Three years ago The Walking Dead enthralled viewers across the country, gathering 5.35 million viewers for its premiere. Over the years, the series’ audience has grown exponentially. Viewership for The Walking Dead is at an all-time high—season four brought in 16.11 million viewers for its season premiere—but let’s not forget that the series has been on shaky ground ever since its executive producer, Frank Darabont, who developed the series for AMC, left the show. He’s been reluctant to talk about his departure, until now.
A few weeks after The Walking Dead panel at San Diego Comic-Con in July 2011, the cable network announced that Darabont would no longer be the showrunner, and that he had stepped down from his duties. At the time, it was unclear why he left, but it was believed that it was due to disagreements with network executives about budgeting and scheduling. While The Walking Dead is AMC’s most popular show, the network is very savvy about keeping production costs low.
Unlike Breaking Bad and Mad Men, AMC owns the distribution and rights for The Walking Dead. It’s the only TV series they own outright, so they can do anything with it, despite protests from those involved. When Darabont left, writer Glen Mazzara took his place as filming started on the second-half of season two.
Two years later, Frank Darabont opened up about how he feels about The Walking Dead and the network. The Shawshank Redemption director is still understandably bitter about what transpired in 2011. Entertainment Weekly asked Darabont if he watches The Walking Dead today:
No more than I would go to the wedding of somebody who broke my heart and left me for the Pilates instructor. One does become very emotionally attached to the things that one does. I get tremendously invested. Why would I do that? Absolutely not, I won’t.
If you watch that first season of The Walking Dead, Darabont’s fingerprints are all over the zombie drama. Just look at the cast, it’s full of Darabont regulars, like Laurie Holden (Andrea), Jeffrey DeMunn (Dale), Melissa McBride (Carol), and Sam Witwer (the zombie inside of the tank in the episode “Days Gone Bye”), who all appeared in Darabont’s 2007 film The Mist. Holden also co-stared in the Darabont-directed The Majestic in 2001. DeMunn appeared in that film, as well as Shawshank, and The Green Mile. And a number of The Walking Dead‘s production team worked with Darabont on his previous films. In fact, some of his crewmembers took pay cuts to work on The Walking Dead as a favor to him.
If Robert Kirkman created The Walking Dead, Darabont brought the story and world to life. Talking to Variety, he expressed how much The Walking Dead meant to him, and why he’s still upset about what happened in 2011:
There’s a deep commitment and emotional investment that happens when you create something that is very near and dear to you, and when that is torn asunder by sociopaths who don’t give a shit about your feelings or the feelings of your cast and crew because they have their own reasons to screw everybody, that doesn’t feel good.
Ouch. DeMunn left The Walking Dead in season two because of how AMC treated Darabont, as did Jon Bernthal (Shane) later in the season. Bernthal is a bit more positive about his time on The Walking Dead than Darabont, and he takes a more diplomatic approach. Bernthal told THR:
I’ll always watch The Walking Dead. I mean as far as I’m concerned, the people that are on the ground that make that show, the people in Georgia who make that show, the cast and the crew and the producers that are there, they will always be family to me and I will always support them.
Since his departure, Darabont has stayed busy, working on the new series Mob City for TNT, and working on the script for the Godzilla reboot’s. YourMovieSucks.org did a two-part series on why The Walking Dead sucks and why AMC screwed over Frank Darabont. Watch YMS’s video below: