are a lot of different generations watching the show. So I didn’t want to portray an explicit sexual assault because I thought that, although that would be dramatic, that would not necessarily be entertaining. In a way it could be gratuitous and turn off the audience, so we had to be very delicate with that subject.

On what that scene meant for the characters

"The Governor is not sadistic, the Governor is a strategist, and he realizes while he’s interrogating Maggie, if he rapes her it will just be a brutal act, especially after she says her line “Do what you’re going to do, and then go to hell”. [The Governer] realizes this would just be pure brutality, it would be sadism, and it wouldn’t achieve his goal of finding out the information, so he moves on.

That was the first scene I pitched to David Morrissey to get him to sign on as an actor. We were talking about who this character was - he was already a fan of the show - and we said that we did not want him to be an arch villain, we wanted him to be a person who has an agenda, a large picture. I pitched that scene to him as we played it, and he thought it was intriguing, he thought it was different, it was actually scary in a way you wouldn’t expect it to be. After Glenn defeats a zombie in the same episode, it’s amazing that the scariest scene in the whole episode is just a man making a woman take her shirt and bra off. I was pretty proud of that scene, I thought the actors did a great job and the director was very sensitive.

I think Glenn feels emasculated by  this assault, and he’s personalizing this assault. One of the things that we tackle on The Walking Dead is that in a crisis situation people will go to traditional roles. They will want to restore order in a conservative manner, so Glenn is feeling that he’s the man and should have protected her. We’ve seen Glenn go through this before. He’s not necessarily sure if she was raped, he’s not sure if she’s denying that she was raped because she’s ashamed or trying to protect him. He’s looking at it from his own view point. He’s not thinking about what this means for her.

Now Maggie – and I discussed this at length with the actors – she is dealing with something where she was assaulted, not raped, but assaulted and in the days afterward she’s shaken by that. We want to show that an assault is something that you have to process. However, she also realizes that she cannot make the same mistake Glenn is making and focus on her own crisis at the expense of the group. The group is now in danger.  What I’m very proud of is in episode ten, and nobody seems to have mentioned this, but in episode ten everybody is wondering what we do. So Maggie, who is up in her cell afraid and dealing with this crisis, during the Governor’s attack, she is the one who runs out with the guns. She’s the only person on their side who kills one of the Governor’s people. She stands up, she’s a hero, she gets it done. That says something about her character, that she’s able to put away her personal crises to deal with saving the group.

There’s this scene coming up, which makes total sense to me and the actors, and it will be very interesting because I think fans will have a very strong reaction. It’s a scene in episode 13 and it will be interesting to see fan reaction.

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