If you thought this season of The Walking Dead was short on action, just wait until next season.
“We have the graphic novels as our roadmap,” says TWD executive producer and effects guru Greg Nicotero, who took a call from Playboy.com yesterday afternoon. “We’re entering a section of the comics called ‘All Out War,’ so it’s safe to say, given where the episode ended last night, that Season 8 will be more conflict-based and action-oriented than the show may have been in the past.”
Nicotero, who also directed Sunday night’s season finale, told us some stories behind the episode and offered a few hints as to what lies ahead.
Did you do Soniqua Martin-Green’s walker makeup for the finale? And was going through that process for what would be her last episode an emotional thing?
No, it was much more about getting into the headspace. We had done a couple of makeup tests with her because it’s important for the actors to know what they’re getting themselves into, and she was excited about it. She’s an amazing woman and an amazing actor.
The finale episode included most of the show’s cast and had a lot of action. How long did it take you to shoot it?
We shot it in nine or ten days and without a lot of pre-production. We were able to tell a complicated, emotional story with action sequences and shootouts. We had been shooting for seven months, and everyone went into it with the right amount of adrenaline and preparation.
Nine days is a fast shoot for what amounted to a short action film.
The run time without commercials came in around 65 minutes, and it honestly could have been eight minutes longer. This is 20 or so episodes I’ve directed now, and I’m always very conscious of movement. If you have sequences that slow down the momentum, it takes you out of the story. This episode flew by.
One thing I wrote a lot about this season is the organizational dynamics and leadership styles at Alexandria, the Hilltop, the Sanctuary, the Kingdom and Oceanside. Where did the election occur in your shooting schedule?
We were shooting this episode, actually. We were shooting the scene where the people from the Kingdom find Morgan on the street, and Carol and Ezekiel talk to Morgan. That was the first scene the morning after the election.
Do you feel like this season was any sort of comment on or response to Donald Trump?
Not really. This season was written so far in advance of a lot of that to have reflected much of what was happening in the world politically.
On Sasha’s plan, wouldn’t it have made more sense for her to take the poison pill in her cell and attacked Negan as a walker the next morning?
Negan was going to Alexandria no matter what, and Sasha had a better opportunity to get closer to him there. There were guards around her cell at the Sanctuary, and it was her best chance to catch him off guard and do something dramatic.
The show has a rigorously earned reputation for killing off major characters, but this season has actually been pretty conservative beyond the lineup scene in the season premiere. Sasha was the only major death in the season finale. What was the discussion around how to approach character deaths this season?
We came out swinging, and we lost two more people in the midseason finale. We’re really just doing what we need to do to serve the story. We try to carefully craft when those moments happen, and we don’t always have a major death in a finale. We handle these deaths delicately because we respect our actors and the characters. And it’s never easy. Sonequa has been on the show since Season 3, and it’s never easy for great actors and great characters to leave the show. It’s a precarious world, and that’s something that makes The Walking Dead different than other shows.
The two big walker scenes from this season that jump out to me are the sand walkers and the scene where Rick and Michonne clothesline the walkers on the highway. Are those the two you think about?
I definitely think of those two as big sequences. The Winslow walker in “New Best Friends”—the one with the spikes—was interesting and different. We’re constantly trying to keep those moments new and fresh. Most of this season was about Rick and Negan, but we have to re-interject the fact that it all takes place with the background of this undead world.
Do you approach those big scenes like the producer of a blockbuster sequel? Do they have to get bigger and bigger?
From a filmmaking standpoint, I don’t want to shoot something that I feel like we’ve done before. I want to up the ante a bit to keep it fresh and original. We have an obligation to our viewers after seven years to give them something new.