Last week’s season 3 premiere of The Walking Dead saw Rick cut off Hershel’s leg in an attempt to save him after the veterinarian/farmer was bitten by a zombie. In tonight’s episode, we saw the aftermath of that decision, and showrunner Glen Mazzara tells us how one key scene was inspired by his own tragic loss. [SPOILER ALERT: Read on only if you have already watched the Oct. 21 episode of The Walking Dead. Seriously, come back later after you have watched. Last warning!]
While Rick, Daryl, and T-Dog dealt with —in various ways — the human prisoners they encountered at the end of last week’s premiere, the rest of the group attended to Hershel, whose life was hanging by a thread. In one poignant scene, Maggie — who could no longer stand to see her father suffering so much — said her final goodbye: “Dad, you don’t have to fight any more. If you’re worried about me and Beth, don’t — don’t worry about us. We’ll take care of each other….Go ahead, dad. It’s okay. Be peaceful. You don’t have to fight. If it’s time to go, it’s okay. I just want to thank you. For everything. Thank you.” (Hershel ended up regaining consciousness at the end of the episode.)
For Mazzara, this scene between actors Lauren Cohan and Scott Wilson hit particularly close to home — it was based on his own experience saying goodbye to his mother, Virginia Mazzara, who died this year after suffering a stroke. I talked to the showrunner about how he used his own personal grief to write the scene and how it helped him cope with his own loss.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: We spoke a while back and you told me there was a scene in the second episode that was drawn from your own personal experience.
GLEN MAZZARA: It’s Maggie saying goodbye to Hershel. My mom passed away this year. She suffered a stroke and there was inoperable brain damage and she lingered on life support for a couple of days. I was about to rush to her side and my father asked me not to. Instead, he wanted me to bring my wife and sons out to New York for the funeral. So it was a lot of tension and a lot of stress on the whole family. And a cousin of mine said that she had said goodbye to a loved one by holding the phone up to the person’s ear because she could not get there in time. So I called my sister and I said, “Do me a favor and just hold the phone up to mom so that I can at least say goodbye. Whether or not she can hear me — she probably can’t — at least I get to say goodbye.” So I said a form of what Maggie said. I said, “Don’t worry. Don’t fight. It’s okay. Just be at peace.” I just felt like she had a long difficult battle with this illness and it was just time for her to go peacefully. But my mom was a real fighter. So I said that, and then we got into breaking this story and I really wanted to dramatize that. One of the things that’s really kind of beautiful about The Walking Dead is that you do deal with high stakes and life and death and grief, and it was very therapeutic for me. It was cathartic to write that scene.
EW: What was the reaction from the other writers and the cast when you put that scene in?
MAZZARA: When we talked about it in the writers’ room, people wondered, “Does that reflect poorly on Maggie? Is she giving up? Is it too bleak? Is it a lack of hope?” And my thought was, no. She’s giving him permission to die, because she really feels that he needs to die peacefully. So it led to some interesting debates in the writers’ room. And I remember Lauren Cohan called and said, “Boy, do I need to say this?” And I said, “Yes, you need to say everything. That’s what I said to my mom.” And she said, “I totally understand,” and she went and did a beautiful performance. And it was just very, very personal and meaningful to me. I was lucky enough to use that scene in a way to say goodbye to my own mother. But havening gone through that experience, it felt like something that Maggie would say so it was a very, very important scene for me.
EW: Was it difficult or easy to actually sit down and write?
MAZZARA: It was very emotional to write but I think I wrote it pretty easily. I didn’t go back and revise it. I just wrote what it was and Billy Gierhart did a great job of directing it and Lauren really connected to it. I’m learning that this is a show about a family. It’s Swiss Family Robinson in the zombie apocalypse. Those familial bonds are so precious. I think any writer that is personally invested in their material draws from their own life, obviously, and it’s probably surprising for the audience to hear that the writers here are drawing from their personal experiences, but we are. And I think hopefully that resonates with the audience. It feels real to us.
EW: What was it like the first time you watched the scene?
MAZZARA: You know, I cried. And I was just thankful to Lauren for doing that. I felt like that was a gift that she did for me.
EW: It sounds like it was very therapeutic for you.
MAZZARA: It really was. And I imagine if my mom were here and saw it, she would have notes. [Laughs.]
For more ‘Walking Dead’ intel, follow Dalton on Twitter: Follow @DaltonRoss
More Walking Dead: