'Walking Dead' Bosses Dissect "Big Pivotal Moment" in "Horrifying" Midseason Premiere

Creator Robert Kirkman, showrunner Scott M. Gimple and exec producer Greg Nicotero, who directed the episode, talk with THR about the shocking midseason premiere.
AMC

[Warning: This story contains spoilers from episode 609, "No Way Out," the midseason premiere of AMC's The Walking Dead and the comic book series the show is based on.]

AMC's The Walking Dead delivered one of its most explosive episodes ever with Sunday's shocking and devastating midseason premiere that was sure to leave many viewers heartbroken on Valentine's Day.

The episode, which picked up immediately after the events of the midseason finale, saw the zombie drama based on Robert Kirkman's comic book series kill off three key people, while one of the show's most untouchable characters suffered a massive loss.

In a remixed version of the events in the comics, Jessie (Alexandra Breckenridge) and her sons Sam (Major Dodson) and Ron (Austin Abrams) died during the group's attempt to escape Alexandria. The chain of events starts when Jessie allows her terrified son Sam (the same one who wouldn't leave his room out of fear) to be among Rick's crew of survivors covered in zombie guts during their effort to sneak through the walker invasion. Things go horribly wrong when Sam sees a zombie boy his age and, haunted by Carol's words, begins to scream. That immediately gets him bitten by the undead as Jessie looks on, horrified. As she screams, she's also attacked — and refuses to let go of Carl's (Chandler Riggs) hand.  That prompts Rick (Andrew Lincoln), already in shock and grieving over the loss of his not-quite-dead yet girlfriend, to chop off her arm in an effort to save Carl. (Watch the scene, below.)

Naturally, Carl's rival and Jessie's eldest son, Ron (Austin Abrams) is livid after watching the deadly attacks on his mother and brother and pulls a gun on Rick and Carl. Always the savior, Michonne (Danai Gurira) spots what's happening and plunges her katana through Ron, saving both Rick and Carl. Only Ron's gun (the same one that Carl dropped in the attack) goes off and, in a version of the stunning moment from the comics, the bullet catches Carl in the eye. After muttering "Dad," as he does in the comics, Carl falls to the ground and Rick scoops him up to bring him to the infirmary.

Elsewhere, Denise frees herself from the Wolf, who thankfully is killed by Carol; while Daryl ends the Saviors' threat by blowing up the tanker and freeing Abraham and Sasha. The episode also marked a turning point for the residents of Alexandria after everyone from the town (who previously had no idea how to defend their community) spots Rick defending the infirmary and joins him. It creates one of The Walking Dead's most incredible fight scenes yet as everyone pitched in to rid the community of the undead.

Here, creator Robert Kirkman, showrunner Scott M. Gimple and exec producer Greg Nicotero, the latter of whom directed the episode, talk with THR about the stunning events and what's next. 

This was a huge episode: three major deaths plus Carl losing his eye — a lot of big moments from the comics. Where does the show go after this?

Kirkman: Everyone on this show is aware this is the sixth season. A lot of shows in their sixth seasons are either completely winding down or they're struggling to find some kind of narrative transition to make the show about something else that can keep going. There are a lot of shows that lose steam at this point. Everyone involved is aware of the fact that these are dangerous waters and times when people can completely lose interest in a show. We're working harder than we've ever worked, pulling out all the stops and rolling our sleeves up to make this as exciting and as explosive as we possibly can. Comic readers know this is a huge time period. There's a lot of big moments from the book that are getting adapted from the "No Way Out" storyline in the midseason finale and midseason premiere and a big pivotal moment in the series and there's a lot more to come. We're putting it all out on the table for this season and we know there's a lot more to come if we pull this off.

Where does the show go after this deadly battle to save Alexandria?

