‘The Walking Dead’ Postmortem: EP/Director Greg Nicotero Talks Eugene’s Shock and the Message Dwight Left Behind

·Writer, Yahoo Entertainment

Warning: This interview for the “The First Day of the Rest of Your Life” episode of The Walking Dead contains spoilers.

As much as Rick and Rosita were shocked to see Eugene roll up on Alexandria, talking to them and the rest of his friends on behalf of the Saviors, Eugene was in for a heartbreaking surprise of his own: he realized that when Rosita pushed that button to blow up the truck, she knew it meant she’d be killing Eugene, too.

The explosion failed, luckily for Eugene, but the betrayals and the shocks kept on coming in The Walking Dead Season 7 finale. Episode director Greg Nicotero talked to Yahoo TV about Eugene and where his loyalties currently sit, Rick’s powerful face-to-face with Negan, the significance of Abraham’s flashback return, and the important message Dwight left behind for Daryl.

Pollyanna McIntosh as Jadis on AMC’s <i>The Walking Dead</i>.<br>(Photo: Gene Page/AMC)
Pollyanna McIntosh as Jadis on AMC’s The Walking Dead.
(Photo: Gene Page/AMC)

What did you and Andy Lincoln talk about before you filmed the scene where Jadis says she wants to sleep with Rick after their showdown with Negan? His reaction, the look on his face, is perfect.
I think it’s more that he’s just looking at [Jadis and Michonne] like they’re talking about him as if he wasn’t there, like he’s a piece of meat. Yeah, we had a blast with that. It’s Andy’s look. I think a lot of it was just me having the opportunity to play with the actors a little bit and have some fun with it. There’s a funny bit that didn’t end up in the cut, where after they walk away, Jadis looks at Tamiel, and Tamiel gives her a look like, “What are you doing?” Just like, “Why would you have to do that?” Jadis shrugs her shoulders. I thought it was kind of cute, because it was weird and playful. I think Michonne was like, “Wait, did you just say that?” Listen, Michonne needs to have some playful moments, too. When we shot it, I just said, “Deny, deny, deny. Pretend like you didn’t hear her. Even when she pushes it, just say, like, ‘Oh, yeah. We’ve got to go.’ You guys just slowly back away like you don’t know what to do and just kind of turn, and get out of there as quickly as you can.”

Was Jadis serious, or was she being playful?
I think a little of both, for sure. I think she was being playful, and she was being smart. She probably just wanted to get laid.

The scene where the Heapsters roll into town… they’re coming in in garbage trucks, and some of them are riding in on bicycles. In every 1980s teen movie, the odd kids always ride into town or ride into the schoolyard on their bicycles. It seemed super appropriate.
They pull in in the three garbage trucks — it’s like a clown car. They just keep getting out. There’s more of them and more of them and more of them. We shot some really funny reaction shots of people in Alexandria just going, “What’s going on? This is just crazy.”

Andrew Lincoln as Rick Grimes, Chandler Riggs as Carl Grimes, Jeffrey Dean Morgan as Negan on AMC’s <i>The Walking Dead</i>.<br>(Photo: Gene Page/AMC)
Andrew Lincoln as Rick Grimes, Chandler Riggs as Carl Grimes, Jeffrey Dean Morgan as Negan on AMC’s The Walking Dead.
(Photo: Gene Page/AMC)

Less funny, but one of the biggest moments of the finale, is Rick’s confrontation with Negan. Same threats as in the season premiere, and Rick even says some of the same exact things to Negan, but it’s a much more confident, determined Rick talking to Negan this time.
Oh, yeah. For sure. I mean, to me, one of the pivotal parts of the episode is, it’s the first time that we ever register any sort of fear on Negan’s face. When Rick leans forward and says, “You’re already dead,” Negan doesn’t smile. It’s like the façade drops away for a second. Negan’s like, “Oh, man. This is not good.” I think that’s really one of the most important moments of the episode, because Rick is not going to back down. Even with the threat of his son potentially being killed, he says, “You could take my hands and you can do whatever, but one of these days we will win. We will beat you. You can do what you need to do, but just rest assured that it won’t last.”

Rick, and Rosita, are both visibly crushed when the Saviors arrive and Eugene is standing there trying to get them to agree to continue living under Negan’s thumb. They clearly think he’s with the Saviors now; he says “I am Negan.” Is that a definitive act by Eugene? Is he officially a Savior now?
Well… I think by giving Sasha the pill, he’s letting her put her own fate in her own hands. He says, “Listen, this is the path that I chose. I took my fate in my own hands, much like you’re going to do.” I think it’s just about Eugene going, “I got to do what I need to do to survive.” I love that moment. I love the moment between the three of them. There was a little tiny piece that I shot that didn’t end up in the episode, where, when Rosita pushes the button Rick reacts. Then there’s a split second of realization on Eugene’s face that they were going to blow him up. Maybe he thought maybe they wouldn’t, but it just shows how determined they are to win — they would be willing to sacrifice somebody who was one of theirs. There was a piece I had done where it was a flash of [reaction by Eugene], like, “Oh, s–t. You guys were willing to kill me.” We don’t see Eugene during the rest of the shootout. He kind of magically disappears.

