Walking Dead director Greg Nicotero on premiere violence
Well, that was gross. Of course, how can a person bashing in another person’s face with a baseball bat covered in barbed wire be anything but gross? Oh, and make that two faces he bashed in.
That’s what went down on the season 7 premiere of The Walking Dead when Negan (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) ended both Abraham (Michel Cudlitz) and Glenn (Steven Yeun). The episode was just as disgusting as the comic book event on which it was based, but is that a good thing? Audiences seemed divided on the matter, with hardcore horror fans seeming to enjoy the carnage, while some others… not so much.
Director/Executive Producer Greg Nicotero spoke to reporters on a conference call today to address the violent nature of the premiere, the big twist in going for two deaths instead of one, and a season 6 callback that some may have missed. He also had a message for those who say they are done with the show due to the intense nature of the subject matter. Here are some highlights from the chat:
On why they went for two deaths instead of one:
“Part of the whole show is we really needed to drive Rick and Negan’s story throughout the season, and we felt that one death would do the trick, but the second death, Glenn’s death, really, really propels us into a very different direction. It’s really about, sort of Negan laying down the law, and saying, ‘Listen guys, the bottom line is if you listen to me, we’ll be fine. But if you step out of line, that’s not gonna fly.’ So Glenn’s death has a lot to do with Rick’s future story, Maggie’s future story, and certainly, Daryl’s future story, because Daryl is the one who launched himself at Negan, and so it just made for a more rich overall story arc for a lot of these other characters.”
On why, after a six-month wait, they made viewers wait another 20 minutes into the episode to learn who died, and whether he felt that was manipulative:
“Well, you know, it wasn’t really intended that way. If you really step back and look at the episode, what you realize is the majority of it is from Rick’s point of view. So picking up moments after the death, and then going into the beginnings of Negan trying to break Rick. He basically says, ‘I’m gonna kill you, not today, not tomorrow, but I’m gonna kill you.’ Negan realizes that what he has just done did not do the trick. So the episode is really about Negan’s efforts. He sees that tremendous value in Rick and his people so he’s gonna go the extra effort.
“So by having that moment where Rick is stoic and Rick is defiant, and it takes us about 10 or 12 minutes into the episode to get to the point where Rick is feeling lost and he’s starting to feel defeated and he’s on top of the RV and everything starts flashing back to him. So the episode is 100 percent designed for you to go on this journey with Rick and start thinking as he did, about what happened and when he starts reliving it, it’s the beginning of him being broken, you know?… So it really was about Rick remembering those moments as an effort to, number one, not let it happen again. You know, when Rick starts imagining everybody else, and he sees Rosita and he sees Carl and he sees Daryl, and he sees everybody else, that’s his traumatized way of balancing what to do next. Everything that he does is based on the fact that someone else could die, and that he can’t let that happen.”
On the violence in the episode:
“You know, it’s intense. And a lot of people that read the comic book and read the graphic novel, these moments have been sort of engrained in their brain. I remember sitting next to Steven when I read issue No. 100, and talking with him and [creator Robert Kirkman] about it. And to me, what struck me about it was it was horrifically graphic and senseless and brutal.… In this instance, we felt that it was important to launch us into this season by showing the extent of what Negan is capable of doing. Because that drives so much of where the series is going from here on in. And the opportunity to then start introducing the new world and new characters and intertwining all that. It’s graphic and it’s horrible and while we were designing the make-ups and testing the make-ups and shooting the make-ups, we wanted to push it a little bit.
“When we shot the season 5 opener, and we had everybody at the trough and we went down the line and you saw these guys being murdered and drained of blood. That was purely a mechanism to show how bad the people at Terminus really were. And with Negan, you only have to see that once or twice to know that this guy is furious and means business. So the haunting remnants of that episode are very, very similar to how I felt when I read the comic book, and I experienced that sense of loss and that futility to step in. Rick Grimes is unable to stop this, and that’s something that we’ve never seen in the show, so I think the violence and the brutality are a part of it, and I think there’s a helplessness seeing our hero completely crushed in front of us is more disturbing than the actual violence, to me.”
On Abraham flashing the peace sign before Negan swings the bat:
“In the beginning of season 6, there’s a scene where Sasha is going up the steps to the brownstone and Abraham walks past and he’s a little drunk and he looks at her and gives her a peace sign. And when we were on set we wanted to find an opportunity to have him speak to her without looking at her because we were locked into what we shot in the season finale, which was the point of view was locked on Negan, so that was something that Michael added and it was a beautiful little moment. As soon as he said, ‘Hey do you remember in the first episode,’ I knew exactly what he was talking about and I was like, ‘Absolutely.’ That little peace sign was to her and to audience members that would watch the season 6 premiere would probably notice that.”
On the technical aspects of filming the death scene:
“Listen, death scenes are very difficult to film, but you know from a technical aspect we had multiple stage prosthetics and multiple make-ups on both characters so you know, for me the most significant thing was the bat that had a reservoir of blood and how we were able to get the hits to look explosive as opposed to just blood dripping, so to me when we got to the actual moments of shooting the death sequences it was very technical.… With Stephen we built multiple versions of that prosthetic with the eyeball popped out and then when he’s on the ground and the head is crushed. We actually dug a hole and put Stephen’s face down into the ground and he covered the back of his head with this sort of turtle neck crushed and so that you could see his real hands twitching and moving.”
On what he would say to those claiming they’re done with the show because the season premiere was so traumatic:
“It’s really unfortunate that people want to take a negative spin on it because, as far as I’m concerned, I’m dedicated to watching a show because I want to see where the story’s going to go next. Glenn’s not dead, Abraham is not dead. Their spirits live on, and the fact that Maggie is pregnant with his baby and Sasha and Rosita are carrying the memory of Abraham — there’s more story to tell with the result of what happened with those people. I guarantee you that there are people who are done with the show. It’s unfortunate if that’s really what’s going to happen because the show still has a tremendous amount to offer.”
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