Dalton Ross
January 22, 2018 AT 11:30 AM EST

Hey, Walking Dead fans — get ready to have your guts ripped out again. (I’m referring to your metaphorical guts being ripped out, not your actual guts, like poor Noah in the revolving door of death.) That’s according to executive producer Greg Nicotero, who directed the show’s Feb. 25 midseason premiere.

In the episode, we will see Carl succumb to his zombie bite, meaning we’ll lose not only one of the few original season 1 cast members left in Chandler Riggs, but a boy-turned-man who grew up both on screen and off in front of our eyes. Judging by Nicotero’s comments, it sounds like Carl’s final episode (unless, of course, he is brought back in flashbacks or dream sequences) will be a devastating one. “I think it’s one of our most powerful episodes that we’ve ever produced,” says Nicotero. “When I watched the first cut of this episode, tears were coming out of my eyes 20 minutes into it.”

Nicotero compares the upcoming episode to another midseason premiere installment he directed — season 5’s “What Happened and What’s Going On,” in which we saw Tyreese bitten early on and then watched his last moments play out over the course of the hour. “I would compare this episode very much to the episode with Chad Coleman in terms of really having some space to breathe with these characters as they process what happened,” says the director.

Gene Page/AMC

Nicotero — who has become the show’s go-to director for big episodes like premieres and finales and is filming five of this season’s installments — has helmed many a goodbye episode for departing Walking Dead actors, and the next hour will be no different. “It’s never easy,” says Nicotero about filming a cast regular’s swan song. “It’s never easy because you can never really understand what they’re going through. There’s never really anything you can say that will make them feel better. You just really, really want to make sure that they have an opportunity to show people what their character was made of. Between Michael Rooker and Chad Coleman and Sonequa [Martin-Green] and the people that have brought so much to the show, it’s really making sure I honor them and give them that opportunity.”

It’s for that reason that Nicotero says the emotion of the moment often doesn’t truly hit him until later, which explains why he started crying while watching it in the editing room. “I really try not to get super emotional when we’re shooting that stuff,” he says. “But it’s always this delayed reaction. It was the same with Dale. I remember directing the episode with Jeffery DeMunn, and I was so wrapped up with the technique of shooting it and making sure I got all the beats and all the character moments, that it didn’t really hit me until afterwards.”

And Nicotero has a message for fans who have been screaming bloody murder — okay, maybe not the best term in this case — about Carl’s death: “It’s a beautiful episode and the people that clearly are upset about losing Carl and questioning where the show goes without Carl — I really do believe that a lot of people will put those feelings aside when they watch this episode because they’re really going to get an opportunity to make some peace with it.” He pauses. “I mean, that’s what I think. I don’t know, I could be completely wrong.”

For more exclusive Walking Dead scoop, pick up the new issue of Entertainment Weekly and follow Dalton on Twitter @DaltonRossThe Walking Dead returns on Feb. 25 on AMC.

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♦ Andrew Lincoln says The Walking Dead is entering ‘uncharted waters’
♦ The Walking Dead deals with another major loss: This week’s cover
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