Josh McDermitt as Dr. Eugene Porter (Credit: Gene Page/AMC)
Josh McDermitt as Dr. Eugene Porter (Credit: Gene Page/AMC)

Eugene’s storyline, and even some of the moments between Sasha and Negan, where Negan talks about the reasons he has all the rules, and when we see him punish David for attempting to assault Sasha… Rick’s group is our group, they’re who we’re rooting for, but you could tell the story from a lot of different points of view. Negan could be our group. Even people we think of as the super villains, some have things you could sympathize with. You could get behind them if their point of view was the main point of view of the story.
Yeah, absolutely. I’ve always felt that The Walking Dead‘s perspective is very fascinating, because if you look at it from Negan’s point of view, they have a system that works. It works pretty well. What happened was Negan came across a group of people, they killed a bunch of his men at an outpost, and he chased them down. He said, “Look, you guys, these are the rules. Give us half your stuff.” He just figured something out that worked for them. There is a unique perspective where, from Negan’s point of view, Rick is the aggressor. Even as far back as [“No Way Out”], when Daryl and Abraham and Sasha are in the fuel truck. The guys on the motorcycles, basically they’re like, “Listen, just be quiet. Don’t say anything. We’re just going to take half your stuff.” The reason Daryl ends up having to blow them up is because Sasha and Abraham spoke when they were told not to. It’s kind of one of those things where they were just going to take their stuff, but our people were like, “You’re not taking our stuff. Screw that.” There is a perspective where they’re like, “If they would’ve just listened and followed the rules, then a lot of people would not have died. Maybe.”

Right. Maybe. As Ezekiel says, the Saviors and their capricious malevolence. But even going back to Terminus. Obviously, the cannibalism is next level, but Gareth’s people and their backstory, what had happened to them, you could empathize with them a bit after they shared their past.
Yeah. I think that’s part of the fun of the story. I think in Season 7, of course, seeing that Rick was not the hero for a couple episodes… other characters didn’t understand that. That’s a hard journey to go on when you realize that your hero has been defeated. That’s why I love that moment in the finale when Rick said, “You can take my hands and you can do whatever you need to do, but I’ve said it before, I’m saying it again.” That was one of my favorite moments.

Cooper Andrews as Jerry and Khary Payton as Ezekiel (Photo: Gene Page/AMC)
Cooper Andrews as Jerry and Khary Payton as Ezekiel (Photo: Gene Page/AMC)

The big shootout at the end, with the assists from Shiva, is pretty spectacular, and then you realize, that’s probably just a fraction of what’s to come .
Well, I’ll tell you, you would think after shooting for seven months that we would be a little exhausted. It was my 20th episode as the director. I kind of just went into it going on pure instinct. It just felt right. We had a good time. I think the actors loved the story going into it. The show fires on all cylinders and works best when you have all these great actors with terrific chemistry, you put them together and you have them working together. I know they went into it excited about it. Andy and Norman and Lauren and Melissa, they were so excited about the episode. We all just kind of jumped in, and [decided] we’re not going to crawl across the finish line. We’re going to sprint. We’re going to have a great time doing it.

Lauren Cohan as Maggie Greene, Sonequa Martin-Green as Sasha Williams on AMC’s <i>The Walking Dead</i>.<br>(Photo: Gene Page/AMC)
Lauren Cohan as Maggie Greene, Sonequa Martin-Green as Sasha Williams on AMC’s The Walking Dead.
(Photo: Gene Page/AMC)

The ending wrapped up some things, but obviously set up some big confrontations that are going to have to happen in Season 8.
To me, one of the reasons the episode works so well is it really does kind of pay tribute to past moments that resonate. Maggie’s speech at the end talks about Glenn meeting Rick in the tank. She’s holding the watch that Hershel gave Glenn. That sequence where you see Sasha and Maggie sitting on the log looking at the sunrise was the same shot from [“Them”], when they made it through the tornado in the barn and met Aaron. Those moments that changed their lives. Of course, getting a chance to see Abraham again. The fact that Sasha stays at Maggie’s side because of what she had said [in the flashback], when she said, “Maggie’s got to take care of Maggie.” At the end of the Season 7 premiere, when Sasha says, “I’m taking Maggie to Hilltop.” She steps up. Now you realize that part of the reason she steps up is she has some guilt for what she said about Maggie, for feeling that for a split second. Abraham says she’s carrying the future. It was such a beautiful way to not only tie together Sasha’s story, but to give Abraham a little moment, a moment to sort of go out a little less abruptly.

Michael Cudlitz as Abraham Ford and Sonequa Martin-Green as Sasha Williams (Photo: Gene Page/AMC)
Michael Cudlitz as Abraham Ford and Sonequa Martin-Green as Sasha Williams (Photo: Gene Page/AMC)

Dwight left behind the little wooden soldier with the words “Didn’t Know” written on it. What exactly is he saying he didn’t know? About Negan’s deal with Jadis? Sasha in the coffin?
Dwight’s obviously the one who knocked the tree over to slow the Saviors. I think what he was saying is that he didn’t realize that there was a plan B, that Negan was intending on killing Carl. Dwight needs them to know that he’s still on their side. You never really see Dwight firing the gun in that episode at anybody. We kept it purposely vague, but he needs Daryl and everybody there to know that he’s still on their side.

The Walking Dead Season 8 premieres in October on AMC.

Read more from Yahoo TV:
‘The Walking Dead’ Postmortem: Showrunner Scott Gimple Talks Jadis’s Real Feelings for Rick
‘The Walking Dead’ Season 7 Finale Recap: The Casualty of War
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