As intrigued, and disappointed, as many Walking Dead fans were by actor Sam Witwer’s recent account of plans for a web series left unrealized by AMC’s belt-tightening and subsequent firing of showrunner Frank Darabont, it turns out some key details may have been lost in translation: The flashback featuring the Being Human star, who appeared in The Walking Dead‘s pilot episode as the zombie soldier inside the tank, was never intended as “a web gimmick,” but rather as the Season 2 premiere.
Asked by Ain’t It Cool News about Witwer’s description of “Black Hawk Down, but with zombies,” recounting the fall of Atlanta, Darabont replied that his intent was to kick off the second season by following a squad of Army Rangers dropped into the city and trying to make its way to a certain point on the map.
“Along the way, I thought we could briefly dovetail this story with a few established characters from the show,” he wrote to the website. “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, it’s 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 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.”
Witwer’s character, who Darabont described as “the main character and the moral center of the group,” would have been the only member of the squad to reach the map coordinates — the barricade at the intersection where, in the pilot, Rick Grimes finds the tank. Bitten and realizing he’s infected, the soldier crawls inside.
“As his fever builds and the poor guy starts to hallucinate, he pulls his last grenade and considers ending his life,” Darabont related. “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 … 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 soldier’s brains out … now Rick’s trapped … fade out … the end.”
The second episode would’ve picked up where Season 2 actually began, with Rick and the other survivors on the interstate, the walker horde shuffling by, and Sophia fleeing into the woods.
Read Darabont’s full email for more details, including why he cast Witwer in the uncredited role, and how he’d hoped to “throw in a ‘wild-card’ episode” along these lines every season. Unfortunately, it just wasn’t meant to be.
The Walking Dead returns from its midseason hiatus Feb. 12.
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