Frank Darabont's flashback that almost kicked off Walking Dead S2

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Dec 16, 2012

The Walking Dead's second season premiered last fall to huge ratings and a fan response even bigger than the series premiere back in 2010. But according to former showrunner Frank Darabont, those same AMC budget cuts that helped drive him from the series also prevented his awesome idea to start season two with a prequel episode that would have put us inside a zombie war zone.

In The Walking Dead's first season we got a good look at the ruined city of Atlanta and the zombies that still occupied it as Rick Grimes (Andrew Lincoln) went searching for his family and found another gang of survivors instead. One of the more memorable sequences from the storyline found Rick trapped in a tank with a zombie soldier, who you might have recognized as Being Human's Sam Witwer.

It looks like an amusing little cameo from an actor Darabont worked with on The Mist, but in a video interview posted Jan. 3, Witwer revealed that his brief appearance was actually the setup for a potential prequel story.

"If you look closely, I played that zombie, because we were setting up this prequel we were going to do. If you watch the pilot of The Walking Dead, that's me in the tank as the zombie, and then Rick blasts him and he gets deafened, and he gets that grenade which saves him at the end of the season," Witwer said.

The prequel revolving around Witwer's zombie soldier was, predictably, nixed because of budget cuts. He may have a sweet gig on Being Human these days, but Witwer's still not happy that AMC let Darabont and all his awesome ideas go.

"It's not happening now. Why? Because AMC wanted to save a few bucks. That is just one example of the kind of cool, awesome forethought [Darabont] has put into this show that is now absolutely written off," Witwer said. "For me it doesn't matter much, because I'm busy doing Being Human. We were going to schedule things around. I'm not lamenting the loss of a job, I'm lamenting the loss of an amazing idea. And there are dozens and dozens of amazing ideas just like that which are now gone."

CraveOnline initially reported that the concept was going to be used for a web series, but when Darabont responded to the story in a letter to Ain't It Cool News, he said it was actually the plan for the whole season-two premiere.

"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," Darabont said. "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."

Basically the idea was to do a kind of Saving Private Ryan or Black Hawk Down with zombies. What starts as a simple mission would have all gone to hell, but over the course of the episode we would have also had a chance to run into a few familiar faces.

"Picture our squad arriving at a manned barricade where some civilians are being held back from leaving the city on shoot-to-kill orders to stop the spread of contagion, it's a panicked high-intensity scene, and in this crowd of desperate people we find Andrea and Amy," Darabont said. "The barricade gunners panic, the civilians start to get mowed down by machine gun fire, and in this melee the girls get pulled to safety by some old guy they don't even know. It's Dale. He's nobody to them, just some guy who saw the opportunity to do the right thing and reacted in the moment. This would have been perhaps a minute or two of the episode, just a cool detour like the various outposts the soldiers encounter in Saving Private Ryan, but we would have witnessed the moment that Dale meets Andrea and Amy, seen where that relationship began."

The episode would have ended with Witwer's character as the last man standing, reaching the coordinates the squad was supposed to hit even though he'd already been bitten by the undead. He crawls into the tank, prepared to commit suicide by grenade, then dies instead. Darabont then wanted to time-lapse into a shot-for-shot reprise of Rick entering the tank and encountering Witwer's zombie.

"The notion was to take the 'throwaway' tank zombie Rick encountered in the pilot, and tell that soldier's story," Darabont said. "Make him the star of his own movie, follow his journey, but don't reveal who he is until the end. The idea being that every zombie has a story, every undead extra was once a human being with a life of his/her own ... was, in a sense, the star of his own life's movie. And we've followed this one particular guy and seen how his life ended; we witness his struggles, see his good intentions and his failures, and we experience his godawful death in this tank. That's why I cast Sam as that tank zombie in the first place instead of just casting some extra. I had this story in mind while filming the pilot, and I knew I'd need a superb actor to play that soldier when the time came."

Darabont also noted that the idea of a "wild card" episode focusing on a character we're not used to meeting was one he would have liked to continue as the series progressed. But of course, none of that will happen now. Darabont is gone and the show goes on, but at least we can think about what might have been.

(via Ain't It Cool News)

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