She sees it all. As co-executive producer on The Walking Dead, Denise Huth is on set for every scene of every episode every single day. So we checked in with Huth to get the behind-the-scenes scoop on both the finale and the season as a whole. (Also make sure to read our season finale Q&As with Andrew Lincoln, Norman Reedus, Lennie James, and Gale Anne Hurd, as well as a season 6 tease from showrunner Scott Gimple.)
EW: I want to start with that scene at the very end of the finale where Rick gives his big speech and then all hell breaks loose. I love watching Andrew Lincoln when he has a big scene to do and how intense he gets. You all are probably numb to it by now, but what was he like filming that scene?
DENISE HUTH: He was awesome. And he was so excited. You know, it’s the end of the season and he’s getting to say all of these things that he’s wanting to say and it’s a big turning point. So it was a lot of fun. It was freezing cold, so that made it an extra challenge, but he was just raring to go. He’s so excited to deliver this speech and really tell these people, “Look, this is the way it’s going to be, and this is how it’s going to happen.” So he kind of turned a corner because up until this point he’s thinking, how many of them are going to die? They’re not going to be able to make it. And now he’s saying, “No, you’re not going to die. We are going to make it. We’re going to show you the way this world works. We’re going to drag you along and you will live because this is a place worth fighting for. So it was amazing. It was really fun. We knew when we were shooting it that it was one of those moments that everybody would love and talk about.
It’s funny you mention how cold it was because when I spoke with Andy he talked about the blood that had to be poured all over him as that zombie head explodes. It said it was not warm.
No, I think that may have actually been our coldest day on set ever. Up until this point it was the last night of season 2 when we were burning the barn and I think it was about 19 degrees back in season 2. And that night when Andy unfortunately had to have all that nice lovely blood dumped all over him it was about 16 degrees. And 16 degrees in Georgia is serious cold—it’s no joke. So we’re all hot all summer long, and then we get to the last month and it’s just freezing, freeing cold.
What about the big scene at the booby-trapped food depot center where all the zombies come streaming out of the trucks? I feel like you guys have not had a scene with a huge amount of walkers for a while. What is that like in terms of filming when you have that many walkers running around and have all that action?
Oh, it’s so fun, and again, you’re right, it was the biggest zombie scene we’ve had in a while, so it’s always really fun to do. It’s always an exciting day. And, of course, Greg Nicotero directed this episode and he’s the best when it comes to the zombie action. It’s a lot more work on the ADs and a lot more people to coordinate as far as getting everyone through makeup and wardrobe and “where is everyone?” and “how are we going to shoot this?” But it’s always exciting and it kick-started this huge action sequence with Daryl and Aaron and eventually Morgan. It’s one of those things where, they don’t do this on every show. Every show has their cool moments, but our cool moments are 100 zombies and it never gets old. It’s always a really exciting day when we get to shoot one of those big sequences. They are hard. It’s a lot to manage and you have to make sure you’re getting all the little pieces, but it’s a fun way to end the season with a big huge, zombie moment.
You mentioned Greg Nicotero, who directed the finale and four episodes this season. Does it make your job a bit easier when someone from The Walking Dead family like Greg or Mike Satrazemis directs, just because they are already part of the crew and know how everyone operates?
It is absolutely, for me in particular. Like you said, I’m on set every day, which is amazing. I think I have the greatest job in the world. Every episode is directed by someone different, and now fortunately in season 5 we rarely have new directors, but even still, with returning directors who have done it before, our episodes are just so massive and they’re all so different. So sometimes it is a struggle to make sure we get the tone correct. I’m really there to make sure we’re getting what [showrunner Scott Gimple] wants. I’m there to make sure the overall tone of the show is going in the right direction and that we’re getting all the little beats in the script that he writes in that are really important. So when we have Greg or Mike or any of our directors that have done a lot of episodes—and especially those guys because they are part of our crew all the time—there is just a built-in shorthand with the crew. They know who everybody is and the crew knows them. They know what they like and they know what they are going to expect. So it just takes out some of the discussions that have to take place with other directors who come in perhaps only once a year.
You guys seem to have this habit of introducing characters with really long scenes. Tovah’s first scene as Deanna was this nine or 10 page talking scene with Andy, and now we meet this mysterious guy from the Wolves who sits down with Lennie James and they have a nice long chat as well. Is that exciting for you when you get to see someone new come in and then show their stuff right out of the gate like that?
Yeah, absolutely, I love those scenes. Scott and the whole writing staff—they do such a great job with that. It’s unique, I think, to our show. To have a 10 or 12 minute dialogue scene on any show is unusual, and then to introduce a character that way—I think it’s so cool. It gets us chance to just throw them in the deep end. This show is no joke and I’m sure there is an expectation among actors when they get cast on The Walking Dead. You know, season 5, everyone knows what this show is about, and then they get handed this epic scene up against Andy and Lennie and these phenomenal actors. It really gives us on the show a chance to say, Okay how is this going to go when they go toe-to-toe? Those scenes are so much fun to watch. Tovah just came in—no fear, no hesitation. She is just a pistol. She is amazing. And the W man as well. They get to just come in and have their own little moment off the bat. They don’t get eased in. I think it’s very unique to our show and something that I love that we get to do.
