DC’s Titans have returned! The live-action TV series featuring the titular comic book team returns to the small screen today, with the first three episodes of Season 3 marking the show’s official debut on HBO Max. The third season follows the Titans leaving sunny San Francisco for a colder, darker, and definitely more dangerous Gotham City, where the tragic loss of one of their own and the rise of a new enemy known only as Red Hood presents wholly different obstacles when his true identity is unmasked. Along the way, the Titans’ leader Dick Grayson, aka Nightwing (Brenton Thwaites), is forced to step into a new role, one that puts him at odds with an old friend and the current police commissioner of Gotham, Barbara Gordon (Savannah Welch).
Ahead of the show’s premiere on HBO Max, Collider had the opportunity to speak with showrunner and executive producer Greg Walker. During the interview, Walker discussed how the COVID-19 pandemic and other real-world events impacted the writers’ room this season, and also spoke about what fans can expect from series newcomers, including Vincent Kartheiser‘s Jonathan Crane. He also shed light on the show’s transition to HBO Max, balancing stories across the main core of Titans and the Bat-family, and whether there’s more romance in the cards for Dick and Kory (Anna Diop) this season.
Collider: I definitely want to talk about what fans can expect this season, but I would love to go back and start at the beginning before Season 3 even started. How did that initial production delay affect any plans that you might’ve had in play for the season?
GREG WALKER: Well, we’re on month 21 right now, in this season, in terms of still working on post-production. So [it took] a long two years to do. We joke around and say, “22 months to do 13 episodes, and they said it couldn’t be done.” And here we are, still plugging away. I think the biggest change was there was a big pause in the middle, which allowed us to reflect on things that are thematic issues. Because we had the pandemic, and then there was the George Floyd murder. And so there was a lot of thought about how we look at policing in the show, how we look at institutions that are under scrutiny, increased scrutiny, and ways that we can look at the Titans as being kind of forces of change in that world.
So we definitely have a very smart staff, and a lot of people were had strong feelings, and so that allowed us to reconsider some of the trajectory. It was kind of along the lines that we were going, but it reinforced and made some ideas stronger and more emotional. For the crew and cast, it was just an incredible slog. They were in one of the most difficult cities in the world, Toronto. It was shut down, [and] all the time it’s cold. You can’t go anywhere most of the time in the winter anyway. And for people who had families, or people who were… It was a lot of isolation, and it was a difficult year that, they should be really commended. I was in Los Angeles. I was in Canada for a short period of time, but the people who were there really had hard work to do.
This is the show’s first season on HBO Max, too. What’s been the most noticeable difference from Titans moving from one platform to the other, in your mind?
WALKER: It’s been pretty seamless. It’s not like HBO Max wants the show to be brighter, sunnier, or darker and grimmer. They rolled with us because they like what the show is and they’ve supported us. I think the biggest difference is how you really feel the weight of a big network’s publicity and promotion, and the support of that with a real kind of enthusiasm to really launch the show, and really be behind it. That’s fun, and everybody gets caught up in that. The rising tide. We feel it, and we feel the support.
Obviously, one of the really big storylines this season is the Red Hood arc, which I think fans are really looking forward to seeing. What made Season 3 the right time to finally embark on that arc for Jason?
WALKER: It’s a good question. And I think the answer to that question begins by looking at where he is at the end of Season 2, where there, he’s in exile from the times after the trauma that he experienced through his ordeal with Deathstroke, and the kind of follow-up to the Titans. In many ways, Jason Todd’s always a tragic character, and struggling not to be one. He’s basically a foster kid, and a kid of the streets, who wants to find someone who believes in him and is struggling to find acceptance throughout his whole life.
He reminds me of a lot of people I know [who] were sort of kind of struggling with that same challenge. And he thought he’d found it with Bruce, and then he thought he found it with the Titans. And the struggle for acceptance, and his inability to find it in a way that’s meaningful. And some bad breaks, honestly, that he got, result in him having to kind of find acceptance in the hands of someone who has a different… who doesn’t have good intentions for him. So it felt like the right time to kind of segue that with the villain that we were using this season.
Speaking of, I’d love to talk about Vincent Kartheiser joining as Scarecrow this season. What influenced the decision to make Crane a big part of that story arc? Was it looking for a villain that could kind of tie into Jason’s story, or was it more like, “We want to bring Scarecrow in, let’s think of a way to do it?”
WALKER: No, it wasn’t the latter. It was something that Geoff [Johns], Akiva [Goldsman], and I were working on, which is tying in the theme of the season, which we wanted to really be about fear, and how people deal with fear. And by going to Gotham and having to face your fears — for Dick Grayson, especially, going back to the place that he had struggled with. And he has a challenging relationship with Bruce. At the end of Season 2, they’re in a good place, but like many relationships that you have with your parents, they don’t necessarily stay in a good place for a long time. And so he’s newly challenged by an event that happens, and that he has to go back to face his fears in Gotham. And we thought, well, if you’re going to deal with the theme of fear, there’s no one better than Dr. Jonathan Crane, aka Scarecrow, to kind of make that come to life in a horrific way.
We see a change just in terms of how the show looks overall because the Titans are shifting to Gotham this season. What were the biggest changes from setting the show there this year?
