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Credit: Gene Page/AMC

The gang is finally back together on The Walking Dead. Well, most of them at least. If the preview for the second half of the season (which kicks off Feb. 12) is any indication, it appears Rick and Co. are off to the Kingdom soon, where they will hopefully be reunited with Carol and Morgan too. See, all good news!

Well, nothing is all good news on The Walking Dead. And there was a lot of bad news in the first half of the season. I mean, a lot. We had to watch our favorite characters bludgeoned (Glenn and Abraham), gutted (Spencer), shot (Olivia), tortured (Daryl), and beaten to a pulp (Aaron). And those who were not on the receiving end of those blows had to mourn those who were. So it was not exactly happy, happy, joy, joy time.

We asked exec-producer/director Greg Nicotero about all the carnage of the season so far and viewer complaints that it was simply too bleak, even for a show about the zombie apocalypse. He assures fans there is indeed a method to the madness.

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: There were some complaints from people about the first half of the season and how depressing it was with everyone subjugated like that, and it got me thinking how you all always talk about trying to put the viewer in the character’s position to see and feel what the characters are feeling, So was this something that the viewers had to get through in the same way the characters did?
GREG NICOTERO: Yeah, I would say that any investment, in any show, if your viewers aren’t emotionally invested then…. Listen, I love my good TV — Westworld, Game of Thrones, and all of these shows, — and you go on this journey, and we’ve never shied from the fact that the material is dark. I mean, starting the season, seeing two characters killed, it was brutal and it was horrible. A lot of it really was to just show the brutality of the world and to show what kind of person we’re dealing with, with Negan, and it’s a challenge.

The fact that people responded so positively, just to the embrace between Daryl and Rick, seeing those two characters and knowing that they will rise again out of the ashes of what Negan has done to them, is thrilling and is exciting, but you can’t get there unless you burn the place down first. Listen, it’s grueling and it’s heartbreaking and, yeah, it is, sometimes, difficult to digest, but the result of that will be seeing a stronger Rick Grimes, a stronger bond, and a more focused and dedicated group.

So they had to get beaten all the way down to get the strength to fight back?
We did something similar with the mid-season premiere last year when Rick finally realized that the Alexandrians and our group would only survive if they fought together. It was one of the most well-received and powerful episodes because it had some hope to it, and it had some positivity to it. So now, knowing that that’s what Rick wants to do, that’s where Rick is going, they want to fight, and knowing that earlier in the season he wasn’t willing to fight because there was too much to lose, and now the idea that, “Listen, we might lose people. Yeah, this might happen, but I would rather go down fighting than be a servant.”

We’re talking about how it was hard for the characters and for the viewers, but I spoke to the actors and they were very candid about how it was really tough for them as well.
Yeah. Listen, the first half of the season was rough. It was rough because the subject matter was dark. I told you before that after directing episode one, it emotionally took its toll on me because I felt very much like the actors. I felt like I had dragged these people to some pretty dark and pretty intense places, so recovering from that, for me was tough.

[Showrunner Scott M. Gimple] said, “Listen, you’re going to direct the episode that introduces the Kingdom, and that’s probably the lightest episode that we’re going to have in the entire first half of the season,” which was seeing Shiva and seeing King Ezekiel and Carol and Morgan. So airing that episode directly after the premiere really gave the audience an opportunity to catch their breath; otherwise, we would have had them in the rope, in the corner, and just been pummeling them, and that’s not our intention. Our intention isn’t to be sadistic. Our intention is to put the audience in a similar mindset that our characters are in.

For more Walking Dead scoop, follow me on Twitter @DaltonRoss.

Episode Recaps

The Walking Dead

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

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