The Walking Dead, at its peak, was one of the most praised and commonly talked about shows on television. Every Monday morning, people were buzzing about happened in the post-apocalyptic zombie drama the night before, raving about their love of Daryl Dixon or spewing their hate for the Governor. While the show has maintained a large audience through its tenth season, the live viewership is still only a fraction of what it once was and negative comments often surround the show. The pivot from beloved Sunday night series into something which became a comment section nightmare can be identified in the show's Season 7 premiere when Negan killed Glenn and Abraham, following it source material, but still managing to infuriate a large portion of its audience.
What followed was a highly criticized pair of seasons which essentially adapted the All Out War story pitting Rick Grimes against Negan. While many viewers remained loyal and continued to watch and support, a loud camp voiced their opinion of disliking thee direction the show went, including many critics across the media. In a very candid interview with Collider's Perri Nemiroff, the show's executive producer, a director of some of its most memorable episodes, and VFX genius Greg Nicotero opened up about those criticisms and the choices which have lead to them.
"The Glenn and Abraham episode, it was rough," Nicotero said. "It was rough emotionally for me because I remember reading the comic book and seeing G;enn killed in the comic book and I was really disturbed by how senseless it felt in the comic book. Guy just says, 'eeney meeeny miney moe' and he's gone. It really bother me. That moment came up in the show and I was really tight with Michael Cudlitz and I was really tight with Steven Yeun and I knew that that was gonna land on my shoulders, to direct that episode. I went in and I directed the best episode that I could direct knowing that I was breaking people's hearts and really, sort of, walking right on that line. Part of what the show really is about, in this iteration of the show, it really is about that senseless, 'One minute they're there, the next second they're gone.'
Nicotero and many of the people involved with The Walking Dead read what is said about the shows, both in the media by journalists or critics and across social media with fans. “It’s hard, because I read a lot of great stuff about it, and I’ve read a lot of terrible stuff about it,” he said, “and I would say there are times when I agree with some of the things that are said. And we have those conversations. There were things that came up — we had a conversation, and I said, ‘Mark my words, someone’s gonna publish an article about that’ — and then the episode airs, and then there’s an article, and it’s right there!”
As the story goes, thee All Out War story culminated with Rick slashing Negan's throat and demanding Siddiq to save his life. Maggie, the wife of late Glenn, was watching and took no action as Negan stood before her, which is something Nicotero wasn't totally on board with. “I had directed that episode, and I had said to Scott Gimple, the showrunner: 'I think Maggie should shoot him. I think Maggie should either kill Negan, or shoot Negan, or do something, because she’s right there!'" Nicotero recalled. "It’s really hard; it was really a hard moment to shoot, knowing that Maggie collapses to her knees because Rick spares Negan’s life. I had pitched this idea to Gimple ... Obviously, Negan’s character had more of a journey, and there was a lot more going on."
It should come as no surprise that Nicotero has great ideas. His roots in horror run deep, going back to some of the best known titles in the genre. He can probably go all day about choices he would have made differently for the series which fans would have preferred, from a story telling perspective or the editing of certain episodes. Some of the details might be huge, some might be as minor as the Stormtrooper aim which main characters have, at times.
"The episode where Rick shows up in front of the Sanctuary with all the cars and they're all shooting and nobody shot anybody, I kept saying, 'Can Negan get shot in the leg? Can her got shot in the arm?' You have a hundred people there and nobody actually shot anyone," Nicotero explained about Episode 100, the Season 8 premiere. "Even Jeffrey [Dean Morgan] was like, 'Come on, man, gimme a bullet hole in the shoulder or the leg or something.' I'm like, 'I would love to shoot you!' Even Andy [Lincoln] was like, 'Can I just shoot him?' I was like, 'Yeah, we should! He should get shot!' When we were shooting that episode, I was like, 'I know I'm gonna hear about it. We have a hundred people outside the Sanctuary and not one of them actually hit anybody.' And, we did."
That said, Nicotero is excited about the direction the show has taken in its past two seasons, as are many of the fans and critics. Showrunner Angela Kang has offered a new breath of life to the zombie series, as Season 10 has wrapped up and Season 11 is on the horizon.
“The show’s really in a great place,” Nicotero said. “I think Angela’s done an unbelievable job. I think with Samantha [Morton] and Ryan [Hurst], and all the actors, Jeffrey [Dean Morgan] and Melissa [McBride] and Norman [Reedus] and [Lauren Cohan], and everybody … the last two seasons have been really, really fun … the storytelling has just become adrenalized.”