We always talk about when you have to say goodbye to people on the show, but what about when you have to welcome people, and never so many people as when you had to populate this whole new community of Alexandria? What was that like having to introduce all those new characters at once?
It was big. Like you say, kind of starting Alexandria all at once was like introducing the cast of a whole new show into our world. And I always try to meet everybody and welcome everybody and introduce them around. And our cast fortunately is so amazing. They are such a welcoming bunch. We’re very lucky with our actors, starting with Andy and going down the line. They’re immediately saying, “Hey, come sit with us at lunch and chat with us,” and making sure they feel welcome because now going into our sixth season really, this show is kind of a monster and I always tell them all, “Look, you’re going to have a great time. You’re going to work harder than you ever have, and your whole life is about to change because once you’re on this show and have a big role on this show, everybody knows who you are.”
It’s nothing they’ve ever experienced before, so I kind of like guiding them and being a little helping hand in this whole massive adventure that you kind of have to experience to believe. So it’s really fun, and our cast and crew is so amazing at making everyone that comes on feel so welcome. Inevitably the new actors come up to me and say, “Oh my gosh, this is one of the best sets I’ve ever been on,” and I’m so proud of that because we do have a great crew and we’re lucky that we’re a big success. But it is a great show to work on and I always want people to come in and have the best experience of their careers.
Let’s talk about filming in Alexandria, which is a real community called the Gin Property. What sort of logistical challenges does that pose for you guys in terms of filming regularly in a community with residents and deliveries and what have you?
It definitely has its own challenges. It’s unbelievably cool that we were able to find a community to let us do this and let us build this big giant wall around it and let us shoot on their streets. And a lot of houses there are empty. They had just finished being built right when we were starting to film there so for those we shoot interiors and exteriors—we kind of have free rein. The houses people live in, we just shoot exteriors, and it’s been great. It’s a little like shooting on location anywhere—you always have to deal with the real world to a degree. But periodically the PA’s will call out, “Hey, we got a car coming through,” and we have to clear out of the street because somebody’s coming home from work. They’re just there. They’re part of it. But they’ve been great. In many ways we’ve sort of taken over that town of Senoia and the people there have just been so gracious and appreciative of us being there and the attention the town is getting now because of the show. It did present a few challenges that you don’t have when you’re on a sound stage, but we roll with it. We always do.
Would you like to say any words for the dearly departed Pete and Reg and the job Corey Brill and Steve Coulter did for you guys on the show?
Corey and Steve were both so great. They’re both such great guys. You expect that with Reg, but everybody kind of hated Pete. And Corey Brill is the nicest guy ever, so it’s sad to see them go, as it always is. People are probably feeling a little bit more satisfied to see Pete go than Reg. We always appreciate when people come in and do such a good job for us knowing they’re going to end up the way they end up. They both did such a great job and were such troopers about it. It drives the story off into a whole different direction, as deaths always do.
You’re there every day and see it all. Now that the season is over, what were some of your favorite days on set this year in terms of scenes you guys filmed?
There were so many. This season was just huge. I think it was such a great year. Going back to the premiere in Terminus and the scene when they were just slitting their throats was one of those epic moments where we were all looking at each other going “Are we really doing this? Is this really going to happen?” It was just really, really fun. That was a great, great day. Episode 509—the Tyreese episode—was just so sad because Chad Coleman is just a dream. But he did such an amazing job in that and it was really just an honor to be there and see him do that work. That was incredibly memorable. And really one of my favorite episodes of the season was 510, which is the one where they’re just walking and they have nowhere to go—the storm hits and they find the barn and all of that with the famous “We are the walking dead” line. To me, that episode is just a beautiful episode, It’s so The Walking Dead. It’s so what this show is about—it’s about survival and they only have each other and they’re just running on fumes but they keep going for each other. I have the greatest job in the world, I get to be there every day and see all the little moments happen right when they happen.
Now that I asked you to look back, you also have too look ahead because you guys start filming again in May. When does that mean you have to really start ramping up, or has that happened already?
Yeah, the writers have been going since about January or February. I go back to Georgia in about two weeks. So we’re excited. I think it’s going to be big and huge, as we always do, and I can’t wait to see what Scott has in store for us.
Also make sure to read our season finale Q&As with Andrew Lincoln, Norman Reedus, Lennie James, and Gale Anne Hurd, as well as a season 6 tease from showrunner Scott Gimple. And for more ‘Walking Dead’ scoop, follow Dalton on Twitter @DaltonRoss.