WALKER: Right. Well, it’s funny because Season 1 was a roadshow. We were out a lot. We were out in the snow, and there was a lot of darkness, and there was a lot of… We didn’t have a home base. On Season 2, we had a home base. We had San Francisco. We wanted to kind of capture a lot of the positive nature of San Francisco, and a place where people go to reinvent themselves. So it’s more optimistic, I think, than a lot of the older East Coast cities. So it wasn’t a radical choice. When we went to Gotham we just embraced Gotham.
It was funny, because I kept reading anecdotally [that] fans think we got a huge budget increase, but that’s not the case. The look changed. And one of the advantages was because COVID required so many people to stay home, Toronto, for the most part, was empty. So you get to see really vast open spaces in a way that you wouldn’t normally because there would be too much traffic, or people wouldn’t fit into the kind of aesthetic of what we want for Gotham. So Carol Banker, who was our producing director, really pushed for this kind of empty, open, expansive Gotham feel. And that makes it look a lot bigger.
This season we finally meet Barbara Gordon, and she’s become the new police commissioner. What spurred the decision to give her that role, especially because she doesn’t really take up that job until a much later point in her life in the comics?
WALKER: That’s kind of where the canon gets bent a little bit, I guess, or molded to fit what we thought would be a good parallel. So Dick Grayson becoming Nightwing and stepping into the shoes of Batman felt like, okay, what’s the parallel for him in his relationship with Barbara Gordon? We didn’t want to make her a uniformed vigilante. We felt like it was much better that she has a polarity with him and that she represents the same, but sometimes different interests, and has a different attitude about how superheroes function.
Barbara’s essential thesis is, “Let’s question whether or not superheroes actually are good. Do they not reinforce this idea that people are helpless and the superheroes swoop in at their convenience to stop crime and then go away, but perpetuate it in a weird way, that they’re part of the cycle? Maybe the people should be able to help themselves.” And for her, her solution would be… she believes in the police, so that would be the police that helps them. And so we felt like it made a much better and meatier conflict for the relationship between her and Dick Grayson to make her police commissioner.
One of the things we see early on is that is this season really dives into a lot of the Bat-family dynamics. How do you balance that with other stories in terms of how the season is structured?
WALKER: I think that we have the Titans’ relationships, and we explore some of the Titans’ specific stories that we didn’t get to explore as much in the previous seasons. We go deeper into Kory and her backstory, where she came from in Tamaran, what her relationship with her sister is like. What the secret is in that story that we hadn’t revealed before, and how to play that out. We are interested also in kind of the notion that what the Bat-family, and being in that world, does to the Titans as a family. We’re always kind of testing the strength of the family and how they either fail or succeed in those tasks. So the Titans’ specific stories will always come through some form of stress testing each time. And this year it’s Gotham, and it’s kind of throwing the Bat-family and everything we could get out of the DC vaults at them, because I don’t think we’re going to return. I think we get one shot to be in Gotham and each year there’s a new challenge for the times, and this year it’s the Gotham challenge.
The main core of Titans is a little shaken up at the beginning because you see characters like Rachel and Donna are gone, at least for the moment, plus Jason evolving into Red Hood. How does that change up the dynamic in the remaining group?
WALKER: Well, there’s fewer people. More storylines for the people who are there. And we try to avoid having people sitting around, standing around a room talking. It’s not super dynamic. And so we were able to, by kind of divvying out and allocating stories in different blocks, focus on characters more specifically. And we’ll be doing that continually on Titans, because I mean, you can’t tell 10 huge character stories throughout the season. You can, but it’s very difficult. So the idea is to kind of spread those out and really focus on a character for a while. Give the character spotlight episodes, and then bring them in at different times. And that’s clearly what happened with Rachel and Donna’s stories this season.
What’s the status of Dick and Kory’s relationship? Is this something that might be revisited between them moving forward, or are there other priorities that kind of make romance a little too complicated?
WALKER: It’s a priority, their relationship, and will continue to be. And I think fans are going to get a big surprise at some point in the season. I don’t want to give it away, but that’s an indication of where we’re heading. I will say, they both have significant internal, personal character stories that define them more than their romance story. But that doesn’t mean that the romance story is, in any way, out of the plans.
And I love, by the way. I love how much our fans want that, and crave it. And at some point, we’re just trying to figure out the right point to really land it, and looking at great models for that. So hopefully when you get through your run of Titans episodes, and you look at the span of episodes we do, and the hours we do, you’ll find yourself fulfilled, and happy, and satisfied with the end of that experience.
Can you tease anything about what’s in store for Rachel in Themyscira? What’s her journey going to look like?
WALKER: Rachel’s journey has gone from being this kind of unsuspecting teenager to someone who, it turns out, has got the fate of the world in her hands. And you’re hitting pretty stellar heights early on in terms of what your responsibilities and burdens are. But she has never really had training. She’s never really had a way of looking at herself and her heroism in the light of, or through guidance in a way that is specific to women, and specific to the world of women warriors. And we thought that was interesting if we could kind of push her in that and have a mentor, who’s not Dick Grayson for now, but a mentor who’s a woman, with women who can kind of take her through that culturation and see how she emerges as she comes out.
The first three episodes of Titans Season 3 will be available to stream today on HBO Max, with new episodes premiering every Thursday.
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