The Walking Dead director Greg Nicotero on that ominous ending |

TV | The Walking Dead

The Walking Dead director Greg Nicotero on that ominous ending

'The one thing that you can never do in this world is underestimate your opponent,' says the director about the assault on the Saviors

( Gene Page/AMC )

[SPOILER ALERT: Read on only if you have already watched Sunday’s “Not Tomorrow Yet” episode of The Walking Dead.]

It was easy. Too easy, it turns out. The Alexandrians stormed the Saviors’ compound and appeared to take out every last one of the folks who had been plaguing the Hilltop. They were ready to finish off the job with one final baddie attempting to escape (on Daryl’s bike, no less) when a voice came over the walkie-talkie explaining the other side had captured Carol and Maggie. Uh-oh.

It was an ominous ending to an episode packed with one couple forming (Carol and Tobin), another breaking up (Abraham and Rosita), and a celebrity cameo of sorts that you probably missed. We spoke to exec-producer and episode director Greg Nicotero to get the scoop on everything that went down, and whether Rick and Co, may have bit of more than they can chew. (Click through both pages to read the entire interview. Also make sure to read our episode Q&A with Melissa McBride, and for more Walking Dead scoop, follow me on Twitter @DaltonRoss.)

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: So let’s start at the very beginning with a totally different opening for you guys with this jaunty folk music and a cookie baking montage.
GREG NICOTERO: We’re really trying to contrast Carol struggling with the opportunity to have a real life, and she’s having a hard time. Then, of course, right in the middle of this montage of Carol delivering cookies, Rick pulls up and he’s like, “By the way, put down your cookies because we’re going to have to kill people.” It just grinds everything to a halt. Like we so often do on The Walking Dead, we go for pretty dramatic, stark contrast, and the contrast of this playful music and Carol smiling walking down the streets and delivering cookies and her little moment with Tobin.

RELATED: Exclusive EW Portraits of The Walking Dead Zombies

You’re like, it’s so strange; It’s such a normal world. Then the RV pulls up and Rick’s like, “No, as much as we want this to be our world — if we’re going to fight for it, this is what we’re going to have to do. We’re going to have to go out and kill people.” Then it becomes Die Hard. It goes from light and airy to be the nighttime raid on the compound.

It’s almost like Carol was having a little vacation there. It’s like the zombie apocalypse version of a vacation from your day job and now you’ve got to get back to work.
Yeah, but what’s nice about it is she’s not in disguise anymore. Carol really wants to be this person. She kills the walker and then she gets splattered with blood and we see her in the closet. She chooses that sweater for a very specific reason. She’s not going to old Carol mode. She’s trying to escape it and she can’t. It weighs on her. That’s why she wakes up in the middle of the night and sits down and writes the list. She’s tallying the number of people that she’s killed. There’s a lot of depth in what’s going on with Carol. It’s punctuated by when she has the argument with Maggie and she says, “You’re supposed to be someone else.” She’s so angry at Maggie because Maggie represents what life should be and what the promise of a future is. She feels that Maggie is being reckless by even leaving the safety of Alexandria.

RELATED: Behind the Scenes of EW’s The Walking Dead cover shoot

Melissa McBride and I spoke about that. It’s all coming full circle to Sophia there, isn’t it?
Of course. It’s what began her journey into transition. It’s a great episode. I had a blast shooting it. This one has a lot of cool action stuff going on, but there are some fantastic moments, like when Glenn killed his first human and then takes the knife away from Heath so he doesn’t have to. That’s so important. Whereas, Rick goes in and Rick does it, and he hesitates for a second because he’s still a human being.

But when we shot that scene with Glenn it was really important to me as a director to do everything I could to lay down the groundwork for Steven Yeun to just have this emotional moment. So we made really beautiful fake prosthetic heads. We had a dummy on the cot, and we put a ring on his finger and laid his hand across the dummy’s chest. So when Steven came up, he saw the hand with a ring on it and this head.

And that’s not even in the shot.
It’s not in the shot. It was done purely as a device to get Steven to the next level. Not that he needed that help from me, because he’s an amazing actor, but I really wanted him to pause for a second before he put the knife in the eye, and just look at it and be like “Is that a person? It’s a dummy, I know it’s a dummy, but I’m physically shoving the knife into the eyeball of this thing.” I have a photo of the head afterwards with the knife sticking out of the eye, and it’s horrific. So those moments for both Steven and Andy, I spent a lot of money making these beautiful heads for them to stab, even though I knew they would never be seen, because I felt that it was something that would add a whole other layer to the emotion of those two scenes.

While you’re talking about making these heads, I have to ask you about making the Gregory zombie heads that we see lined up, and then we see Rick just busting one in the face to give it sort of a broken nose look. Tell me about creating those.
It’s kind of funny because a lot of people ask me how many cameos I do in the show as a walker. The Gregory head is actually a cast of my head. When Xander Berkeley was cast as Gregory, we didn’t have enough time to get him to Los Angeles to do a head cast and make a dummy head of him, so I sent photos of him and I said, “Here’s a picture of the actor. Let’s see what we have in stock that looks as close to Xander as it can be. “It ended up being a mold of my head. So that head that he picks up is actually a fake head of me!

One of the other heads, I don’t know if I’m going to get in trouble if I say this, was Johnny Depp. I think we had sculpted an emaciated version of a dummy head for something and we used Johnny Depp’s head as a basis just for a clay sculpt. I can’t remember who the third one is, but I’m in good company. Norman kept saying he wanted the heads when we were done shooting. I said we’ve got to wait until the picture is logged. I think one of the funniest moments we’ve shot in the season is when the Savior sticks his hand inside the head and puppeteers it to start talking. I laughed so hard when we shot that scene.

Image Credit: Gene Page/AMC


Now I’m going to keep picturing Andrew Lincoln punching you in the face during that scene. Maybe he was getting out some aggression there, Greg.
Maybe. I didn’t feel it. Fortunately, there was no psychic connection with me and the head so I didn’t feel the punch in the nose. There was another piece to the montage that we were going to shoot, which was Rosita taking all three of the heads. We were going to see this weird montage of her cutting the hair and shaving it. But it ended up being a better reveal after Rick talks to the whole group and laid out the plan. He walks around and he’s like, “What do we got?” They’re looking at the heads and he’s like, it’s such an absurd plan that it actually works.

I want to backtrack a little bit, as we were taking about Carol earlier. But what about this love connection between Carol and Tobin? Where did this come from?
I think it’s sweet. I think it’s an effort for Carol to sort of normalize everything in her life. She’s suffering from post-traumatic stress. I think by delivering the cookies and by the romance with Tobin she’s doing what she can do to try to normalize her existence. It’s a really sweet scene. I like the way that she leans in and kisses him. Tobin kind of puts it out there. And then you have the breakup scene between Abraham and Rosita, which was just agonizing to watch because it was so raw and so real. There’s so much going on that it just shows you the struggles of existing in a new society. When Abraham says to Rosita, “I thought you were the only woman left in the world and you’re not,” how do you recover from a comment like that? I have no idea.

NEXT: Nicotero on the assault on the Saviors and that ending