“We al­ways l i ke to kick the show off with a bang”

The Walk­ing Dead is back, and as Joseph McCabe re­ports, it’s still not for the faint- hearted...

SFX - - Contents -

We’re in a peace­ful Ge­or­gia for­est in mid- May. A gen­tle breeze drifts through the trees and sun- spot­ted leaves rus­tle. But amidst the seren­ity, death is present. Or more specif­i­cally, the un­dead. Around here they’re called walk­ers, and four of them have sur­rounded a large boulder in the midst of a clear­ing. Atop it sits a young African-Amer­i­can man, wear­ing the white col­lar and black shirt and slacks of a priest. The walk­ers claw at his feet, madly search­ing for flesh.

The priest kicks at their hands and screams in ter­ror. “Help! Help! Any­body! Help!”

From out of the for­est tears what at first looks like a pla­toon of in­fantry­men. But as the brush clears, their faces grow fa­mil­iar – Rick Grimes, his son Carl, Daryl Dixon, Mag­gie Greene, Glenn Rhee, Mi­chonne, Carol Peletier. In a heart­beat, they en­velop the walk­ers. Rick grabs one, slams its head against the boulder, and throws it to the ground. Carol drives her knife through the skull of another. Mi­chonne hits hers twice in the back of its head with the butt of a ri­fle, then a third time after it drops. The threat elim­i­nated, Glenn shouts, “Are we good?” After scan­ning for more walk­ers, Rick replies, “Yeah.” He looks up at the ter­ri­fied man and of­fers him his hand.

“Cut!” cries di­rec­tor David Boyd. Ac­tor Seth Gil­liam climbs off the rock and the stars of

The Walk­ing Dead take a breath. “Let’s hear it for the walker zom­bies!” says Boyd. The cast breaks into smiles and ap­plause.

It’s day three of shoot­ing the sec­ond episode of the show’s fifth sea­son in the noon sun here at Raleigh Stu­dios in Senoia, where The Walk­ing Dead is pro­duced. And it’s clear that even after four years of con­stant death, the TV adap­ta­tion of Robert Kirk­man’s best­selling comic book is still find­ing new life. Join­ing the veteran cast on set to­day are Josh McDer­mitt ( aka Eu­gene Porter, the sci­en­tist who holds a po­ten­tial cure for the zom­bie plague), Michael Cudlitz ( Abra­ham Ford, an Army sergeant tasked with get­ting Eu­gene to Wash­ing­ton DC), Christian Ser­ratos ( Rosita Espinosa, Ford’s right- hand woman), and Alanna Master­son ( Tara, for­mer friend of the vil­lain­ous Gov­er­nor and now ally to Glenn and his bud­dies).

All four ac­tors, in­tro­duced in sea­son three, have been pro­moted to reg­u­lars this year, su­per- siz­ing an al­ready large en­sem­ble. But as

The Walk­ing Dead demon­strated in its gamechang­ing fourth year, it’s al­ways wel­com­ing to new­com­ers. How­ever short their life ex­pectan­cies might be.

death is com­ing

“I fully ex­pect to die,” laughs Cudlitz, when he chats with SFX dur­ing the break in shoot­ing.

De­spite the prom­i­nent role his character plays in Kirk­man’s comic, the red- mus­ta­chioed gi­ant in­sists that, “Ev­ery­one’s here on bor­rowed time. There are char­ac­ters that are still around in the comic book that were off this show two years ago, and there are char­ac­ters that were not in the comic book that are still around. I’m ex­cited to be here for what­ever du­ra­tion this is. What­ever comes is a gift.”

Sea­son four capped with Rick and his

long­time com­pan­ions meet­ing Abra­ham and his al­lies in a box­car in which both groups were im­pris­oned in Ter­mi­nus, a long- sought refuge re­vealed as a deadly trap. Sea­son five may be­gin with the two teams join­ing forces to es­cape their cap­tors ( no one’s say­ing), but any union could prove short- lived.

“The whole fo­cus of my group right now is the mis­sion,” says Cudlitz. “Ev­ery­thing is mis­sion- ori­ented. Ev­ery­thing stems from and to the mis­sion. Eu­gene is the pack­age that we have to get to DC. That takes prece­dence over ev­ery­thing. There’s full com­mit­ment to the mis­sion at this point... Right now he’s Rick and we’re go­ing to DC. So we’ll see what un­folds.”

When asked if he an­tic­i­pates con­flict with Rick’s group, Cudlitz dead­pans, “Don’t get in my way.”

