On a rainy Monday morning in February we sat down with the cast of The Walking Dead – the record-breaking zombie show now in its sixth series – to talk walkers, comic books and that Alexandria mega-episode.
Five years of watching the same characters running, hiding from and decapitating the undead has the potential to get a bit stale but somehow the Fox show has kept viewers on the edge of their seats, continuing to grow the programme’s popularity to a point where The Walking Dead is now the most-watched non-sports television programme in history.
It helps that the fans are completely obsessed. When we met the cast they were fresh from Walker Stalker – a Walking Dead convention, where cosplaying super-fans have the chance to meet their idols, immerse themselves in a post-zombie-apocalyptic world (and still be home in time for tea.)
‘Sometimes the fans think of things that we don’t’ says the show’s Visual Effects Designer and sometimes-Director, Greg Nicotero. ‘There was a recent scene when Rick was doing a speech to Carl and there was a little heart-shaped blood splatter on his sleeve. Someone took a picture of it and asked me if I’d put it there because it was airing on Valentine’s Day in The States? Of course, I said yes.’
But the question the cast and crew get asked the most is who’s next for the chopping block. ‘I love it when people stop me in the street and ask me what’s going to happen. I say: ‘Do you really want to know? OK, here goes…” and then they start yelling “No, no, no. Don’t tell me.” It’s like going on a rollercoaster and right when you get to the top, getting off and walking down the steps. Who wants to do that?’
Team NME are as spoiler-averse as the next guy (trust us, we’ve invested far too much time in this bloody show to have it ruined for us now) so without giving too much away, here’s what we learnt from a sit down with our favourite band of zombie-bashing bad-asses.
1. Shooting the series six mid-season opener was exhausting
‘Everyone wanted to make that episode the ultimate comeback. It had to be strong because it ended on such a cliffhanger,’ explained Ross Marquand, The Walking Dead’s Aaron.
‘I remember there were about 20 of us up against that wall and we were all covered in blood and we’d been shooting for a couple of nights in a row and I had a gleeful feeling.’
Michael Cudlitz, who plays red-headed sergeant Abraham, understood the significance of this episode to the audience.
‘We’ve proved already that we’ll kill ya. It’s not like another show where you think they’re all gonna get out. We know the audience are thinking “somebody’s gonna die this week, it’s so obvious” and then the group comes together and there’s this huge moment where the audience goes “yes” and you have the satisfaction of seeing that everyone’s safe… for now.’
2. Everyone thinks Andrew Lincoln is the baddest off-screen too.
While talking about who they’d pick for a real-life zombie apocalypse squad, Ross, Michael and Josh McDermitt (wimpy Eugene on screen) said they’d all pick Andrew Lincoln.
‘Andy’s proven himself to be not only a great actor but physically agile – he’d be pretty formidable.’ says Ross. ‘Yeah and he’s easy on the eye,’ seconds Michael. ‘And good in bed too.’
3. The actors only get their scripts two episodes ahead of shooting. So while we’re wondering who’s going to die next, so are they
But Michael Cudlitz isn’t concerned about the lack of job security. ‘I think it’s worse for the original five or six cast members. When we signed on, we were already fans of the show and we’ve seen people die – we know we’ll die at some point.
It intensifies the work. Every day is your best day because it might be your last day. There’s no complacency, there’s no “I’m on the number one show in the world, I’ll just lie back and then retire.” You may be dead in two scripts and that’s a very staunch reality. It keeps everything sharper. A lot of us will be sad when it’s our time to go but I don’t think it’s something that we think about.”
4. Fans in France really weren’t happy with Beth’s exit
If you’ve not yet watched series five – you’ll probably want to skip this one. You have been warned.
Andrew Lincoln told us that after the hospital blow-out which saw Beth shot in the head, French journalists were very definite that this was a mistake that needed to be rectified.
‘Most of the French press said “you have to bring her back” and I said… “Er, I don’t know how we’re going to do that. She’s dead. I was there” and they just looked at me and said: “We are very serious, this has to be changed.”
5. What happens in the comics, doesn’t necessarily happen on the show
Comic book fans will be getting angsty about the impending arrival of big baddy Negan at the end of this series, mainly because – POTENTIAL SPOILER ALERT – in issue 100 of the comic books, we see him bash Glenn’s brains in. But when we met the cast, they talked so openly about this plotline it makes us wonder if it’s not a given in the show?
Michael Cudlitz explains: ‘At this point the comic is more of a geographical blueprint.’
Director, Greg Nicotero echoed that: ‘I don’t think we want to do everything from the comic. There are certain things we think would have pushed us into a different place which we might not recover from. We’re relatively dark but it’s still in a fantasy kind of way – killing walkers, it’s different.’
But what does this mean for the Glenn storyline? Talk turned to when the cast first learned of his on-page fate.
“I remember I was at Comic Con some years ago reading issue 100 with Glenn and Negan and I felt so angry. I wondered how could you do that to somebody’, Greg told us.
Andrew Lincoln had his own ‘Glenn’ realisation moment. ‘At the premiere of the first season, I got in the car home with Robert Kirkman [the writer of the Walking Dead comic books] and he said to me “in issue 100 I’m going to take out Glenn.” He’d planned it, two years before the issue came out. He had it as an end game even then. And I thought, “wow, you sick man.”
So, are we about to lose one of the original crew? Is Maggie facing life ahead as a single mum? Glenn’s already made one Jon-Snow-like comeback this series, can he do it again?
There have been enough major plot differences between the comic and TV show to keep us guessing for now, but either way there’s no doubt that season six is about to go out with a bang. Bring it on, Negan. We’re ready for you.
The Walking Dead, Mondays, Fox, 9pm
Watch musicians talk us through their zombie-apocalypse plans below.
By use of this code snippet, I agree to the Brightcove Publisher T and C
found at https://accounts.brightcove.com/en/terms-and-conditions/.
This script tag will cause the Brightcove Players defined above it to be created as soon
as the line is read by the browser. If you wish to have the player instantiated only after
the rest of the HTML is processed and the page load is complete, remove the line.