Gimple: The beginning of the season saw Rick very skeptical about the Alexandrians. They were in a situation so dire he thought they might not make it since there wasn't time for them to catch up. At the end of [this episode], those people come together with Rick and his people and turn the tide and win back Alexandria. All of them, together, so Jessie's death wouldn't be in vain. That has an incredible impact upon him. That's the basis of him moving forward. How do all these people survive? How does this place survive? Not how do I survive and how does my family survive? It's a more global view and more positive view. Episode 10 happens some time after episode nine — there's not a giant time jump — not like the huge one in the book. But weeks have passed and we'll see some changes in Alexandria. Jessie's death was horrific and it was the worst possible outcome in that case but we aren't going to be portraying Rick's grieving process or the cleanup of Alexandria — that would be two episodes (laughs).

Jessie was the first love interest for Rick since Lori's death. Why was this her time to go? How will the loss of Jessie and her sons and the fact that Rick chopped off her arm to save Carl affect him?

Kirkman: It's somewhat horrifying. That moment is meant to show just how far this guy will go to protect Carl. He was grieving for Jessie and she was already, in a sense, gone at that point so it's not a matter of choosing Carl over Jessie. That was a line that Rick maybe didn't realize he would cross. Knowing that that line was there and that he did cross it is going to weigh on him and inform his decisions a little bit going forward. We'll see that come into play very soon.

Carl's eye has been shot out. How long have you been waiting to do this? Was there ever a point in which you thought twice about doing it? In the comics, the Governor cuts Rick's hand off and that was a big moment that the show, thus far, has omitted.

Kirkman: No. Rick losing his hand was a big one that I didn't think would necessarily work well in the show but Carl losing his eye, and what that does for Rick and how that changes things for Carl — that's a big part of the series. It's something I've been looking forward to getting to for a good, long time. As shocking and as startling as it was in the comic, seeing the motion of it and the way we were able to pull that off makes it even more startling of a moment. These are the things that make our viewers invested in the show.

Nicotero: This was something we were trying to figure out how we were going to do it from Day 1. One of the things we did was talk to Chandler at the beginning of the season and told him not to cut his hair. Because as the show progresses, once we got to that moment, he'll be bandaged and we wanted his hair to actually drape over the bandage to minimize the look of it. It becomes something you see that's kind of natural.

How long will Carl be out of commission? This story is a bit accelerated from the comics given Carl grasping Rick's hand at the end.

Nicotero: That's probably the closest we've ever had to a happy ending on The Walking Dead. Rick is a changed man and that scene with him and Carl shows the extent how Rick has changed from the beginning of the episode where he says if anyone is slowing you down, leave them. So to be that guy and end up in the streets of Alexandria fighting walkers with all of Alexandria fighting at his side, Rick has come full circle. The fact that he's pouring his heart out to Carl and says he wants to show him the new world, Rick is begging him to live. We get that little squeeze of his hand and it's what propels who Rick becomes from that moment onward. He becomes somebody who understands what it's like to live as a society and not just for a smaller group of people.

Rick, for the first time since he woke up in the hospital, believes that there's hope for a new world. How does Carl's injury change Rick? This is a different man than we've seen before.

Kirkman: This is a Rick who is supercharged. He's inspired by these events that have happened. We've seen many evolutions and changes to Rick. This is a guy who, for the first time in the show, really has it together in this moment. He's in charge, he leads a large group of people that he can now trust — the Alexandrians that he had been wary of and didn't know he could lean on — and it's now been proven he can lean on them now to the extent that he would want to. This is Rick at possibly the highest moment he's been, where he has the people he needs, he has the inspiration he needs and he has the resources he needs. Only the sky is the limit for him at this point.

How does Carl losing his eye change him?

Kirkman: The kid we once knew has been gone for a long time. Chandler Riggs has been doing a really good job of portraying that. Carl has been evolving every step of the way. If anything, this event just jumpstarts that evolution and pushes things into a more interesting area. I don't want to reveal too much but there's a lot of cool stuff coming up with him.

