For a little while last year, there was hope among fans of Stephen King's epic Dark Tower series that the live-action adaptation we'd all been dreaming about would finally arrive. After years of discussions and development, and one failed big-screen adaptation, a streaming series from former The Walking Dead showrunner Glen Mazzara was set up at Amazon, and a pilot was in production.
Then, earlier this year — amid development of equally ambitious new series focusing on The Lord of the Rings and The Wheel of Time — Amazon opted not to move forward with The Dark Tower. Now, in a new episode of The Kingcast podcast, Mazzara has laid out his vision for an epic series that we'll never get to see.
Back in 2017, Mazzara was just coming off his series Damien when MRC asked him if he had a take on The Dark Tower, which at that point was still being eyed as a potential cross-media franchise that would include both feature films and seasons of television to connect them. With that in mind, Mazzara's take began with an idea for a series that would follow a younger version of Roland, the gunslinger of Gilead, as he discovered the treachery of his father's advisor Marten Broadcloak, then set out from Gilead to fight his own battles.
"That way I was carving out my parcel and it would be free from interference," Mazzara said.
Then The Dark Tower feature film, starring Idris Elba as Roland and Matthew McConaughey as the Man in Black, flopped at the box office, setting the stage for an entirely new adaptation at Amazon, where Mazzara's Dark Tower pitch ultimately landed. With the whole of King's epic saga to work from, Mazzara and his staff faced a choice: Did they begin their version of the story with King's first book, The Gunslinger, or did they begin with a prequel point of view? Mazzara explained to Kingcast hosts Scott Wampler and Eric Vespe why he ultimately chose the prequel option.
"I thought if we have a character that loses everything — he loses his mom, he loses his dad, he loses the love of his life, he loses his ka-tet, he loses his land, his kingdom. He just loses the entire world, and he feels responsible for it. And then when he's stumbling through that desert — to me, that was going to be episode 304 -- we've seen him lose everybody in the Battle of Jericho Hill. Then all of a sudden the audience is invested," Mazzara said. "The audience has gone through the process. The audience has lost all of that, and now the audience understands exactly who Roland is when he meets the adult ka-tet and he goes on his journey."
With that in mind, Mazzara focused the early seasons of his series plan on the fourth book in King's saga -- the prequel story Wizard and Glass -- with material also taken from flashbacks in The Gunslinger and the sidequel novel The Wind Through the Keyhole, to lay out who Roland was before his entire world fell apart. That would have included his relationship with Susan Delgado, the war that ultimately brought down Gilead, and the Battle of Jericho Hill that saw Roland lose his childhood friends. It would have also given the character of Marten — a sorcerer who seduced Roland's mother and worked to bring down Gilead from within — a bigger role in the early part of Roland's life, as both he and the young gunslinger would be in search of the "wizard's glass" (a kind of seeing stone) in the Barony of Mejis. Mazzara's way of introducing this struggle would have also included a direct reference to the opening scene of King's entire epic.
"The story of the pilot is basically Roland in the desert. 'The man in black fled across the desert and the gunslinger followed,'" Mazzara explained. "In this version he’s chasing Marten because Marten was with [Roland's mother Gabrielle Deschain] and he’s vowed his revenge. In the books, [Roland] gets his guns to kill Marten and then Marten sort of disappears from the narrative. So [Roland] chases Marten across the desert and ended up in Hambry. He meets Susan. In the pilot it’s the Feast of the Kissing Moon and she’s being presented to the mayor and she meets Roland on the road. Roland goes into Traveler’s Rest."
From there, Roland's early tragedies would have unfolded through the story of Wizard and Glass, and by the third season the series would have picked up with a more aged, weary Roland pursuing the Tower, which he would have seen through the wizard's glass back in earlier episodes. Eventually, if he'd been able to move forward with the series, Mazzara and his team would have adapted the entire saga over the course of several years, including some ambitious plans for side characters.
"I was really looking forward to Blaine [the demented monorail train from The Waste Lands]. I had ideas for that," Mazzara said. "I was really looking forward to [Father Callahan]. In fact, I was hoping to take Callahan's backstory from the time that he leaves 'Salem's Lot to the time he ends up in Mid-World, I wanted to do that as its own mini-series. I didn't think you could fit that into The Dark Tower proper, so I wanted to split that off. I had plans to hire the best joke writers in Hollywood to write when Roland and Susannah meet Dandelo. I really wanted that to be laugh out loud funny. There were all these things I was jonesing to do."
Sadly, we won't ever get to see Mazzara's version of the story, and while he seems to have made peace with that, he also seems convinced that someday someone will come along and tackle the entire epic.
"I think there is interest. I'm hopeful. I'd like to watch it. You know, I would have liked to have done it," he said. "I think it's just a matter of the timing. It's an expensive show. It's a sprawling show. You have to really do it right. You have to have a team of people who really commit to knowing this material. And I think the audience would have to be patient."
For more on Mazzara's Dark Tower plans, including a more in-depth discussion of shooting the pilot, listen to the full episode of The Kingcast.