Warning: The Walking Dead TV series and comic book spoilers ahead.
What were your favorite moments from Season 4 of The Walking Dead? The Lizzie saga and Carol's heartbreaking choice of how to deal with it? The long-awaited introduction of Abraham, Eugene, and Rosita? Carl and the pudding? Daryl and Beth?
TWD executive producer, director, and special effects makeup whiz Greg Nicotero puts all of the above on his list of highlights from last season, and he talked to Yahoo TV about Season 4, working on the new TWD Blu-ray boxed set, and how viewers should expect the TV series to continue to mix up, yet honor The Walking Dead comics in "original, yet familiar ways" in Season 5.
Congratulations on Season 4. You left viewers with a cliffhanger that was really more of an expectation of some big things to come.
You know, it was a really fascinating journey, because going along the storyline with [showrunner] Scott Gimple and the writers, what I found personally the most gratifying was all these little seeds that were dropped through the course of the season and knowing that every single one of them germinated into some great story or antidote. Even as early as Episode 2, laying out the fact that somebody's feeding rats to the walkers and attracting them to the fences, all the way up to finding out that it was Lizzie in Episode 14… every single character has a fascinating story arc. What Carol is willing to do to protect the group, what Rick is willing to do, everybody. So I really feel that we got a fantastic glimpse into each of these characters. And what's exciting about moving into Season 5 is, we continue that exploration into who these people are, and it's thrilling.
Will we see the same episode format in Season 5, where certain episodes focus on one or two characters? Or was that something unique to the fact that Rick's group was separated after the prison attack in Season 4?
Well, by separating everybody in Episode 8, it gave us a really great opportunity to focus in. It's challenging when you have a big ensemble cast. We ended Season 4 with 14 characters, and it's challenging to be responsible to maintain that many different storylines. The exciting part about the second half of Season 4 was when everybody got separated, it really allowed you to get into the Daryl-Beth story a bit and the Rick, Carl, and Michonne story a bit [see exclusive Season 4 deleted scene below], and [we introduced] Abraham, Eugene and Rosita, and Glenn's story, and Tara's story, and Maggie's.
Everybody had all these different emotions and different stories that were happening, and to use the device of Terminus and the train tracks, and just knowing that every one of our groups was following those train tracks toward a collision course, really allowed for some great drama and some great tension. [Planning that] allowed us to have this fantastic midseason climax with the destruction of the prison and the death of The Governor. And so for the first time in two seasons, it put our entire group in jeopardy on the road, and that hadn't happened since they left Hershel's farm at the end of Season 2.
Check out a deleted scene from Season 4:
The comic book and the show are current, so you have to mix them up to avoid spoiling things for viewers. Still, fans continue to look for clues and spoilers for the show based on the comics. How challenging is it to keep viewers surprised?
Well, the source material is fantastic, and you know, last season when The Governor attacked the prison… in the comic book, Laurie dies in the attack from The Governor, but she's been dead for one season already on the show. And in the comics, The Governor decapitated Tyreese instead of Hershel. So it's taking those iconic moments from the graphic novel and translating them. Sometimes we're faithful to the comic and sometimes we take some liberties, you know? The Lizzie-Mika story was in the comic book but was laid out a little bit differently, with different characters.
But what we did in Episode 9 last year, that was almost shot for shot the comic book, when Rick is hurt, and Carl goes out and explores the neighborhood on his own and comes upon the walkers. That was probably the most faithful adaptation of one of the comic books that we've ever done. So we continue to mix it up a little bit so the people who do read the comic book feel like they're still getting their cake and eating it, too, but we change it up enough that it's still new and exciting and interesting. And I can definitely say that we continue to honor the graphic novel in original yet familiar ways in Season 5.
And fans can review Season 4 with this new Blu-ray boxed set. The "Tree Walker" packaging is especially cool for the limited edition — did you have a hand in the design?
They are supercool. What's fun is every year I get a chance to sort of consult on the design of the DVD case. We had done a walker in Episode 3 last year that was so brilliantly written by Robert Kirkman. It's a walker who was in the woods and a tree fell on it and pinned it underneath the tree, so it's been sitting there for a year and a half just slowly decomposing, and all these vines and moss have grown over it. So when we started talking about the DVD case, that was the one that jumped out. We're constantly trying to find those cool, fun, iconic walker moments when we get a chance to create a cool DVD and keepsake… like the fish tanks with the walker heads for the Season 3 set. McFarlane scanned all of the actual heads that we used on the set for that one.
As far as I'm concerned, I want the DVD case to be something that I would buy, because I'm a giant collector and a fan and a nerd all rolled up into one. I just happen to have a great job. [McFarlane] even took it one level further by having the walker arm push down so that the actual DVDs pop out. That was one I hadn't even thought of.
We also got to work on the extras. I had pitched that they do a visit to KNB EFX, and we did a roundtable with myself and all of the makeup artists that work on the show. We talked about what some of our favorite walker moments from the show were, some of our proudest [designs], and we showed some of the behind-the-scenes moments creating those designs. There's so much that goes into it that viewers don't even get a chance to see.
How far along are you in production on Season 5?
We're shooting Episode 8 right now, which is the midseason finale. So even though it feels like we just started, we're halfway done.
And in between you all have gone to Comic-Con and other fan events. It's safe to assume you're living an all-Walking Dead life right now?
It's pretty much a 24-hour-a-day job. Even when we wrap in mid-November, we still have to finish the episodes, doing all the editing and the visual effects, the sound mixing, and then the network notes and all that stuff. So we don't really even wrap the season until mid-January. And traditionally, we start the writers' room at the end of January. In the last two years, I think I've probably had four days off from The Walking Dead from when we wrap one season to when we start another one. But it's kinda OK with me. I sort of love having a real job, because the real job just happens to be The Walking Dead.
The Walking Dead: The Complete Fourth Season will be released on DVD, Blu-ray, and a limited edition "Tree Hugger" Blu-ray set on Aug. 26 from Anchor Bay.
The Walking Dead Season 5 premieres Oct. 12 at 9 p.m. on AMC.