Exclusive: Director Greg Nicotero breaks down The Walking Dead 1106

The Walking Dead _ Season 11, Episode 6 - Photo Credit: Josh Stringer/AMC
The Walking Dead _ Season 11, Episode 6 - Photo Credit: Josh Stringer/AMC /

The latest episode of The Walking Dead, “On the Inside,” features one of the most chilling stories in the entire TWD franchise. We spoke with executive producer, FX guru and director Greg Nicotero about how it all came to life.

In “On the Inside”, Connie (Lauren Ridloff) and Virgil (Kevin Carroll) are chased into a creepy old house by an unseen threat. What they don’t realize at first is that the house isn’t a safe haven at all.

Greg Nicotero heaps praise on The Walking Dead’s Lauren Ridloff (Connie)

Sarabeth Pollock: “Before we jump into The Walking Dead, I wanted to congratulate you on season 3 of Creepshow. I’ve never had a chance to ask this before, but given that we’re coming up on the first anniversary of A Creepshow Animated Special I’ve always wondered if there was ever talk of doing an animated version of The Walking Dead at some point, particularly with the animation featured in the opening credits.”

Greg Nicotero: “I do believe that there was at one point a discussion about that, I want to say it was like season 6 or something that there was some discussion about just taking that departure.

“The interesting thing about that Creepshow episode was we were able to do things that we couldn’t have done practically on our budget. You know, ‘Survivor Type’, the story Stephen King gave me when he found out that we’d gotten the green light on Creepshow, he said, ‘Here’s the story.’ And he sent me that one and I wrote [the script].

“And then when I realized that we had a micro budget and I was like how are we going to create a desert island? Maybe we could have done it but it would’ve cost a lot of money. And you know, we only had three days to shoot it. So when the animated episode came up, I was the one that sort of paired the Stephen King and Joe Hill thing together. It was really super fun, but you know it’s all about the style, too. Both of those had a slightly different style.

“We have another animated episode of Creepshow coming up in season 3. It’s in our fifth slot and the style’s a bit different, you know. It’s all about the audience getting a new experience.”

SP: “Getting into this week’s episode, everything about this episode is brilliant. We talked a lot about it on the Undead Walking Podcast and I know I was floored by how much terror could be packed into one episode. I want to start with Lauren Ridloff’s performance because without her this episode wouldn’t be possible. Could you talk about the experience of bringing it to life with Lauren?”

GN: “Well she is one of the most dynamic actresses that I’ve ever worked with. You know, when the script was being developed Angela [Kang] kept saying, ‘Okay, we have an episode that is perfectly tailored for you to direct. It’s this haunted house episode with these feral creatures that live in the walls.’ I started channeling my Wes Craven People in the Stairs experiences.

“But with Lauren, there are actors that you work with who just have this magic around them. And she, without a doubt, is one of the most committed actors. And in any horror piece, the number one thing you have to understand is if the characters aren’t scared or afraid then the audience won’t be.

“Everything was on Lauren’s face, every emotion, you know what I mean? That goes back to the werewolf transformation in The Howling when Dee Wallace (the actress who played Karen White) is standing in the room and Eddie Quist (Robert Picardo) is transforming. You know, when you cut to somebody just frozen in fear, that’s intended to make you feel a certain way. So I spent a lot of time really collaborating with Lauren to make sure that she was comfortable going there.

“I learned a tremendous amount working with her. I learned sign language for that episode so that we could communicate easily from the first day on set. I went off and signed to her and her mouth almost hit the floor. She was so grateful that I had made such an effort because I wanted her to know how important it was for her and I to be able to communicate so that we could go back and forth about what was needed for each scene.

“So I have a very unique relationship with the actors because they trust me and they’re willing to go on this journey with me because they trust me. And with Lauren and Kevin [Carrol], you know, we had a lot of material to cover but they both trusted me as I took them on this journey. And they both did an absolutely magnificent job. I can’t say enough.”

SP: “It’s so brilliant. And as the kind of horror connoisseur who enjoys my horror movies with my eyes closed, I have a big reliance upon sound to help understand when I can open my eyes again. It’s so striking to me how this episode utilizes sound – which isn’t the first time the show has had silent scenes with [Ridloff’s character] Connie – but in this case it’s worth mentioning that the use of sound in the episode is far more than just a technique because it reflects how Lauren experiences things and it’s a big moment for representation on TV.”

