‘The Walking Dead’ EP Breaks Down The Nail-Biting Mid-Season Finale
Greg Nicotero discusses zombie guts, the Glenn mystery, and how we need to fear the next Big Bad.
Spoilers for “The Walking Dead” Season 6 past this point!
When “The Walking Dead” goes on hiatus for the winter, it’s not a relaxing vacay on a tropical island. No, when we left The Grimes Gang in “Start To Finish,” basically everyone from Rick (Andrew Lincoln) to Daryl (Norman Reedus) was trapped, surrounded, or otherwise threatened with impending death. Hilariously, the only character that’s mostly fine? Glenn (Steven Yeun), though he is stuck outside an enormous zombie herd, separated from the love of his life Maggie (Lauren Cohan).
It’s the end of an incredible run of episodes for “Walking Dead,” which mixed up its timeline, played with format and ultimately delivered a half-season that was frustrating for some fans, and incredibly rewarding for others.
To discuss everything that went down in both this half-season and the mid-season finale, MTV News hopped on the phone with Executive Producer Greg Nicotero to talk about zombie guts, the reaction to the Glenn-is-dead mystery, and how bad things are going to get after that Negan-teasing prologue.
MTV News: Right off the bat, I gotta ask the burning question on everyone’s minds: why is this the first time they’re using the guts trick since Season 1? Why don’t they just use it constantly?
Greg Nicotero: You know, I have to say that they used it — I think it was Michonne who used it, when she came to the prison in season three, actually. But I always looked at the guts trick as a sort of last resort. It would probably be smartest if every time they went on a run, they would just slather themselves with walker guts and render themselves invisible.
It’s a great question… I think they use it as a last resort when there are numbers that they can’t come in contact with. But with that said, you could probably name fifteen instances when they should’ve used it in the last couple of years. [Laughs]
MTV: I have a co-worker who has a theory that as soon as they figure out how to bottle walker guts in perfume bottles, basically the show will be over.
Nicotero: Well, if you really think about it… If you had an open cut, or if it got in your mouth or eyes or anything, it could kill you. I think there is some danger to it, which is probably why they don’t do it all of the time. Because if you literally had walker blood get into your veins, it would kill you. It’s the same as being bitten. So there! I like that answer. It took me a minute.
MTV: Let’s talk about about the structure of this whole half season, right up to the mid-season finale and through, I assume, the return episode in February. You’ve been jumping all over in time, so did you have a map of how it all laid out? And did it all actually take place in 24 hours?
Nicotero: We didn’t have a map on the wall. I mean, it did take place within one really, really bad day… But one of the things I really do like is, I like the fact that we shift time
incrementally enough to give the audience an opportunity to enjoy the ride.
You know, when we hear Eugene’s voice on the walkie-talkie, we heard that at the end of episode six, and then we don’t see it until the beginning of episode eight. There’s always those slight time shifts that we started in episode one. Having the flashbacks in black and white [in episode one] really allowed us to tell parallel story lines within our format. And by using the black and white, and by jumping back and forth, we were able to give the audience, emotionally, an upgrade as to where we started and where we are going.
So we didn’t necessarily have a map, and there were a few instances where we would be like, “episode six is the beat with Daryl, and that’s happening concurrently with episode seven,” and it’s a little tricky.
After episode one, we went right to Alexandria, so we get the sense that the Wolves are attacking concurrently while everybody is trying to lead the walker herd away. And then from there we get the sense of where the horn happened. It’s all really about giving the audience little clues, allowing them to put the pieces together for themselves. That was really how we launched the entire season, was setting up the walker herd in the quarry, was allowing the audience to figure out what the plan was going to be, and how they were going to do it. So it was something that we do quite often.
MTV News: Now that we have everybody in essentially the same place — other than Daryl, Abraham, and Sasha, who we’ll get to in a second — are we going to see more of a linear structure in the back half of the season, or are you still going to be playing with time?
Nicotero: I think it’s safe to say that the second half of the season is a bit more linear, because of the threat that we have established. I think it’s pretty… I’m just trying to remember the episodes in the back half, to make sure I’m not lying to you. Yeah, it’s pretty safe to say that the second half of the season will be a bit more linear.
MTV: Talking about those threats, is the Alpha Wolf who took Denise hostage the last Wolf left alive? Are we done with the Wolf threat, or is that going to be going concurrently with the threat of the Saviors?
Nicotero: As far as we know he’s the last Wolf. I mean, Rick killed a couple of them in episode three and made a specific point of asking Morgan, “Did you let some of those Wolves go?” And Morgan says, “Yes I did.” So I would imagine that the Wolves probably would’ve used everybody to attack Alexandria, but as far as we know right now, story-wise, he’s the last one.
