When "Walking Dead" returns to TV this weekend, it's going to bigger, more insane, and scarier than its ever been before. And of course the whole cast and crew deserves credit, but Greg Nicotero is once again shouldering multiple jobs as Executive Producer, special effects supervisor, and for the premiere, he's jumped into the director's chair.
Having seen the episode, we can say that Nicotero has only grown in confidence from his first directing gigs on "Walking Dead" web series, to this year's opener which is cinematic in scope, and like nothing the show has ever attempted before.
To set things up, MTV News hopped on the phone with Nicotero while he was taking a break from the Atlanta-based set to find out what's different about season five, how unhinged Rick (Andrew Lincoln) is going to get -- and whether Alexandria might be turning into Woodbury 2.0.
Oh, and be sure to come back to MTV News after the premiere on Sunday for a spoiler-filled deep dive into the episode with Nicotero, breaking down every one of the big moments that will make you scream.
MTV News: To kick it off, did you have a new mandate going into the new season? Was there something specifically you were aiming for?
Greg Nicotero: It's always fascinating when [showrunner] Scott [Gimple] pitches out the show. Every year people will say, “oh it’s not really a show about zombies, it’s a show about this human drama of survival, and hope, and can we still be human beings in this world that is devoid of humanity?”
And this season Scott was like, "okay, we had the threat of Terminus, we’ve had the threat of the Claimers, we’ve had all these human threats... We’re putting the walker threat back into the forefront." And in doing that, that creates this amazing dramatic tension between our group... And basically Rick not feeling confident that anybody in Alexandria is up to the task. Rick is all about doing whatever it is to do to protect his group. He’s basically turned into Shane.
MTV News: With Rick taking charge, Alexandria could become the new Woodbury... How do you draw the line between the difference of the two places -- or are they more similar than they expect?
Nicotero: Alexandria was a challenge to shoot last year because it looks like Main Street, USA. We didn’t want it to feel too safe, we wanted there to be a sense that there’s this outside world that could encroach on them at any time.
When I shot that first episode of them at Alexandria, I made a conscious choice to keep the gate and the walls in almost every frame. So that you’re constantly reminded that this is a very small community surrounded by these metal walls, this perimeter fence, and that the outside world is there... And that the outside world isn’t just zombies, but the outside world is about people that want to take something from you.
MTV News: You also had a very strong theme of domestication last season, to the point that Daryl was sleeping out on the porch to not join up with the Alexandrians... Is this something that they're still fighting against in this first half of the season, or have we moved past that?
Nicotero: Where we left last season, Rick comes in, Deanna is about to evict him from Alexandria -- and then Reg is killed. There is definitely a transition with Deanna, where she looks at Rick like this place will not survive without someone like him. That is something that is very obvious at the end of last season, and that will continue. Basically having Deanna say to Rick, “Do it,” they are now in cahoots to run Alexandria together, was my feeling.
MTV News: Fans certainly spend a lot of time talking about whether Rick is the good guy or the bad guy of the show now... Certainly in the world of the show, it seems he's been proven correct; but behind the scenes, how do you guys discuss in the writer's room?
Nicotero: I don’t know if correct is the right way to look at that because, same as Shane, they make the decisions for the right reasons -- but what we’ve definitely seen in the past 5 seasons, in terms of Rick Grimes is... There is no hesitation to take a life, if it that means it protects a life in that group. And going down that dark path of last year’s theme was, how far can you go before you’re not a human being anymore?
Rick went pretty deep into it after getting out of Terminus, and then losing Beth, and losing Tyreese, and the people that they lost through the season -- and then he gets to Alexandria and he’s like, "I don’t care what they say, I’m taking his place because this is where we need to stay to survive."
So it’s a fascinating story line to basically know that this guy would do whatever it takes, and in his mind they go about it the wrong way. It’s the same with Shane, Shane [had] the same feeling in season two... He just went about it the wrong way. With Rick, he has that freak out when he’s in the middle of the street pointing the gun at everybody -- he’s not wrong, those people are lambs and there are wolves outside, literally, wolves, at the end of last season -- and Rick is like, "listen if you guys don’t wake up you’re dead. Somebody will come in here and they will try to slaughter you."
He doesn’t even understand how they can’t see that. Because that’s what’s insane, that they can’t see that they have been completely shielded from everything.
We'll find out just how shielded Alexandria is from the outside world -- and itself -- when "Walking Dead" returns to AMC October 11. And we'll see you back here after that for more from Nicotero.