GN: “We’ve done that before with [Lauren], but I think in this instance it’s something you said earlier, which is important: A lot of what scares us isn’t what we see but what we hear. So when I was editing the episode, I was kind of going back and forth on whether the audience hears it and [Lauren] doesn’t, because that gives the audience another level of, ‘Oh crap, there’s a bomb under the table that they don’t see.’ You know, the old Hitchcock thing of letting the audience know but the character doesn’t know. So we played with that a little bit and ultimately I ended up doing a pickup shot of her hand grazing across the wall. We inserted that as a way for her to feel the sensation of movement and it made a big difference.”

SP: “It’s so powerful. As an audience member, all of your senses are heightened through Lauren’s performance in this episode and it’s a testament to her work and the work you did. It’s very powerful.”

GN: “I would give it all to her, because that’s how much I adore her.”

SP: “One of the things that really stands out in this episode are the feral people. The Walking Dead is always pushing the envelope with its creations. In this case it’s striking to think the feral creatures have devolved to the point that they exist in this world. Could you talk about how you came up with these creatures?”

GN: “Well, it’s interesting that they have the same goal the walkers have, which is to consume you. For whatever reason. So I knew number one, they had to be different. We didn’t want the audience to think that they’re just zombies moving fast. So we went with the hair, we did some little tabs under the eyes so that the skin would pull down under the eyes. We had eyebrow blocks and some prosthetic pieces on them just to make them look just a little weirder, a little angular. We paled them out and used more blues on them instead of the brownish greys that we use on the zombies.

“But for me it was really important to have the movement. So the first thing I did was I collaborated with the stunt coordinator and said, ‘Look, I want you to film people on all fours running as fast as they can. And that’s using the set, using the set by climbing up the side of the wall, or leaping off a piece of furniture. One of the performers we had was a Cirque du Soleil performer. I wanted it to be creepy and unsettling and strange looking because we had these great opportunities. So I was watching these videos of the performers and they would run it all for us, and then they’d leap and flip and land on all fours and keep going. So we knew the movement, which we would only see for a few frames at a time.

“I knew that the movement was going to be absolutely critical and I loved the idea that they can come out of a corner or they can be perched on top of a piece of furniture and that they could be there the entire time. There’s a lot of cat and mouse to think. I think once the ferals get you in there, they like to play with their food before they eat it. And that was one of the things I really enjoyed about the episode, and then of course there’s the end where the walkers come in and it’s the walkers versus the ferals and all hell breaks loose. So I’m really proud of them. I never thought we would see much of them because they have to be quick and you don’t want to see them because you want it to be scary.

“So all the angles, it was another thing we don’t traditionally do on The Walking Dead much was to use Dutch angles and kind of skew the camera a little bit. I shot this much like a traditional horror movie with some of the angles and some of the shots of Kevin in the foreground and the ferals crawling out from the piece of furniture underneath and it comes right up and then disappears, and then rises up behind him. So I had my John Carpenter moments. I had my Wes Craven moments in there. It was fun.”

SP: “It looked like it was an absolute blast to shoot. As a final question, as someone who has been with the show since the beginning, when you think back to this journey how does it make you feel knowing you’re telling stories like this in season 11 and that the show is as strong as it’s ever been?”

GN: “The show has evolved for sure. And I feel like in an effort to keep elements of The Walking Dead feeling fresh, you want to explore different things and you want to put your characters in situations that they have never been in before. You want to keep the audience engaged. And I think with the Whisperers, with Samantha [Morton] and Ryan [Hurst] and the last two seasons, I loved what they brought to the show because that added a different element and a different type of villain. So I feel like being able to lean into the genre more keeps the audience engaged. I’m glad we get a chance to do that, especially with this particular episode.”

Many thanks to Greg Nicotero for taking the time to chat with us. You can catch new episodes of The Walking Dead on AMC on Sundays at 9:00 p.m. EST, and Creepshow season 3 is available to stream on Shudder.

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