The Walking Dead Season 6 returns Sunday, February 14 at 9/8CT on AMC
You picked a fine time to show up, Lucille!
OK, so we’ve yet to see The Walking Dead comic’s infamous barbed-wire baseball bat and its equally insidious owner, Negan (welcome, Jeffrey Dean Morgan!). But we know the pair is out there, courtesy of a sneak peek of Daryl, Sasha and Abraham encountering a contingent of Negan’s acolytes — a.k.a. the Saviors — which aired just after the midseason finale.
Atop it, Deanna’s dead, the wall’s kaput and Morgan just had to let that Wolf get away with poor Dr. Denise and a way better idea of who these folks are. So what’s in store for our fractured group as Season 6 resumes? We talked it over with co-executive producer Greg Nicotero.
So Negan’s here. How soon do we see him — and how are you managing the comic fans’ expectations with keeping things fresh for the series, as well?
Greg Nicotero: We’re very committed to keeping the high points of the graphic novel available to us to use. You can almost pinpoint exactly where we are in the comic book, and picking up where the first half of the season left off, you get a good sense of where we’re going to start and some of these areas that we’re going to navigate. We’re pretty clear which issues of the comic book have been seized upon for the second half of the season. But, in pure Walking Dead fashion, some elements of the graphic novel have been altered and changed, so that we’re not just regurgitating the comic book. I’m not trying to be purposely vague, it’s just that, as ridiculous as it sounds, we want to preserve the viewers’ experience, so we don’t want to give too much away. Not because we think it’s super cool to be secret. We just want everybody to enjoy watching the show and discovering those things on their own.
This is the first time you’ve cast an actor [Jeffrey Dean Morgan] who’s very familiar to American audiences.
We cast the best person for the role! Negan is charismatic and he’s calculating and he’s dark. Ironically, when we started casting, I was watching The Good Wife, and I was like, “Damn, that guy is so @#$%ing charming. His smile just completely disarms you!” What an amazing attribute for Negan to be able to have — the fact that it’s sort of a warm, inviting kind of smile, but there’s that darkness behind it. I called [creator Robert] Kirkman and I was like, “I’ve just been watching this guy, and he’s amazing.” Keeping the comic book very close at hand when looking at who that person is, we felt that he just embodied the character that we wanted to put onscreen.
So now we have the Wolves and Negan and the Saviors? Who’s worse?
Basically they’re accomplishing the same thing: “We want your stuff.” The way that the Wolves go about it versus the way the Saviors go about it, the result in the end is the same — but, again, I’m speaking strictly of the comic book. Negan has a very specific way of life and he’s developed a very unique way to survive by exploiting that sort of trade embargo relationship with other groups of people. By saying, “Give us all your @#$% or we’ll kill you.”
Meanwhile, back at Alexandria, Rick and company are in one hell of a pickle.
Our group can survive, but Rick has to get it out of his head that it’s “us and them.” Society is not about groups of people not working together. That’s something that we started seeing Rick understand in Episode 8. He goes back for Jessie and Ron and Sam and Gabriel, and he’s got to decide that, if you’re going to survive in this world and you’re going to live in this world, then you need to be able to project it more than just one day. I think that’s the struggle that Rick has been having.
How much of an impact did his final talk with Deanna — RIP — have on him?
It’s amazing because in Episode 7 when she says, “I just wanted to thank you for saving my son,” I love that Rick wants to argue with her about it. “I didn’t save anybody” — and she’s like, “You don’t even realize what a good man you are, because you’re so caught up in the panic and the paranoia of how you’re going to live one more day that you don’t even realize that you made a conscious choice to save Spencer’s life when you could’ve easily just let him die.” Rick’s like, “Well, I don’t know about that. Tell Tara.” She’s like, “I already did. I’m telling you. Thank you.”
Truthfully, the second half of the season, really brings a lot of that out. I think Rick’s journey in the second half of the season — not wanting to give too much away — but we’re sort of keying him up for that journey. The fact that Rick did put himself on the line for Spencer shows something. He just can’t even acknowledge it yet.
It’s amazing the revelation for Rick to sort of comprehend that he’s not as bad as I really think he thinks he is. Andy [Andrew Lincoln] called me yesterday from London — when we’re done shooting, we all have withdrawals if we don’t call each other — and we were talking about the fact that The Walking Dead is poised for a very dramatic facelift in the second half of the season. It’s uncharted territory for all of us, and we’re tremendously excited about where the show is going and the threats that are going to appear. Those of you that read the comic books get a little bit of a taste of what’s to come, but it’s an amazing world and we’re about to open it up much bigger than we ever have before.
But Deanna seemed to be passing her own baton, if you will, to Michonne.
Rick always regarded the Alexandrians as lambs to the slaughter and Michonne is like, “That’s not who we are.” Even within our group, there is a struggle about who they are becoming, and clearly Michonne is a lot more in touch with her humanity than Rick is at that particular moment. When Deanna takes the plans for the expansion to Alexandria, she didn’t give them to Maggie, she gave them to Michonne. She gives them to the woman that, at that particular moment, she knows is as equally committed to the survival of Alexandria as she is. She knows that Michonne is a warrior and a fighter. She knows that Maggie has the brains of the politician, that she can negotiate what needs to be done to get things happening. She was doing what good leaders do — cultivating each person she sees promise in.
