The Gore Sea­sons SEA­SON 3

The Walk­ing Dead FX guru and di­rec­tor, Greg Ni­cotero, goes through the hit zom­bie show year-by-year

Empire (UK) - - REVIEW - chris he­witt

THAT THE WALK­ING Dead re­mains one of the big­gest shows on tele­vi­sion as it en­ters its ninth sea­son is in no small part down to Greg Ni­cotero. The ‘N’ in ef­fects gi­ants KNB, he started off on the show as its zom­bie wiz­ard, the man who could make an end­less ar­ray of deadly un­dead. But his role, and in­flu­ence, on the show has grown im­mea­sur­ably. These days he’s one of its great­est cre­ative forces, and main di­rec­tors, of­ten tasked with start­ing and end­ing sea­sons, and bid­ding a bloody farewell to key char­ac­ters. So he’s per­fectly placed to gauge the mer­its and de­mer­its of each sea­son.

Note: this in­ter­view took place be­fore both Sea­son 9 be­gan, and the tragic death of Scott Wil­son, who played Her­shel.


Run­ning for just six episodes, then show run­ner Frank Darabont brought a cinematic ap­proach to the story of Rick Grimes (An­drew Lin­coln) and his mot­ley crew of sur­vivors, mak­ing their way through a world over­run by zom­bies. “By shoot­ing the pi­lot, Frank laid the rules and the ground­work for what was a very well re­ceived show. There was noth­ing like that on tele­vi­sion at the time. It was fresh and it was new and it was epic. No­body treated it like a tele­vi­sion show. I feel one of the things that el­e­vated the ma­te­rial was that Frank sur­rounded him­self with peo­ple who came from a fea­ture film back­ground. We al­ways thought big. We still think big.”


Rick and his gang pitch up at a farm owned by Her­shel. They en­dure their first ma­jor ca­su­al­ties

— Rick’s best friend Shane (Jon Bern­thal), the wise and kind Dale (Jef­frey De­munn), and the young Sophia (Madi­son Lintz).

“I know Sea­son 2 gets crit­i­cised a lot. Some peo­ple felt it was slow, but I would dis­agree 100 per cent.

To me, that’s one of our strong­est sea­sons. Set­ting that on Her­shel’s farm, where it was a slow burn and there was more men­ace on the out­skirts, gave the op­por­tu­nity for the au­di­ence to fall in love with the char­ac­ters. And that mo­ment when Sophia walks out of the barn [as a zom­bie] is one of the most heart­break­ing mo­ments we’ve ever shot.” Mov­ing on to a prison they hope will be a se­cure lo­ca­tion, Rick and co are faced with their great­est threat: a mad tyrant called The Gover­nor (David Mor­ris­sey). Rick’s wife, Lori, dies in child­birth.

“Sea­son 2 and 3 and 4, you put the great char­ac­ters to­gether and you let them tell our story. We started Sea­son 3 re­ally strong. The tex­ture of the prison alone made for some re­ally great sto­ry­telling. And when they came into con­tact with Mi­chonne [Danai Gurira], the show opened up in a good way. At the end of Sea­son 3, we were at a point where we needed to stream­line and re­de­fine the show’s view­point.”


The Gover­nor de­clares war on Rick and his prison dwellers. The bat­tle ul­ti­mately does not end well for him, but the group are forced to aban­don the prison.

“You never want to play the same beat over and over again. I feel like what we did with The Gover­nor was we were able to re­deem him a bit. He was ruth­less and bru­tal, but showed hu­man­ity. And one of my favourite episodes is where Merle [Michael Rooker] dies. I loved how his char­ac­ter came full cir­cle.”


Rick and his group end up in a place called Ter­mi­nus, which isn’t what it seems. An in­creas­ingly ruth­less Rick faces a strug­gle for his soul.

“Sea­son 5 starts with them out in the world, and com­pletely vul­ner­a­ble. They’re at their ab­so­lute low­est in that scene in the barn where Rick has the ‘we are the walk­ing dead’ speech. But I love that Rick be­comes the guy Shane said he would never be­come, when they had their con­fronta­tion in Sea­son 2. Rick was al­ways the anti-hero. And we al­ways loved the idea that Walk­ing Dead is a Western.”


Mov­ing to a sup­posed safe haven called Alexan­dria, the group meet a new neme­sis: base­ball bat-wield­ing thug Ne­gan (Jef­frey Dean Mor­gan). Fans re­acted neg­a­tively to a sto­ry­line in which fan favourite Glenn (Steven Yuen) ap­pears to die

“I was never a big fan of the fake-out death. I get it, part of our job is to take the au­di­ence on a ride. But I re­mem­ber talk­ing about that a lot; we’re just fuck­ing with the au­di­ence a lit­tle bit, just to ma­nip­u­late them. We want to treat them re­spect­fully. The show got dark. It got re­ally dark. It’s some­times re­ally hard to find en­joy­ment or en­ter­tain­ment out of things that are so bleak and dark. You need to lighten things up ev­ery once in a while.”


In a move that pro­voked a fierce back­lash, Ne­gan graph­i­cally kills poor Glenn and Abra­ham (Michael Cudlitz), as a game of cat-and-mouse be­tween him and Rick breaks out

“I di­rected that episode, so I al­ways felt slightly de­tached from it. I was look­ing at it in a very clin­i­cal way. It didn’t hit me un­til much later. But we went for it. Whether that was the right thing to do or not was a de­bat­able point. But you gotta give a tremen­dous amount of credit to Steven Yuen. He’s a fuck­ing great ac­tor. If peo­ple didn’t love his por­trayal of Glenn so much, it wouldn’t have mat­tered.”


The war be­tween Rick and Ne­gan comes to an end in the wake of a sur­pris­ing death: Rick’s beloved son, Carl (Chan­dler Riggs). Sur­pris­ing be­cause Carl is very much alive in the comic book.

“You never want the au­di­ence to get ahead of you story-wise. We want the show to feel fresh and take these de­vi­a­tions some­times. There were a lot of fac­tors at play with Carl’s death. There needed to be some sig­nif­i­cant mo­ti­va­tion at the end for Rick not to kill Ne­gan, and one of the fac­tors was Carl’s last wishes. It was re­ally sad to lose Chan­dler. I di­rected his fi­nal episode. I’m the Grim Reaper, dude. Ac­tors run when they see me com­ing. Fuck, I’ve killed a lot of peo­ple!”


Above: The Walk­ing Dead mae­stro Greg Ni­cotero in­tro­duces us to a Sea­son 9 zom­bie .

Top to bot­tom: Sea­son 3: Rick Grimes (An­drew Lin­coln, far right) and sur­vivors fight back; We’re in­tro­duced to base­ball bat-wield­ing thug Ne­gan (Jef­frey Dean Mor­gan) in Sea­son 6; Glenn Rhee (Steven Yeun) and Ni­cholas (Michael Traynor) find them­selves sur­rounded by zom­bies in Sea­son 6; Carl Grimes (Chan­dler Riggs) with dad Rick in Sea­son 8.

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