How will Glenn's ordeal change his relationship with Maggie? Will they be less inclined to having Glenn run out and meet Lucille?

Gimple: That's exactly something that's an issue between them. It's on their minds. They've dodged like 18 bullets. They couldn't move forward without considering what the stakes are considering how close they both came to losing their lives. It's an ongoing thing for both of them. But everything that's happened to them and to the community, makes them feel that much more of a responsibility to not only each other but to the community. How are you there for the community, especially if everyone else is taking risks and they aren't. They're in a very difficult position but they do have each other now to figure it out.

Will Daryl, Abraham and Sasha tell the others about the Negan threat?

Nicotero: I think it's pretty high up on their radar, especially after episode nine where we have been successful with vanquishing the walker horde that invaded Alexandria. In that last shot, we see Denise patching up the stab wound on Daryl's shoulder. It's important and we are introducing that group as an ongoing growing sense of threat.

How much of the second half will consist of world building for Alexandria as well as for Negan's group, the Saviors?

Gimple: One of the major themes of this second half of the season is this larger world — and the world is going to get larger. We're going to see much more of it and things we didn't expect and things we didn't know were going on. There's a great deal of world building going on. They take a step into the unknown and it starts opening up the world all around them.

Will the Saviors wonder why a bunch of their people are missing?

Gimple: I would want to tell audiences not to expect Negan to walk in through the door like Kramer [from Seinfeld] in the very next episode. We plan way ahead and things do get out but it doesn't mean it's imminent. But with the Saviors, even their participation this season isn't immediate. It's not Rick's group vs. the Saviors. We're following this larger world storyline with the whole world opening up. The Saviors are part of this half-season but there are a lot of other exciting aspects that we're going to see.

Have we seen the last of Negan's group before the finale?

Nicotero: I doubt it.

After his encounter with the Saviors, what's Daryl's journey during the second half?

Gimple:
Daryl is having some interesting things shifting in him. The first episode this season, we left him influenced by Aaron and his experiences there. He was considering the fact that people are the answer and you have to let people in, whether it's emotionally or through the walls of Alexandria. He was one of the people going out to find more people and he told Rick, "We should keep doing this," and Rick disagreed. The experience he had in the forest, with Tina and 'not-Dwight' (laughs) — that really affected him. He came away from that feeling like a sucker; like he would have been safer to not befriend them, which is the opposite of everything he'd learned at the end of last season. He's still carrying that. He fought along with everyone else in Alexandria to win it back but he didn't have the same experience that Rick did; he had opposite. He had an experience that drove him to feel less good about people and strangers. He's on a bit of a different and darker track than Rick.

The montage of everyone defending Alexandria was unlike anything we've seen on this show before. How did that come about?

Nicotero: It was always intended to show quick staccato-type cuts of everyone fighting side by side. What's critical from a story point for that shot was it wasn't just our heroes; it was everyone from Alexandria as well. We wanted to see Olivia, Tobin, Aaron and all the Alexandrians fighting just as passionately as our people were. What's funny about that series of shots is we shot those the last day of filming [season six]. We filmed episode nine in mid-August and I was very busy in the second half of the season. I directed nine, 12 and 16 and we had held those shots and the only time we were able to shoot those was the last day of filming. I got three cameras up and we had 20 zombies. I walked each one of the actors through their pages. I had yellow, blue and pink tape on floor and had different actors follow different trajectories so we could inter-cut it so we could have that fast momentum. It was the best way to end a shoot because everybody left very invigorated. It was like a Walking Dead workout routine.

What did you think of The Walking Dead's explosive midseason premiere? Sound off in the comments below. Click here for Alexandra Breckenridge's farewell to Jessie; here for Chandler Riggs on Carl's eye-opening experience; and here for Greg Nicotero and Riggs explaining how the show filmed the stunning scene. Look out for more Walking Dead coverage coming Monday on THR's The Live Feed blog.

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