Warning: This interview contains storyline and character spoilers for the “Remember” episode of The Walking Dead.
Rick lost his beard and became a cop again. We entered the world behind the gates of Alexandria. And we were introduced to a new and more fiercely determined Rick, who has declared his group will make every effort to get along with the Alexandrians, but if the Alexandrians won’t try just as hard… Rick and company will simply overtake them.
“Remember” director Greg Nicotero talks to Yahoo TV about helping Andrew Lincoln see his face for the first time in four seasons, how significant the beard loss really is to Rick, the killer line ad-libbed by Norman Reedus, what’s up with that missing gun, new cast member Tovah Feldshuh, and why the season finale was expanded to 90 minutes.
So Andy Lincoln’s beard finally came off, and you told me you’re the one who shaved it.
OK, so Andy has not been clean-shaven for four seasons. Part of the intent of the scene, of course, was for Rick to shut off this feral nature of their existence, and to go back to being the cop. When we started shooting the scene, it had been so long since he had really seen his face that he was zeroed in, staring at the mirror. Andy doesn’t watch the show. He’s the kind of actor who doesn’t really want to watch his performance. In the past, when we have done prosthetics on him, like when he gets beat up by The Governor, his face is all cut up and scarred. He loved the transformative process of makeup because it made him more comfortable looking at himself in the mirror, because he liked that he was looking at somebody else. You know what I mean?
In this instance, I was standing in the bathroom with him. We really wanted to get it in one take because we didn’t want to have to put fake beards and fake hair on. We had multiple cameras rolling, and he took the scissors and started cutting. Then he picked up the razor and started shaving. He was staring, literally staring, at himself in the mirror and watching his face change.
It was a fascinating experience for me, because I saw him sort of fixated, wondering who this person in the mirror was that was looking back, so much so that at one point, when he picked up the razor and he started shaving, he hadn’t cut away enough of the hair, so he was basically just shaving into… I was worried he was going to start hacking his face up. So once we got the initial bit of the shaving done, we cut the cameras and we had to take his beard down a lot further for the end part, because we shot it as a montage. He was so fazed out that I picked up the razor and had to shave most of his face down to a certain point, because he was just kind of in the zone. There was a really funny picture of me in the bathroom shaving him, while he’s kind of just fixated on, Who is this person? Of course, I shot video of it on my phone, and sent the video to his wife in London. She was like, “Thank God that beard is gone.”
It seemed very emotional for the character: the shaving, the haircut, the shower. Just a couple of days earlier, the group was rationing sips of water, and now they’re able to stand under running water for a hot shower. That’s a dramatic and sudden change of circumstance.
Yes. Rick’s entire motivation is he’s going undercover. He’s becoming the person that he thinks they want him to become so he can move around the community without question. The last line of the episode, which is Rick saying, “If they can’t make it, we’ll just take this place”… he is slowly making this transition while they feel out Alexandria to determine whether or not this is a place that they can survive, and at what cost.
There are some very funny moments in the episode while they’re all feeling out Alexandria, like when Daryl tells Carol she looks ridiculous in her cardigan.
Let me say, that was an ad-lib by Norman [Reedus]. That was not scripted. When we shot that scene, we all stood there in shock and looked at Melissa [McBride], and like… that’s a tricky thing to pull off, that transformation of a character. We’re so accustomed to spending years watching all of these people dirty, sweaty, covered in blood. When Melissa stepped out the first time, we all sort of [started] laughing. Even Melissa was like, “This is so silly. How are we going to pull this off?”
When we did the first couple of takes, Norman was just giggling and laughing at how ludicrous this whole idea of Carol dressing up as a soccer mom was. Every time I watch that scene, and especially the way Norman looks up at her and then looks back down, he’s like “Pfft.” He does that great thing Norman always does… I love Norman and Melissa, and they’re both such genuine performers that just adding that little flair takes it to such a great place.
Alexandria is such an iconic location in the comics. What was the most important thing about representing it in the series?
