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"We're the ones who live..."
AMC closed out a landmark era of prestige television this past weekend with the very last episode of The Walking Dead. Lives were lost, reanimated corpses were burnt to a sizzling crisp, and longtime cast members turned in dynamite performances. Helmed by makeup effects wizard turned executive producer/director, Greg Nicotero, the series finale (appropriately titled "Rest In Peace") effectively wrapped up more than a decade's worth of story while still leaving room for more zombified adventures.
Now that the dust has had a chance to settle a bit, SYFY WIRE caught up with Nicotero to probe him with five questions about the end of an undead epoch...
How do you feel now that the world has seen The Walking Dead finale?
It feels good, actually. It was such a unique experience to go from 13 years ago — reading the script a year before it was ever sold and talking to Frank [Darabont] about zombie designs — to being the person that takes the show out. I still think I'm probably in denial, I still haven't processed life without the show. But I guess the truth is that the show still exists in different iterations.
Speaking of, what was the challenge of having to wrap up the story and still leave the door open for spinoffs?
That was really the challenge because you want the audience to feel like they're getting a satisfying resolution. And we were able to do that with a lot of characters. But to be honest, it was challenging to resolve certain characters because we know they run off to do another show. It was a little challenging, but we had a lot of characters that aren't involved in spinoffs [and had the] opportunity to wrap up their stories. Especially with Rosita, because Christian Serratos did such an amazing job — she really wanted her character to go out dramatically. She didn't want to just be a person whose story just gets wrapped up, she really wanted her character to have some resonance to it. She was the one that really fought for that storyline and I think she did an amazing job.
You open the episode with the tragic death of Luke. The performances are so raw and genuine, that I saw some people online jokingly wonder if you actually killed Dan Fogler in real life. What can you remember from shooting that scene?
That was the first scene [on] the first day. I realized that in between the action stuff, the emotion had to be real. So between Angel [Theory], Eleanor [Matsura], Nadia [Hilker], and Lauren Ridloff…when we did the first take, I kind of said, ‘Don't hold anything back. The audience is not going to react fully unless they feel your anguish and your heartbreak.’ And they really went for it. Within two hours of the first day of shooting, I went, ‘Okay, we got something amazing here.’ We shot that scene over about two hours and the girls were like, ‘How much more crying [do you need?]’ They did such a great job. It really was amazing to watch.
The show literally goes out with a bang when you blow up an entire horde of zombies. Was that always part of the plan?
We knew we had to. We knew we had to go [all] out. Everything feels very high-octane. I did take a little bit of a different approach when directing this particular episode. I really wanted a little more of a handheld, sort of James Bond/Jason Bourne-style of shooting action scenes. The camera looks to the left and something's happening, the camera looks to the right and something’s happening, I really wanted to feel like we were in the middle of it. That was a little different than [what] we had done in the past on the show, even the quick cuts to make everything feel energized. That was all done by choice to make sure the audience felt like they were getting something different.
Looking ahead, you've got Norman's European spinoff, which you're doing the makeup effects for...
I'm actually an executive producer on that show. I'm producing that with him. We handled all the zombie effects for Dead City with Lauren [Cohan] and Jeffrey [Dean Morgan]. And then [we] have this Rick and Michonne thing down the pike. So…you know...zombies don't go down as easy as you think they do.
Seasons 1-10 of The Walking Dead are currently streaming on Netflix. The jumbo-sized final season can be found on AMC+.
If you're looking to satisfy your zombie craving, head over to Peacock and check out the movie that kickstarted the entire genre: George A. Romero's Night of the Living Dead. Or check out the SYFY original series, Day of the Dead.