As the ac­tor re­turns to set, SFX heeds his words and scur­ries away to chat with pro­ducer Gale Anne Hurd, whose genre savvy has guided The Walk­ing Dead since it be­gan pro­duc­tion in 2010. Hurd tells us she and her fel­low pro­duc­ers lost sleep wor­ry­ing over the in­tense na­ture of sea­son four’s fi­nale, which saw Rick and his friends threat­ened by a gang of thugs, one of whom was in­tent on mo­lest­ing Carl. The stand­off ended with Rick rip­ping his as­sailant’s throat out. With his teeth.

“We don’t do it for shock value,” says Hurd, “It’s all about putting our char­ac­ters into sit­u­a­tions in which they find out what they’re re­ally ca­pa­ble of. That’s the chal­lenge this sea­son – what are we re­ally ca­pa­ble of ?”

A lot of sea­son five, she ex­plains, “has to do with the threat that you pose to your­self and the peo­ple around you after you’ve taken a step, and after you’ve done some­thing that crosses the line. Can you re­gain your hu­man­ity? Are you safe to be around? That’s one of the things that we are ex­am­in­ing. Once again, there’s no short­age of zom­bies. They are al­ways there. But they are in essence the pred­i­ca­ble threat. You know that you can’t stop them. You know what they’re after. That will al­ways be there. But now it’s a ques­tion of ‘ Who am I re­ally once I have done some­thing?’ When you con­sider that Rick was the guy that rode into At­lanta on horse­back [ in the show’s premiere] – ‘ Who are you? What kind of fa­ther are you?’ On the other hand, you sit there and you go, ‘ At that mo­ment, what else could he have done to save his son?’”

seek­ing safety

Be­fore leav­ing us, Hurd of­fers her as­sess­ment of the com­ing year. “I think you’re go­ing to find we have a lit­tle bit of ev­ery­thing this sea­son. I think it’s safe to say no one is safe. They’re still seek­ing a safe haven, they’ve still got hope. But at times it gets very, very dark.”

After Hurd says goodbye, we’re joined by ex­ec­u­tive pro­ducer and make- up ef­fects

“once again, there’s no short­age of zom­bies”

su­per­vi­sor Greg Ni­cotero. He con­firms, as we no­ticed ear­lier on set, that the show’s walk­ers have grown in­creas­ingly ema­ci­ated.

“I think we’ve fig­ured we’re a year and a half into the apoc­a­lypse in our story,” says Ni­cotero. “So some of th­ese zom­bies that are walk­ing around have been around for a while. The noses are com­ing off and there’s a lot more skin slid­ing off. Ev­ery year we ex­pand our visual pal­ette a lit­tle bit more. With one of the make- ups, I said, ‘ Take some of the teeth out. It’d be cool to have some bro­ken- out teeth.’ It sig­ni­fies that they’ve been around for a long time, maybe they bit somebody and their teeth broke. Adding those lit­tle flairs makes it feel like you’re not see­ing the same character and make- up over and over again.”

Ni­cotero tells us that this sea­son cur­rent showrun­ner Scott Gim­ple has in­creased The Walk­ing Dead’s fidelity to Kirk­man’s source ma­te­rial. Though adapt­ing the comics’ near lim­it­less scope isn’t al­ways easy. Ni­cotero’s just fin­ished di­rect­ing and edit­ing the sea­son premiere, which he says is “with­out a doubt the hard­est” of the eight episodes he’s helmed.

“We al­ways like to kick the show off with a bang, and we used ev­ery sec­ond of ev­ery shoot­ing day. The episode has ev­ery­thing. It has ev­ery­thing. The ed­i­tor calls me ev­ery night go­ing, ‘ Oh my god, I can’t be­lieve... I can’t wait for peo­ple to see it!’ It was like boot camp. It was ten days of just su­per in­ten­sive [ work]. Ev­ery day at the end of the day I’d just sit

“there’s a lot more skin slid­ing off zom­bies”

there rub­bing my head go­ing, ‘ Oh my god, I’m gonna die.’ I even said to Scott, ‘ You’re try­ing to kill me. I’m con­vinced of it.’ Be­cause I love the show so much I feel like the scenes have to be great. I have an obli­ga­tion to Scott as the writer, be­cause Scott writes those episodes. So I have to make sure I get what he wants.”

As over­worked as he might be, Ni­cotero scoffs at the idea of tak­ing a break from the zom­bie- mak­ing part of his job.

“Are you kid­ding?” he laughs. “You’d think it would be eas­ier, but we’re on set to­day and there are zom­bies and I’m run­ning around. I share the same pas­sion that all the ac­tors and crew share. We chal­lenge our­selves ev­ery year. That’s what makes it great.”

The Walk­ing Dead re­turns to Fox on Mon­day 13 Oc­to­ber.

You still wouldn’t want one of their snaps in your wed­ding al­bum.

Rick: still there. Just.

Prob­a­bly a good thing it’s a dark pic­ture.

A hope for the fu­ture?

Ever tried sen­si­tive skin shav­ing foam?

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