Walking Dead director justifies relentlessly bloody season 7 premiere

After six seasons of relentless blood, gore and anguish, it’s probably more difficult to shock and appall the fans of The Walking Dead compared to most other shows. But Sunday night’s season 7 premiere managed to do both.

Greg Nicotero, who directed last season’s cliffhanger finale and the latest episode, spoke to reporters on Monday about the divisive storytelling decisions he’s made, as did an actor who met his match at the hands of the show’s latest villain, Negan, played by Jeffrey Dean Morgan.

SPOILER ALERT: Read no further if you don’t want to know anything about the new season.

On the killing of not one but two main characters, Glenn (played by Steven Yeun) and Abraham (played by Michael Cudlitz):

Nicotero: We really needed to drive Rick and Negan’s story throughout the season and we felt that one death would do the trick, but the second death, Glenn’s death, really, really propels us into a very different direction. It’s really about Negan laying down the law and saying, “Listen, guys, the bottom line is if you listen to me you’ll be fine, but if you step out of line it’s not gonna fly.” So Glenn’s death has a lot to do with Rick’s future story, Maggie’s future story and certainly Daryl’s future story.

Cudlitz, on getting killed off and the power of shaking up the cast:

Cudlitz: That’s just the nature of the show. (Comic book creator) Robert Kirkman has said in interviews the idea is you need to know that this world is never safe…. There’s no safety in this show right now. None. Which is great, because as a kid growing up you always had Capt. Kirk who would get into danger, but you always knew Capt. Kirk was going to be on next week. It’s Star Trek — he’s not really in danger.

Michael Cudlitz as Sgt. Abraham Ford

Sgt. Abraham Ford, played by actor Michael Cudlitz, fell victim to the swing of Negan’s beloved bat in the stunning season opener. (Gene Page/AMC)

Our show puts you in real jeopardy, our show really makes you fear for the characters you care about, which draws out an emotional experience and puts you very much in the moment.

On his character’s death and Glenn’s death happening in the same episode:

Cudlitz: I was very specific to (showrunner Scott Gimple) and said: “This cannot in any way take away from Glenn’s death.” Glenn has a much more cemented emotional place in this show. I get it. The fans love the Abraham character — I’ve been very blessed to be on the show, I had a great time, I get it, the fans love me — BUT the character of Glenn, we’ve watched him grow up from a kid, we’re so much more invested in the whole journey of Glenn than we are Abraham.

From an emotional standpoint the weight all falls on the Glenn death, so I was very happy actually with how that was put together.

On the extremely violent depictions of Negan killing Abraham and Glenn:

Walking Dead Season 7

The ultra-violent deaths of two fan favourites stunned many fans. (Gene Page/AMC)

Nicotero: This is by far the most despicable villain that we’ve ever encountered…. We felt that it was important to launch us into this season by showing the extent of what Negan is capable of doing because that drives so much of where the series is going from here on in. The opportunity to start introducing the new worlds and characters and intertwining all that.

Yeah, it’s graphic and it’s horrible. And while we were designing the makeups, and testing the makeups, and shooting the makeups, we wanted to push it a little bit.

On Negan’s motivations and seeing Rick as the bad guy:

Nicotero: In my opinion, if you turn around and look at what Rick and his group have done to survive and to protect their way of life — you know last season Rick and his people attacked an outpost and killed, like, 22 Saviors in their sleep — that’s pretty brutal if you take it out of the context of identifying with Rick and his group. So I think there is a weird alternate universe where, from Negan’s perspective, Rick’s a pretty bad guy.

On fans saying they’ve had enough of the bleak violence and misery on the series:

Glenn The Walking Dead

Glenn Rhee (Steven Yeun) made it through one death plot in season 6 of The Walking Dead. (AMC)

Nicotero: I would say that means we have done something to affect these people in a way they don’t necessarily know how to process. I’m a big Game of Thrones fan and I’ve been shocked at the turn of events on that show, but you know what, I still love it and I still am committed to seeing where that story goes. I think it’s a knee-jerk reaction people have because they care about these characters. 

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