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[Warning: This story contains spoilers from the season six finale of AMC’s The Walking Dead, “Last Day on Earth,” and the comic book series that the show is based on.]
AMC’s The Walking Dead set the stage for an “All Out War” during Sunday’s season six finale. After finally introducing Negan (Jeffrey Dean Morgan), the season ended with a cliffhanger as the charming comic book villain savagely beat someone to death with Lucille, his baseball bat covered in barbed wire.
The zombie drama, however, opted to leave the identity of Negan’s victim up in the air as the fates of Rick (Andrew Lincoln), Michonne (Danai Gurira), Glenn (Steven Yeun), Daryl (Norman Reedus), Rosita (Christian Serratos), Carl (Chandler Riggs), Maggie (Lauren Cohan), Aaron (Ross Marquand), Eugene (Josh McDermitt), Abraham (Michael Cudlitz) and Sasha (Sonequa Martin-Green) were left up in the air until season seven premieres in October.
But the biggest key to next season may have come when Morgan (Lennie James) breaks his no-kill code and kills a member of the Saviors to save Carol’s (Melissa McBride) life. Two unnamed men clad in armor see Morgan kill the man who shot Carol in the arm and again in the leg and offer to help both of them. While the series has yet to reveal just which community they’re from — and the lead guy made his debut in the penultimate episode of season six — it’s the second time The Walking Dead has hinted that it will introduce the Kingdom. The Kingdom, like the Hilltop and Alexandria, is a community of survivors — and they detest Negan and the Saviors.
The Kingdom is led by a George Clinton-like leader named Ezekiel, a former zookeeper who oversees the community with Shiva, his pet tiger. (Yes, a tiger.) The residents of the Kingdom dress in protective armor — and serve as knights to the so-called “King Ezekiel” at a transformed high school.
Members of the Kingdom, like those of the Hilltop and Alexandria, do not wish to be a part of Negan’s reign of terror as the f-bomb-dropping baddie uses fear, intimidation and violence to take half of the neighboring communities’ food, supplies and weapons in exchange for safety (from the Saviors).
THR spoke at length with executive producer Greg Nicotero, who directed the season six finale and oversees all the walker special effects and beyond, to discuss the cliffhanger and season seven’s larger world.
Was it always the plan to feature a cliffhanger?
I think it’s the best way to wrap up this story. Honestly, and this is going to sound ridiculous, but I thought it would have been a little cheap to kill a major character in the last few minutes of the show. [Exec producers] Robert Kirkman, Scott Gimple and I have been talking about this, and it really is the end of this story. If you look at season six with an overall view, breaking Rick and everyone down — you have our entire group on their knees in front of Negan. The cavalry is not coming over the hill this time; Carol is not going to blow up gas tanks at Terminus; no one is coming to save them, and it’s the first time we’ve seen our group like this. I think it’s the perfect ending for the season.
What can you say about who is killed off? Does the victim know? Have you filmed it?
We have not filmed it yet, and I don’t know if the person knows yet or not. Knowing the fact that any death changes our characters and changes our people in a very dramatic way, what’s exciting about season seven is how a death — any death — changes people and propels us in a different direction. While we were shooting this episode, I’d never seen the cast more energized and more excited about the future of the show. The fact that the world is our oyster right now is exciting times for The Walking Dead. We’re changing the direction of the show and bringing Negan in — it’s a great time. Everyone is so excited to get back to work [in May] to get where we’re going.
Will the victim return at all for season seven or was this finale the last we’ve seen of them?
I don’t know.
Will you actually show the death in season seven or is that considered too graphic? Just the audio of the beating in the finale was disturbing, and that was with a black screen.
I don’t know if anything is considered too graphic on our show. That was obviously planned. Having the point-of-view shot looking up at Negan when that happens and then going to black — it’s something that we’ve done a couple times on the show, but just hearing that continue without seeing it, it really just puts it in the audience’s head.
Maggie looks pretty bad. Is it possible there will be more than one death when the show returns?
I don’t know. There’s a lot of great story ahead of us. Maggie didn’t look so good when we wrapped up that episode — but nobody looked really good in those last few moments!
Negan’s f-bomb monologue will be on the Blu-ray. Why not include just one? FX just did it on People v. O.J.
I would have loved to do that. We do have standards and practices that we have to abide by. We shot that last scene over two nights. The first was Rick and his group and the second we covered Jeffrey, and we had to shoot two versions of each chunk of that dialogue. We had the f-bomb version and the television version. Even when I did my director’s cut, I put the f-bomb into the director’s cut for all the executive producers to see because it’s so powerful. It’s the momentum of using those words to accentuate and punctuate those moments. The scene in the Blu-ray is astounding.
When season seven begins, Rick will have lost a key member of his group — which is the price he is paying for killing members of the Saviors. Does this change Rick’s philosophy about killing other humans?
I’m sure that’s something we’re going to explore. But Rick and Negan aren’t that different. It’s fascinating that everyone talks about Negan as this supervillain and the most despicable villain The Walking Dead has ever known. But from Negan’s perspective, Rick is just as culpable. Going into Negan’s complex and killing people in their sleep is such a brazen move. And Rick doesn’t flinch from doing what he needs to do to protect his group. So when Negan steps up and says these are the rules: We kill one of you, then we have our conversations. Those are their rules of survival — just like Rick has his rules. That’s a fascinating dynamic to explore, and I know we’re going to get deep into that.
Is Carol now a psychopath now that she is laughing in the face of death? Where does she go from here?
Carol (Melissa McBride) has been pretty clear that she is not down with killing. She does it because she cares about these people. As she’s often said, “I did what I needed to do.” By killing Karen and David in season four, she was trying to stop the spread of the disease — so she makes these choices, but everything comes with a price. I do believe that that killing has taken its toll on her. I don’t think she’s a psychopath. She’s trying to distance herself from people that would put her in a position where she’d have to kill others. The moment with Morgan (Lennie James) in the finale is fantastic because he’s spent the entire season saying, “You don’t have to kill; there are ways around it.” And Morgan is left with no choice but to pull the trigger because it’s somebody he cares about. He has done what Carol has been doing. After Lennie emptied the gun, you see a split second of the gears in his brain catching and slipping because before he runs after Carol you see him [thinking], “Shit, I just did something that I’ve sworn to myself that I wouldn’t do.” I love the way that story comes full circle with the two of them.
How will Negan’s arrival change Rick and the group’s way of life? Negan changes the entire paradigm of the series.
Without a doubt. The flag has been thrown. Negan and the Saviors are a formidable force, and I don’t believe our group can wiggle out of this confrontation. If you read the comics you get a good sense of how these different worlds all have to deal with Negan’s group and their plan.
The show for the past two episodes has teased the debut of the Kingdom. Have you cast Ezekiel?
I don’t believe we’ve gotten into any casting for season seven yet even though we’re coming up quickly on our shoot. I am directing the season seven premiere.
Will Shiva, Ezekiel’s pet tiger, be included? Can the series really feature a tiger and if so, how will you do that? Do you have to go part animatronic/CGI and part real tiger?
We’ve started those conversations and I’m very confident in the path that we’ve chosen in terms of how we’re going to execute that but I don’t want to get into it too much.
How closely will season seven follow the “All Out War” arc from the comics?
I don’t know.
What did you think of the finale? Sound off below. For more Walking Dead coverage, go to THR.com/WalkingDead. Click here to read showrunner Scott M. Gimple’s in-depth remarks about the finale and what to expect from season seven and here to see what Jeffrey Dean Morgan had to say about Negan and what’s ahead.
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