Ahead of the release of The Walking Dead’s seventh season, EW takes an inside look at the horror franchise. Entertainment Weekly’s Ultimate Guide to the Walking Dead is on sale now and can be found with a collectible cover on newsstands after October 14, 2016. As part of the book, we spoke to key Walking Dead figures to look back at one of the biggest moments from each season. Some may be major, others a bit more subtle. In the fourth second installment of the series, we chatted with director Michael E. Satrazemis about a key moment from season 4. (Also make sure to check out our season 1 Q&A with Andrew Lincoln, season 2 Q&A with showrunner Scott M. Gimple, and season 3 Q&A with Norman Reedus.)
SEASON 4 KEY MOMENT
THE INTERVIEW: DIRECTOR MICHAEL E. SATRAZEMIS
THE EPISODE: “THE GROVE”
THE MOMENT: CAROL SHOOTS LIZZIE
It’s the most controversial moment in Walking Dead history — when Carol (Melissa McBride) tells Lizzie (Brighton Sharbino) to “look at the flowers” before putting a bullet in the young girl’s brain. While that decision came as a result of a confused Lizzie earlier stabbing her sister Mika (Kyla Kenedy) in the mistaken belief that she would come back to life as her old self, Carol’s solution is still shocking. The landmark episode was the directorial debut for the show’s longtime camera operator and director of photography, Michael E. Satrazemis, who looks back on that pivotal scene.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: What was your reaction when you first read the script for “The Grove”?
MICHAEL E. SATRAZEMIS: At first, it’s shocking and horrifying. So I knew it was pretty heavy and pretty intense, and a little scary. But directing the two girls and having worked with them a little bit, I knew who they were, and that made me feel better. But you know, it’s very heavy content for two nine-year-old girls at the time.
Let’s get into the scene where Carol tells Lizzie to “look at the flowers” and then puts her down. As a director, how did you want to approach this big, pivotal moment?
We got to this scene and the actual moment, and I never wanted to even shoot Lizzie falling down. It was crazy. Brighton was like, “Look, I want to die. I’m okay with it. I’m totally fine.” I was like, “That’s cool, but I don’t even want to see you drop on the ground. I’m not really okay with it.” I tried one shot [where you see her fall] but I did it only one time, and it was through Tyreese, a million, million miles away where they’re just two little dots and she fell. That was the only time I ever had her fall over. It was one take, and it was just so heartbreaking.
As far as Melissa, I don’t know another actress that has an access to so many emotions and to such a depth of the entire human experience. She’s one of the greatest actors I’ve ever worked with and/or seen. So with them, we just let it go. I tried to really pick the cut in advance so we didn’t overshoot it, because it’s a lot to ask of everybody, and then we brought them out there. This was such emotional content, so we all talked about creating the atmosphere that’s best, so everybody was quiet. So when it was time to roll, the cameras were barely there and we just shot it.
That shot you mentioned of Lizzie falling after being shot was not broadcast, but it does appear in the DVD/Blu-ray version. Which version do you prefer, the one where you see her fall, or the one where you don’t?
You know, the broadcast version I’m kind of fine with. I don’t need to see her fall. But like I said, I did one take, and that was it. That was enough for me. It was too much. She dropped like a potato sack.
How much did you guys talk about what you could and could not show in terms of this? Because you have that scene, and you also have the Lizzie and Mika scene where you see Lizzie with the bloody knife and you see Mika’s head, but you don’t really see much of the stab wound or anything else.
I had to get on the phone for an hour with standards and practices and go through what they thought could be aired and not. Even when you see Mika on the ground, that’s not actually really the actress on the ground. That’s a double, so at least I didn’t have to dump blood on Kyla while she was pretending to play dead. It was just another girl who was like, “Oh, yeah. Cool,” and then laid down and we put blood on her. I just wanted to do a couple of things to protect them so they didn’t have to go through more than they needed to. But as far as what could air and what could not, I was told absolutely no way we would ever be able to see her wound in the same shot.
You must have known that this was an episode that was going to get a lot of attention due to the subject matter. Were you worried that people were going to say The Walking Dead had gone too far?
Well, the world was talking. I was hearing so much stuff, even a couple comments at some point about how we may never be able to air this — that they may pull it. But I was always under the belief that if it was told properly, you’d understand it wasn’t horror for horror’s sake and death for death’s sake. We weren’t doing it to be flashy, and I tried to really not emphasize any of the gore. It was a story told through Carol’s perspective, and you could feel her pain, and then it flipped through Tyreese’s eyes.
Check out the two collectible covers for Entertainment Weekly’s Ultimate Guide to the Walking Dead, below. And for all the essential exclusive Walking Dead scoop, pick up the book right here.