Walking Dead director Greg Nicotero on the 'unprecedented' midseason premiere
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The freaks come out at night, 1980s rap act Whodini once opined. And so will the zombies when The Walking Dead returns with its midseason premiere on Sunday. Instead of your typical assault in broad daylight, our survivors will be batting the undead in darkness. And there will be more undead than ever before. We checked in with executive producer Greg Nicotero, who directed the premiere and spoke to us about this record-breaking episode.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: You’re back in the director’s chair for this midseason premiere, so what can we expect, sir?
GREG NICOTERO: The first half of the season we introduced the quarry and the fact that the walkers had escaped from the quarry, and then we followed our group through all the trials and tribulations of trying to get back to Alexandria, protect Alexandria, and protect each other. And episode 9, basically, takes all of these various storylines and slams everything together in an epic man against the undead battle that is unprecedented in the history of The Walking Dead.
In what sense? In what way is it unprecedented?
It’s unprecedented because we’ve never seen our group in a situation like this. It’s one thing when the walkers were gathering outside the prison fence, and they had to fight their way into the prison and clear the prison yard, but this is a whole different world because we’re dealing with Rick’s concern about whether the Alexandrians can actually hack it or not. No pun intended.
And dealing with the fact that his group has been separated. Glenn is separated, and Daryl, Sasha, and Abraham are separated, so he doesn’t have his core fighting team with him. Plus, he’s got more to protect. You know, he has Jessie, he has the kids, everybody in Alexandria. So it’s a very fascinating moment for Rick, and to put him in a situation where they have to maneuver through the herd The record that we had established in episode 1 of season 6 will already be broken in this episode in regards to the number of walkers and the number of kills. It’s the action movie version of The Walking Dead.
What are the numbers that we’re looking at on this?
With reshoots and with additional photography and things, I think we were over 1,300 walkers for episode.
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Oh, come on. That’s absurd.
I had the biggest crew that I ever had on the shoot on set. So again, it’s one of those episodes where we tie up a lot of loose ends, and what’s exciting about the second half of the season is it really launches the show into a different direction, which I know a lot of the producers and a lot of the cast are very excited about. In Walking Dead tradition, we wrap up certain storylines and then we venture forward in the world in a very different way than we have in the past.
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And the premiere is pretty much a night episode, right? We’ve seen giant groups of zombies before, but usually it’s during the day. However this is happening at nighttime, which I assume gives it a different feel.
Well, that was something that I was extremely passionate and adamant about. When you spend eight episodes of the show seeing the walkers advancing on Alexandria in broad daylight, I felt that it was very important to introduce a bit of the genre element of the spooky, nighttime, boogeyman-coming-out-of-the-dark, Night-of-the-Living-Dead sort of vibe and feeling. Even when they were pitching the episode, I had said, “Listen, we really need to try to make this episode at night because it will give the show a different look.” I didn’t want it to feel like, Oh, here’s another scene with a bunch of walkers in broad daylight in the sun.
So we had to make a lot of concessions because lighting big zombie crowd scenes at night — those kinds of scenarios are difficult and expensive. So I basically gave up a day of shooting to guarantee that we would have our money in the budget to shoot at night. So when I went into the episode, I was like, okay, I either made the best decision of my career or made the worst decision of my career by giving up a day of shooting to allow the mood that I felt the episode requires. In retrospect, as soon as I watched the episode edited together, it was the right call, and I was really proud that we had kind of stuck to our guns, and it was very important to us that it be a night shoot.