By Dalton Ross
July 20, 2016 at 12:00 PM EDT
Skybound
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We know at least one Walking Dead regular will be leaving us courtesy of Negan’s baseball bat when the show returns for season 7 in October. But according to executive producer Greg Nicotero — who is once again directing the season premiere — we will also be meeting a lot of fresh faces as well.

Could one of those faces be comic book favorite Ezekiel (above), who has a pet tiger named Shiva and leads a community known as the Kingdom? Nicotero won’t say, but he did take some time to describe the “larger world” out there in season 7, explain why they decided to wait to reveal Negan’s victim, and talk about what else to expect when the show picks back up.

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: You’re once again back in the director’s chair for the premiere. What can we expect to see when this show returns?

GREG NICOTERO: As we’ve entered into season 7, one of the things that was exciting to all of us was this new chapter. You know, The Walking Dead changes and it morphs, and it evolves, and our fans are tremendously dedicated and tremendously passionate about the show.

Last season we saw the quarry and we saw these thousands of walkers, and once that threat was dispatched we started introducing the Saviors and Hilltop. And [showrunner Scott M. Gimple] and I were talking about the fact that anytime you see a trailer for something, it’s the promise of these new worlds that’s exciting. You’re opening a new chapter and you’re going into a different direction, and that’s where we are, and it’s going to happen pretty rapidly and pretty dramatically as we get into episodes 1, 2, 3, and 4.

We’re really going to get a great sense of a larger world and what these different communities are like, who the people are that are there and what they have to offer, so for us, it’s very exciting. The scripts are fantastic. You know, the first episode, obviously, was pretty intense and pretty brutal, and pretty sad and emotional and definitely a challenge for everybody involved to sort of take us to this different place, but the show has a lot of really unique flavors to offer.

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How quickly is Negan’s victim going to be revealed? Are you guys going to take care of that pretty much right away?

Obviously, we’ll find out in the first episode. Truthfully, in terms of the structure of it, we’re still editing it right now. We’re still playing around with that particular episode. It’s not finished yet so I really can’t say.

Tell me about Jeffrey Dean Morgan as Negan. We only saw him in that one scene, so what are you seeing on set from him this season?

He’s amazing. I feel bad for him because, traditionally speaking, he does all the talking. If you really think about the scene in the finale, nobody else said anything. He appears, he has a 12-page dialogue scene, and then sort of goes to it.

What’s the scope or scale of the premiere looking like this time around?

It’s definitely not the season 6 premiere in terms of quarries with 40,000 walkers in it. Every single season premiere is different. Every single season premiere has a different flavor to it, and I think knowing where we ended season 6, and knowing that we’re picking up season 7 in that emotionally drained hostage situation — you’ll get some flavors of a bunch of different aspects of it, but I don’t think there’s anything quite as quarry-like, or like the attack on Terminus, as we’ve done in the past.

It’s a much different story because we’re opening a different chapter, and one thing you’ve got to think about is this death changes who our characters are and propels them in a different direction. That’s one of the reasons why we felt that having the death in the premiere episode was warranted. Yeah, it’s a cliffhanger and I get that people were anxious and excited about knowing what happened, and seeing where it goes with the story, but truth of the matter is, that death propels our story forward, and has a direct effect on people. And that’s why you really want it to be the anchor point of our season 7 as opposed to the parting moment of season 6, and then sort of starting already partially into our story.

When you talked about the larger world earlier, does that mean we can expect some new characters on the horizon?

I think it’s safe to say that we’re going to get a chance to meet a lot of new people.

For more Walking Dead news, follow me on Twitter @DaltonRoss. In the meantime, enjoy your exclusive full first season 7 looks at both Negan and Morgan, as well as the official TWD Comic-Con art and scoop on what to expect from the Saviors. Also make sure to also vote for your favorite episode, villain, weapon, location, and more in our ultimate Walking Dead fan poll.

AMC's zombie thriller, based on the classic comic book serial created by Robert Kirkman.
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