The Gore Seasons SEASON 3
The Walking Dead FX guru and director, Greg Nicotero, goes through the hit zombie show year-by-year
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!”
THE WALKING DEAD SEASON 8 IS OUT NOW ON DVD, BLU-RAY AND DOWNLOAD
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.