Parting ways with Andrew Lincoln is easy for no member of The Walking Dead family but executive producer Greg Nicotero may have had a particularly difficult time, though he maintains that the show's lead actor is still present in spirit.
How Lincoln's Rick Grimes makes his exit from the AMC zombie show is one of the most anticipated plotlines of the upcoming ninth season. Whether or not the character dies is to be seen but, one way or another, Lincoln is leaving the Georgia production to spend time with his family. Nicotero says it was important to the crew not to "turn our back on the fans," which meant providing Rick Grimes with a proper finale.
"We wanted to give his story a send-off that people would know that we were paying tribute to his journey," Nicotero told ComicBook.com on the show's set. "It was really important to us. Him and I worked a lot on that story. I grew up with the f---ing guy. I'm old. Everything that we've been through together. Day One on set. I got to watch him blossom as this amazing actor."
In fact, Nicotero's relationship with Lincoln includes his first time directing an episode of The Walking Dead back in its second season. "When I directed that first episode, he was the only guy I said, 'I'm scared s---ess.'" Nicotero remembers. "I said, 'I've never fucking done this before. I don't even know if I'm doing it... ' I had my little charts and maps about where the camera would go." The executive producer was mocked for his extra organizational efforts, he explained with a laugh.
"I just wanted to be really prepared," Nicotero said. "That episode, Frank Darabont said, 'Do you want a zombie-heavy episode or a zombie-light episode?' I'm like, 'That's a trick question. Let me think.' I said, 'Give me a zombie-light episode because I know how to shoot the zombie stuff.'" Instead of loading Nicotero's episode with walkers, showrunner-at-the-time Darabont gave horror junkie a script loaded with every character on the show.
"He gave me an episode with every single character sitting in a room, 12 Angry Men, debating whether they were gonna kill somebody or not," Nicotero said. "I said to Andy, I'm like, 'Dude, I'm f---ing scared s---less. I want this to be really good. I've never done this before, but I'm just gonna do what I feel comes naturally to me.' Then I go back and I watch that episode, and I'm like, 'There's no way I did that, having never directed 'cause it's so cool!'"
At the time, Lincoln was the only person Nicotero shared those feelings with.
"He's like, 'Dude, you'll be great,'" Nicotero recalls. "He said, 'I'll be with you every step of the way,' and every time I pointed the camera at him, and I knew he was there. He's still here. That's what I feel when I look through the camera. I'm getting a little emotional, but yeah."
Fear the Walking Dead airs Sundays at 9 p.m. ET on AMC. The Walking Dead returns for its ninth season on Oct. 7, 2018. For more updates and insider info all year long, follow @BrandonDavisBD on Twitter!