Between that, and the ever-present threat of the Wolves and the walkers and Saviors, there is only one way to survive these external forces without them tearing you apart. I’m just not going to tell you what it is. [Laughs]
Speaking of surviving, comic book readers know what’s ostensibly in store for Glenn now that Negan’s in the picture. But for now, reunion time for him and Maggie!
What I found interesting about that is, you have an opportunity to experience with Maggie the fact that she says, “I refuse to believe that he’s not coming back.” I thought that was a very powerful sentiment — one that a lot of people seem to have forgotten about when they were so caught up in the “Is Glenn dead, or is Glenn alive?” What keeps society alive is the hope that somebody will come back. Maggie’s insistence that Glenn is not dead, that’s a tremendously powerful sentiment that we will definitely experience a lot more in the second half of the season.
Were you toying at all with those of us who were afraid we weren’t going to get our Glenn-Negan moment?
It’s so funny when people go, “Well that was a big fake-out.” It wasn’t, in my opinion. We showed one angle and we allowed people to suggest for themselves as to what happened. Because we didn’t return to that storyline for a couple episodes, a lot of people were jumping up and down. I was the zombie that actually tore Nicholas’ stomach open, because I wanted to make sure.
I knew we would probably only have one really good shot at it, and we put extra cameras underneath the dumpster and we were like, “You know what? Let’s just keep rolling and see where it goes” — knowing I knew how Glenn was set to escape. It wasn’t like he magically disappeared and then transported into Alexandria. It was there to experience, and I remember when we did it, it was like, “This is pretty insane.” The one thing that I took away from all that was, damn, Steven Yeun has a lot of fans!
The first half of the season also made me reinvest in Carl and look forward to studying how this “next generation” of people — Carl, Ron, Sam, Enid — process and deal with their new reality.
You talk about just teenagers in general, and the life changes that they go through — now it’s like, “Well, she was my girlfriend, but now you showed up and I want to get rid of you, but I can’t just ignore that you exist, so I’m going to get a gun and go after you.” It’s so funny that Rick’s trying to show Ron how to shoot and Carl stands there, very matter-of-factly, like, “Well, yeah, you got to keep … don’t put your finger on the trigger, and don’t do this and don’t do that.” And it’s not intended to be condescending. Carl’s not trying to treat it as a put-down to Ron. He’s trying to treat it as, “Listen, dude, I’ve lived outside those walls. I know what it takes to survive and if you’re smart, you will listen to everything I say so that it will help you be a better soldier.” But all Ron does is look at is, “Oh, well you think you’re so much better than me.”
It really is fascinating. Carl’s transition into the life of Alexandria — we set up last year where he goes into their room and they’re all playing video games, and they’re like, “Oh, yeah, sometimes we go shoot pool at my dad’s house, and sometimes we do this,” and he doesn’t even know that world. He’s not that kid anymore. Those years have been stripped away from him. That’s got to just affect you in a very, very weird way.
Carl definitely has had a lot more to do this season, too. You also have Enid, who’s superbly portrayed by Katelyn Nacon, and it just gives us a lot more opportunity to look at that part of society and how it’s been affected by our outside world. The other thing that I’d say is Carl did not lead the sheltered life that Sam did. Again, the story arc that we established at the end of last season with Carol, where she says, “Stop coming around here.” She actually threatens him and she’s like, “Oh, if you tell anybody, you’re going to find yourself tied to a tree.” I remember reading that script and just thinking, “That’s the most horrific thing for Carol to threaten this little kid, because she’s so desperate to keep her persona under wraps.” Then, of course, after the Wolves attack, Sam’s world is just completely destroyed because he doesn’t know what is safe and what isn’t safe. The kid has been petrified beyond rational thought, so to say.
Are you still having fun coming up with new variations of the walkers?
One thing that I would say that makes me tremendously proud about The Walking Dead is that we — from a makeup effects standpoint, from a creature design and creature effects standpoint — we really have sort of reinvigorated the makeup effects industry by putting what we do in the forefront. I can tell you, when I was a kid and Jaws was on and Dawn of the Dead, American Werewolf in London, The Howling, The Fog, The Thing, Star Wars — they made me want to do creature effects. I’m on social media and Instagram and a lot of the posts that I get are fourteen year old kids who say to me, “I want to do makeup effects now because of watching your work on The Walking Dead.” That’s how I got into it. I was inspired by the makeup effects work of Rick Baker and Rob Bottin and Stan Winston, and now the fact that I have young people that are responding to the work that me and my company are able to do, that’s the greatest compliment of all.
And I’m very proud that we are able to reach out and touch those kids who see this cool special effects makeup work and they’re not even scared by it. We’re doing stuff on TV that they couldn’t do in 1977, ’78, when Dawn of the Dead came out. That movie was released unrated because the ratings board was like, “Oh, it’s way too graphic.” Now we’re doing things on AMC that couldn’t even have been released in a theater 30 years ago.
Those are all created by artisans who sculpt, who paint. It’s a hands-on art,form. It’s not something that you can learn overnight. It’s something that you have to live and you have to breathe — and I lived and breathed it when I was a kid. I love that our studio in Chatsworth, we have thirty employees and there’s still clay and acrylic paints and plaster. We’re still keeping that art form alive, and The Walking Dead has done a tremendous amount to be able to keep that art form relevant. In this day and age, where so many people just want to go, “Yeah, we’ll just do it in post and do it digitally later,” The Walking Dead really celebrates practical effects — and I couldn’t be more proud of that.
The Walking Dead Season 6 returns Sunday, February 14 at 9/8CT on AMC