We set up a very specific underlying sense of dread in a place that really is a place where they should be comfortable, but they don’t know how to do it. They don’t know how to let their guards down for a split second. Every angle that I filmed in Alexandria, you always see the walls in the background. In Season 3, it was really hard to get a sense of the boundaries of Woodbury, because you never really knew where it ended. I love the idea of this gilded cage everywhere we walk. We didn’t want Alexandria to feel like Main Street, USA. We wanted there to be a bit of a mystery to it and to make it a little unsettling.
When Rick has Sasha shoot the walker at the beginning, he’s putting out a warning, isn’t he? He wants the Alexandrians to know his group isn’t afraid.
That’s exactly what he did. He looks at them and goes, “It’s a good thing we’re here.” I love that line, because it’s like, boy, you’re not screwing around. You walk in and you’re meeting these people, and the first thing you’re doing is just flexing your muscles and being like, “OK, don’t f--k with us, because if you do, you’re going to lose.”
Deanna is a great new character, who seems very straightforward about what she wants from Rick and his people, but…
Yes. I think it really was a stroke of genius by [showrunner] Scott Gimple, because in the book, that character’s a man. And Tovah [Feldshuh] is fantastic. We shot that scene with her and Rick [talking at her house] on our first day of shooting on the episode. She had landed in Georgia on a Sunday, and we shot that scene Monday morning. She had to literally become completely immersed in our world and learn nine to ten pages of dialogue in a very short amount of time. She’s such a strong presence, and she’s such a fantastic addition to the cast.
Rick and the missing gun from the blender: Might that be connected to the chopped-up walkers in the woods we saw earlier in the season?
I don’t know if I should tell you that, because… it’s just good to know that somebody’s out there.
What about the “J” etched on the gun? Could that J stand for Jones, as in Morgan Jones?
There’s a little bit of backstory to that that I’m not 100 percent privy to, because that was shot during Episode 11, and I was not on set because I was prepping for this episode. I think that, if I could say anything, I would say that the J is put there so that later on, if that gun pops up again, we will know who took it.
AMC announced this week that the season finale, which you directed, will be 90 minutes. Why?
Because it’s 90 minutes of awesome. Listen, Scott Gimple wrote it. When we started shooting the episode, the script was long. When I started editing, I kind of said to Scott, “I want to make sure that we deliver the greatest episode that we can, and the cut’s going to come in long. I think that we should just go to the network and propose that we do an hour-and-a-half finale, and see how that idea lands.” Everybody was on board.
It’s a phenomenal episode. With each of the episodes I’ve shot this season, I keep thinking, “Wow, this is the best episode I’ve ever done.” Then I do another one. I’m like, “I kind of like this one.” They’re all really different, and I get chills when I watch [the finale]. I’m so proud of it. It’s such a powerhouse and the performances are just spot-on. Everybody’s firing on all cylinders. When Emmy time comes along, if people don’t finally turn around and recognize the actors and the writers, then there’s something seriously flawed with the system, because I don’t think that we’ve told more dramatic and emotional stories on the series as of yet.
Back to Andy’s beard. Norman Reedus has part of it in his freezer, but you have part of it, too, right?
I do. Because I was there and it was such a unique experience for me to be next to him while he was shaving and watching that transformation. I didn’t realize at the time that Norman had jokingly said, “Well, I want a piece of that. I want to keep the beard.” When we were cleaning it up, Andy was like, “Listen, I made a promise to Norman.” But at that point, I thought this was kind of a cool moment, and I’m the kind of guy who keeps something from every episode I direct. I have Merle’s arm. I have, from the Season 4 premiere, the “This Workplace Has Gone 30 Days Without an Accident” sign. I have one of the Terminus “No Sanctuary” signs. I’ve kept all those things as keepsakes for me, so of course, for Episode 12, my keepsake is I have a piece of Rick’s beard. Norman thinks he has all of it. I don’t even think he knows, or Andy knows, that I have a piece of it, too. But I don’t have it in my freezer like Norman does.
The two of you could theoretically start an Andy Lincoln clone war.
I’ve already started it. [My clone] is already about 12 years old. I don’t think those guys know that I’m going to launch an attack on their trailers with my Andy Lincoln clone army.
The Walking Dead airs Sundays at 9 p.m. on AMC.