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October 05, 2018 at 10:00 AM EDT

A warning to those who get grossed out by zombies: They are about to get even grosser. That’s according to Walking Dead director/exec producer/monster makeup guru Greg Nicotero, who tells EW all about the new look moving forward after the 18-month time-jump. But Nicotero has plenty to say about other topics as well, including a bigger emphasis on the core characters and a pivotal season for Maggie. Read on for behind-the-scenes intel.

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: How would you describe the mood or feel of what we’re going to see coming up?
GREG NICOTERO: I feel like we’ve gone back to our roots. I feel like when Walking Dead really, really worked, it was much more intimate stories with characters that we were invested in, characters that we loved, and characters that we knew. So I really feel like this season we’re really going back to what we did really well in season 2, season 3, season 4, which is to really make sure that every scene between these characters count, every word they say is important.

So in the premiere you have these great scenes between Daryl and Carol, and this great scene between Rick and Maggie, and this great scene between Rick and Daryl. They actually are talking to each other. They’re actually communicating in a meaningful way that we really never had much of an opportunity to see because everybody was either fighting, or running from Negan, or recovering from this tragic loss. So I really feel like, for me, the most satisfying thing about the direction of Walking Dead this year is we’re really getting a chance to spend time with the characters we care about.

You once again directed the premiere. What can you say about what folks are going to see in that first episode?
Well, we’re really opening the show up, and in the last couple seasons we were always relegated to the Sanctuary, we were relegated to Alexandria, we were relegated to Hilltop. What we really wanted to do was really allow our viewers to know and to experience that the world around them in continuing to decay, and it’s becoming harder and harder to survive.

Coming off of last season’s anger over Negan being spared, Maggie is clearly going to be a pivotal character this season.
Maggie’s a very important character, and what we’ve done in the season so far is we really set up just who she is and what her hopes are for the future. We saw a little bit of it last season when Maggie’s character went through this transition where she went from somebody who wasn’t really thinking about building a future. After Glen was killed, she was just on this murderous vendetta and rampage to really just want to wipe out Negan, and once that didn’t happen at the end of the season she has a whole different lease on life because she knows, and I think she says it when she’s talking to Rosita in the finale last year, they’re standing on the Hilltop wall together just trying to imagine what the future will be like once Negan is dead. So knowing that Negan isn’t dead, Maggie’s faced with how she’s going to survive, and how she’s going to live.

The good part about it is she has a baby now, so she has to be able to take into consideration that part of her life and the people at Hilltop that are counting on her. So she has to be looking forward, and it’s something that is exciting for Maggie, because in the last two years she’s never been able to do that because she’s just been overwhelmed with the guilt of losing Glen.

Jackson Lee Davis/AMC

Any special walkers we should be keeping our eyes peeled for this season?
There are so many. Because of the time jump we’ve been able to really play up a much more decomposed and decrepit look. Our mid-ground makeup, and our background makeup, all of our stuff has been elevated. It feels much more like an Italian horror movie. I think there’s more of a Lucio Fulci zombie flair to what we’ve been doing this season, just because of the fact that we really wanted to elevate the level of decomposition. Every walker that I shot in the first episode, they get close ups. It was important to me to make sure that the audience knows that the walkers are still very, very much a device to show how far the world has decomposed.

The first zombie that we see in DC, we designed that because I wanted the whole jaw to be hanging off. And as it turns you can see through its face. And then the walker that they’re stringing up in front of the sanctuary we put a blue nose on it and we erased the nose, because I just really wanted the audience to look at these and go, “Holy s—, these walkers are more decayed than we’ve ever seen them.”

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AMC’s zombie thriller, based on the classic comic book serial created by Robert Kirkman.
type
TV Show
seasons
9
run date
10/31/10
Network
Available For Streaming On
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