It took Frank Darabont five years to bring The Walking Dead to TV, and when it premiered on Halloween 2010, its ratings immediately made it AMC's most-watched show, besting Mad Men and Breaking Bad. Behind the scenes, Darabont was everywhere: he directed the pilot and personally lobbied Andrew Lincoln (Rick) and Jon Bernthal (Shane) to join the cast permanently. "Frank talked us into getting on that plane," Lincoln told David Peisner for his recent Rolling Stone cover story. Then his zombie dream collapsed. According to Peisner's reporting, AMC cut the per-episode budget for Season Two by about $500,000, and following a series of public and private spats with network executives, Darabont was dismissed in July 2011. He's kept quiet about the issue, focusing his energies on a new show, TNT's Mob City. Until now. What follows is an excerpt from a longer interview about his return to television, slated for publication next month.
Have you kept up with the show since your departure? Fans of Kirkman's comics haven't particularly enjoyed its direction since you left.
Have not? Well I wouldn't know. Because, for the same reason that if the woman that I loved left me for the Pilates instructor and they sent me an invitation to their wedding, for the same reason I wouldn't go to the wedding, I haven't seen an episode of The Walking Dead since then.
Did you just need to wash your hands of it?
Look, I really haven't spoken of this yet – I will, I'll get there – but I had to take some time off after that to really reassess everything, to really get over the emotional devastation of having some truly malevolent people tear asunder a brilliant family that had gathered to create this hit for them. It was a very, very deep and loving family, the cast and the crew, and to have that torn apart was – when somebody throws a hand-grenade into that situation, it's tremendously emotionally trying. So would I want to watch another episode of The Walking Dead after that? Are you fucking kidding me? No, you put that traumatic disappointment behind you and move on with your life.
We interviewed the original cast while reporting our recent cover story, and a number of them – specifically Lauren Cohan – spoke quite fondly of you.
Listen, they're the best group of people in the world, that cast. But my God, how do I put this – sometimes the emotionally difficult things are tricky to say, words can fall short – but I managed to put another family together on Mob City that is very meaningful to me. The people I get to work always make the journey worth it.