That doesn’t mean that there might not be another group someplace else, but of all the Wolves that we’ve seen we’ve dispatched, that’s all of them… Most of them.
MTV: Speaking of Morgan, his relationship with Carol is… Not great at the end of the episode. But with everything that’s happening in Alexandria, and with everything that’s coming up — are they going to be able to repair their relationship? Or are they done at this point?
Nicotero: That’s something that you’re going to learn in the second half of the season, because [they have] two dramatically clashing ideologies, and Carol is the reluctant executioner. She doesn’t want to have to kill people. She does it because that’s her perception of how people stay alive. Whereas Morgan has a completely opposite ideology.
So obviously, these two are going to clash. I don’t think they’re ever going to see eye-to-eye, and I don’t think Morgan’s ever going to convince Carol that she’s wrong, and I don’t think she’s ever going to convince Morgan that he’s wrong. So it is a fascinating dilemma that we’re left with, but I don’t see any resolution of those two ideologies ever meeting in the middle.
MTV: Something I discussed with Lennie James earlier in the season, though, was the possibility of Morgan moving over more to Carol or Rick’s point of view. Is that still a possibility?
Nicotero: You know, I don’t know. I would have to say that circumstances would have to force him into that. The same circumstances would have to force Carol into changing her view, but that’s all stuff that’ll remain to be seen.
MTV: The Glenn mystery was obviously such a huge part of the public discussion that went on throughout this half season, with the reaction from fans varying pretty wildly. What was your take on how everything went down, and did any of the negative reaction affect how you guys will treat this sort of thing going forward?
Nicotero: You know, it was a gamble. This entire first half of this season has been a gamble. From stepping out of the gate in episode one with that giant, epic, sprawling episode leading the walker herd out of the quarry, we took a lot of chances. And I remember talking about the Glenn misdirect, because we have done misdirects like that in the past.
In season three, we did it with Carol, where Carol was missing for two or three episodes. I just think that now, more and more people are invested in the show — and one of the things that we talked a lot about was the idea that every time that one of these groups goes on a run, it virtually could be the last time that you would see them alive.
When they go out to redirect the herd, that was a dry run. Everybody in Alexandria was fully expecting them all to come back and say, okay we’re going to do it tomorrow. And then when the quarry was breached, all hell breaks loose. [And] those people at Alexandria, once they fought the Wolves, they don’t know who’s coming back. They don’t know if Nicholas, or Glenn, or Daryl, or Sasha, or Abraham are coming back.
So there’s a powerful emotion there, of being left every single time somebody gets in a car and drives outside those walls, [it] could be the last time that you ever see them. We talked about that quite a bit, and we wanted the audience to feel that same, similar emotion of, we may not know whether that person is going to be alive, or that person is going to be dead.
It was clearly a gamble, and I will always, one hundred percent stand by the show and the decisions that we make. The irony, of course, is I had a lot of people — including my parents, including my children — that were like, “just tell me if Glenn’s still alive!” I’m not going to tell you that. I mean, it’s a great tribute to Steven Yeun. It’s a great tribute to his performance, and his character.
But the fact that people are so emotionally invested in this character, and what’s going to happen to him… It’s a tribute to our viewers, and how invested they are in the show. It was disappointing that some people were like, “ugh you’re just playing with our emotions.” No, we’re telling a story. We want you to go along with us as we’re telling this story.
There are a lot of shows that have told uncomfortable story lines, or story lines that people didn’t agree with… But the bottom line is that we took the audience on a journey, and we really wanted them to have a good experience watching the show. There wasn’t any conscious decision to purposefully mislead the audience.
When we saw Glenn allegedly being torn apart, we saw it from only a few angles. If we would’ve used a different angle, you would’ve seen. So we chose to give the audience one view of the event, and then when we went back to it, we gave them a different view. And that different view gave them more information, to allow them to judge for themselves. I mean, this whole season has really been about giving the audience clues, and letting them make their own determination.
MTV: Before we let you go, let’s talk about the “prologue” that aired, teasing Negan… Can you tell us where that falls in the continuity, and how quickly, and how bad things are going to get for Daryl, Abraham, and Sasha?
Nicotero: I think it’s going to get bad pretty quickly [laughs]. Whereas the first half of the season, we played with time shifting a lot. We had black and white sequences in the premiere, and we were sort of playing with our timeline a little bit. The second half of the season, now that we’ve introduced this new group of people who are clearly ruthless, the timeline is going to be much more linear in terms of propelling us forward at an accelerated rate, as each episode continues.
MTV: I’m looking nervously forward to it, and the mid-season premiere.
Nicotero: I mean, the mid-season premiere… I think it’s safe to say that we broke our record of the number of walkers that we had in 601.
“The Walking Dead” returns this February.