I've remained a faithful devotee of AMC's The Walking Dead television series since its record-breaking debut, but I'll be the first to admit that the first half of the second season has been shaky, dominated by too little heartbreak and terror and far too much hemming and hawing over the search for a lost little girl. And with showrunner Frank Darabont's departure this summer, I don't have terribly high hopes for the season's remaining episodes. Despite some hitches, the first season made it clear that Darabont understood the zombie-filled world that he'd been handed, and what made a long-running zombie comic book series written by Robert Kirkman such a brilliant idea.
And the latest revelation from behind The Walking Dead's scenes solidifies Darabont's remarkable vision for series and makes me even more concerned for the show's future. Darabont recently revealed the stellar "Black Hawk Down with zombies" storyline he had planned for the second series premiere, a storyline his fallout with AMC kept from becoming a reality.
Actor Sam Witwer, who currently stars as the vampire Aidan in the Syfy remake of Being Human, recently revealed to HorrorHound (although the interview was posted by Paranormal Pop Culture) that he was, in fact, in the pilot episode of The Walking Dead, in an appearance meant to plant the seeds for that later storyline. If you've seen the pilot episode, you know that our hero, Rick, goes to Atlanta looking for his wife and son. When he's set upon by a horde of the hungry undead, Rick climbs into an abandoned tank for shelter, only to find himself sharing quarters with a zombified soldier. It's hard to tell under all that makeup decay, but that soldier is actually played by Witwer. Darabont's plan, Witwer said, was "to tell a prequel story about how Atlanta fell, do 'Black Hawk Down,' but with zombies."
You can hear Witwer's fuming description below.
Ain't It Cool News asked Darabont is he would confirm the storyline, and Darabont replied that not only was the prequel storyline in the works, he'd planned to open the second season with it. The episode would have followed an Army Ranger squad that gets trapped in the city as it is overrun by zombies. Here is how Darabont described the episode to AICN:
The idea was to do this with a very focused "you are there" documentary feel. Not going all shaky-cam, but still making it a bit rawer and grainier than the rest of the show. We'd start with a squad of maybe seven or eight soldiers being dropped into the city by chopper. They have map coordinates they need to get to; they've been told to report to a certain place to provide reinforcement. It's not a special mission, it's basically a housekeeping measure putting more boots on the ground to reinforce key intersections and installations throughout the city. And we follow this group from the moment the copter sets them down. All they have to do is travel maybe a dozen blocks, a simple journey, but what starts as a no-brainer scenario goes from "the city is being secured" to "holy shit, we've lost control, the world is ending." Our squad gets blocked at every turn and are soon just trying to survive. I wanted to do a really tense, character-driven ensemble story as communications break down, supply lines are lost, escape routes are cut off, morale falls apart, leadership unravels, mutinies heat up, etc. (Yes, this approach owes a spiritual debt to a number of great films, including Walter Hill's Southern Comfort.)
Darabont was also toying with the idea of reintroducing us to Andrea and Amy, showing us the very moment when Dale meets them by pulling them out of harm's way. But the real genius is in the sad and unnerving ending Darabont had planned. The Rangers inevitably fall to the zombies, until Witwer's character is the only one left alive. Unfortunately, by the time he reaches that now-familiar tank, he's already been bitten. As he grows sicker, he considers pulling the pin out of a grenade and killing himself, but ultimately succumbs to his fever. Then, Darabont told AICN:
After the soldier dies this squalid, lonely death...and after a quiet lapse of time...we do a shot-for-shot reprise from the first episode of the first season: Rick comes scrambling into the tank to escape the horde...blows that zombie soldier's brains out...now Rick's trapped...fade out...the end.
Whew. What a chilling way to start a new season. It's a very different brand of horror than we're used to seeing in The Walking Dead; Meredith Woerner at io9 aptly described it as "straight out of the Twilight Zone." But because it's such a classic kind of horror, it would have fit in happily with all of the flesh-chewing and loved ones dying. And it's amazing to think that Darabont had this planned from the very first episode.
Darabont says he had more episodes like this planned -- "wild card" episodes, he called them -- to give the series more of an anthology feel. (Honestly, that's what I originally thought was going on with the CDC episode at the end of Season One, right up until Rick and company showed up on the researcher's doorstep.) It's a shame that when AMC lost Darabont, we all lost out on that kind of smart horror in our zombie show.
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