Had Frank Darabont stay aboard The Walking Dead for its second season, you might have seen a very different – or as he calls it “wild card” – first episode for the series’ sophomore run.
Remember the tank zombie? Y’know, the one Rick encounters early on in season one when he seeks shelter in a tank from a horde of zombies roaming Atlanta, Georgia’s streets? Darabont envisioned a whole back story for that zombie – played by Sam Witwer (The Mist, Being Human), and inside, you’ll get a taste of what would have kicked off season two.
Darabont explained his concept to Ain’t It Cool:
I wanted to kick off the 2nd season with the flashback episode Sam describes, which would have followed a squad of Army Rangers getting trapped in the city and trying to survive as Atlanta falls.
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. Wed 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; theyve been told to report to a certain place to provide reinforcement. Its not a special mission, its 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, weve 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 Hills Southern Comfort.)
Along the way, I thought we could briefly dovetail this story with a few established characters from the show. Not to overdo that, mind you, because it could get silly and too coincidental if you load too much into that idea. But I thought it would be great to veer off on a quick narrative detour that brushes our soldiers briefly up against some people we know. 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, its a panicked high-intensity scene, and in this crowd of desperate people we find Andrea and Amy. 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 dont even know. Its Dale. Hes 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. I also felt it would be a great way to get Emma Bell back into the series for a moment, because she was so wonderful and we were all so sorry that her character died and she had to leave the show. (Of course if this brush with established characters idea didnt work in the script stage, Id have tossed it out. You try a lot of ideas like that as you go, see how they play. But I thought this one stood a pretty good chance of being engineered to work well.) ??
So the story follows these soldiers through hell as the city falls apart and the squad implodes, with Sams soldier being the main character and the moral center of the group. He becomes the last survivor of the squad, and he finally gets to the map coordinates theyve been trying to get to from the start: its the barricade at the Atlanta courthouse intersection from the pilot where Rick later finds the tank. The soldier is still alive when he gets there, but hes been bitten. Hes accomplished his simple mission, but hes gone through seven kinds of hell to do it (including being forced to frag his squad leader), and now hes dying. And he crawls off into the tank just to get off the street and under cover. As his fever builds and the poor guy starts to hallucinate, he pulls his last grenade and considers ending his life. He sets the grenade down on that shelf for a moment to reflect on all the shit and misery that brought him to this sad end-point of his life, and to dredge up the courage to pull the pin…but before he can act, the fever burns him out and he dies. ??
The kicker comes in the last moments of this episode:?
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 soldiers brains out…now Ricks trapped…fade out…the end.??
He goes on to say that episode two of the second season would pick back up in the present and continue its story thread.
Interesting idea, but I’m not certain audiences, who waited almost a year to see the continuing adventures of Rick and company would jive with something that jumped back into the past simply to be a “wild card” episode.