Anytime something big happens in The Walking Dead, it has major ripple effects for what comes later, sometimes seasons down the road. For every OMG moment when AMC’s TV series veers from its comic book source material, it sets up future changes — changes that not even the show’s creative team always agree on.
Like most passionate Walking Dead fans, executive producer Greg Nicotero has his own ideas about where those changes have (and haven’t) paid off. Speaking recently with Collider’s The Witching Hour podcast, Nicotero admitted he’s had to direct some of those moments himself, even when he’s “vehemently disagreed” with what happens onscreen, as he did in a huge Season 2 death.
“… There have been things that I vehemently disagreed with. Like in the original comic book, when Shane dies in Season 2, Carl’s the one who shoots Shane,” Nicotero said. “And when we did the TV show, I remember it wasn’t Carl that shot Shane. I remember having a conversation with [TWD creator] Robert Kirkman, and saying, ‘Dude, I remember! I remember that moment; that it was Carl, this little kid who had the gun, who ended up shooting Shane.”
When fans of the comics tune in to see how the show will handle Kirkman’s comic book story beats, Nicotero knows the creative team will get instant feedback the moment the show airs. “It’s hard, because I read a lot of great stuff about it, and I’ve read a lot of terrible stuff about it,” he joked, “and I would say there are times when I agree with some of the things that are said. And we have those conversations. There were things that came up — we had a conversation, and I said, ‘Mark my words, someone’s gonna publish an article about that’ — and then the episode airs, and then there’s an article, and it’s right there!”
Nicotero directed “Wrath,” the Season 8 finale that saw Negan nearly die when Rick Grimes cut his throat with a shard of glass. But even from the director’s chair, Nicotero was wanting Maggie, and not Rick, to do the honors … and it sounds like he’d have been fine with Negan dying right then and there.
“I had directed that episode, and I had said to Scott Gimple, the showrunner: 'I think Maggie should shoot him.' I think Maggie should either kill Negan, or shoot Negan, or do something, because she’s right there! It’s really hard; it was really a hard moment to shoot, knowing that Maggie collapses to her knees because Rick spares Negan’s life … obviously, Negan’s character had more of a journey, and there was a lot more going on.”
Despite all the creative back-and-forth that’s gone into 10 seasons of AMC’s flagship zombie series, at the end of the day Nicotero says it’s been rewarding to bounce ideas off the rest of the team — even when his don’t always win out.
“The show’s really in a great place,” Nicotero said. “I think Angela’s [current showrunner Angela Kang] done an unbelievable job. I think with Samantha [Morton] and Ryan [Hurst], and all the actors, Jeffrey [Dean Morgan] and Melissa [McBride] and Norman [Reedus] and L.C. [Lauren Cohan], and everybody … the last two seasons have been really, really fun … the storytelling has just become adrenalized.”
We still don’t know how things will play out as Season 10 awaits its final episode. The coronavirus pandemic halted post-production work just as the season was reaching its climax, so the Nicotero-directed Season 10 finale is still waiting in the wings. AMC plans to air the finale as a beefed-up special episode sometime later this year, so we’ll be watching to spot any big moments that might’ve kept Nicotero and the rest of the creative team playing some good-natured offense behind the scenes to defend their fateful story choices.