INTERVIEW: The Walking Dead’s Andrew Lincoln and Greg Nicotero talk season six
Please be aware this interview contains spoilers for The Walking Dead season 6 episode 9, which aired last Monday in the UK, and discussion of issue 100 of the Walking Dead comics. Please click back if you do not wish to be spoiled.
The Walking Dead has returned to Monday night television in sensational style. The midseason premiere of the series last week aired some of the show’s most shocking scenes so far including a Rick Grimes-led battle to save Alexandria from succumbing to the murderous undead, the brutal deaths of Jessie and her family, and a tragic accident involving Rick’s son Carl (not to mention Daryl stepping in with an RPG).
We were lucky enough to chat to Andrew Lincoln (Rick Grimes) and Greg Nicotero (The Walking Dead executive producer, special effects makeup supervisor and director), who were both in London to attend the weekend’s ‘Walker Stalker’, a fan convention celebrating The Walking Dead. Speaking to the pair alongside a group of other journalists, during which both Andrew and I were singled out by Greg as definite victims should a real zombie apocalypse come to pass, we discussed what’s still to come in season six, some of the show’s darkest moments and Rick’s intense psychological transformation.
Are you all fresh from Walker Stalking?
Greg: People are amazing. It really is fun to connect with the fans, they’re so dedicated to the show.
Andrew: They really watch it, they have their own theories and it’s been interesting this show. It feels like social media grew up with the show, and it’s fuelled it in a way. There’s a sort of tribal nature to the fans, they all have their favourite character, they follow them and live and die with them.
Do you find they think of things sometimes that you haven’t even considered yourself?
Greg: There was a scene we shot of you [gestures to Andrew] kneeling next to Carl and you were holding his hand and doing the speech, there was a little heart-shaped blood splatter on your sleeve, and somebody took a picture and said did you put that on there because it was airing on Valentine’s Day in the States? They thought that we’d put a little heart just because it was on Valentine’s Day.
Andrew: What did you say?
Greg: I said of course! No I didn’t [laughs].
Do you feel the fan pressure to keep getting it right?
Greg: Personally I don’t feel the fan pressure, I feel the obligation to make the show great. If we started succumbing to the fan pressure, nobody would ever die, everybody would miraculously come back and everybody would be fine. We do bold things. We kill characters and it’s unpleasant and we don’t like doing it, but it serves the story.
Andrew, have you had to educate yourself on everything zombie related?
Andrew: Frank Darabont gave a hit-list of the movies I definitely should avoid and watch, so I did a little bit of research. I don’t think we have that here, it’s not the same horror culture here – we’re more sort of Mary Shelley and Bram Stoker, aren’t we? Doing this job is education in itself, but more importantly I think when people say it’s a genre show, I say yeah, it is a genre show – it’s a Western. If there’s anything we’re akin to, it’s that genre. The way we shoot it is very Western.
Why do you think we have such a fascination with zombies?
Greg: It’s the same as nuclear war, the idea of something that’s unknown, and from there how would you survive? At least in America, everybody thinks they’d make it. I have had so many people ask what would you do if a zombie apocalypse happens? Well you’re supposed to traditionally go to the place where no-one else would ever go – so you’d go to the dentists’ office, nobody ever wants to go to the dentists office.
There is a fascination. I think the whole idea of someone that you love – and as you get older and you have children and you have this bond – the idea that that person becomes something else. The sort of body snatchers aspect of looking right into someone you love and they’re gone, and how your brain processes the fact that it’s not the person you loved. As a father, to me that’s the most terrifying thing in the world.
The kids’ deaths have always been some of the most harrowing, like Sophia and Lizzie. How do you decide which of the darker aspects of the comics go into the show?
Greg: I think it’s really a matter of picking and choosing. I was sitting next to Steven [Yeun, who plays Glenn] at Comic Con three years ago when issue 100 came out, [the one] with Glenn and Negan. I hadn’t read it yet and Steven and Robert Kirkman [creator of the Walking Dead comics and executive producer on the series] were having a conversation. While they were talking, I was looking at it and I went no… I was angry, actually. I was like how could you do that to Steven? It was written before Steven even had the part, but I was pissed at Robert.
Andrew: Robert told me at the premiere of the first season, in issue 100 I’m going to take out Glenn. It’s going to be horrendous. And that was two years before the issue came out, he had it as an end game even then.
Greg: I don’t think we want to do all of them. There are a certain few things…
Like not killing Judith?
Greg: Yeah. Those are aspects that would have pushed us into a different place that our viewers might not recover from. I think we’re relatively dark, but it’s dark in a fantasy kind of way.
Andrew: We are moving into an area that’s kind of ambiguous though.
Greg: Traditionally most of the violence has been walkers and humans. We had Terminus. We pushed the envelope with the trough thing. These guys look like they’re really handsome good looking guys who have charisma, but they’re doing this horrible thing so you’ve got to at least get a hint of it, you can’t just imply it. We came up with this idea of the trough, and seeing them bleeding it out. There’s the juxtaposition of every day at work like [whistling] and yeah. I was shocked we got away with it.
Andrew: I remember shooting it, and actually physically being bound and I looked down the line and I couldn’t see the rig. It looked unbelievably real.
Greg: It was interesting because I took a little cue from Ridley Scott when we shot that scene, because Ridley Scott always talks about the scene in Alien when the chestburster comes out. He said they cleared out the set. They brought John Hurt in and they put him in the rig and they got it all ready, and then they brought the actors back in and shot it. All those reactions of the actors were all real because they were not expecting [it].
So when these guys [gestures to Andrew] were all tied up, I wanted them to look in the trough and see the blood coming and hear it and react. We had cameras on them, as well as the camera on the guys, because I wanted that initial reaction to be captured, of like, maybe Greg lost his mind and they’re actually killing extras?
The psychological darkness of the characters has been pivotal through the series, how have you approached the change in Rick?
Andrew: That was always one of the great attractions to me. You have the visible embodiment of law and order, a family man, a moral compass. And then as he inhabits this world, the environment changes continually, so he develops this new moral code. It’s interesting, because you think of Rick in season two and he was still very much anchored to the now – the old world – whereas Shane had already had a couple of experiences that had made him reevaluate. Now, I would say season four/five, [Rick’s] positioned himself probably more extreme than Shane.
For an actor to get this opportunity to keep kind of modifying and exploring different parts of this guy is a huge privilege. I’ve never lived playing a character for six years before. The reason why this one has been so satisfying is because of the writers and the team behind it, and the source material, and maybe that’s the reason why there’s an enduring strength of longevity.