The first half of season seven of The Walking Dead was brutal in every way. The horrific losses the group suffered, the shattering of their will, the total lack of hope. As the series went on, some fans were driven away by the abject hopelessness and occasional brutality. It was a hard half-season, but a strong one and it ended with the group set up to do something they’ve never done before: go to war.
Season seven part two starts on Sunday in the States and on Monday on FOX in the UK. And before it does, we’ve dredged through the set visit interviews from late last year provided by Fox. Here you’ll find cast and crew talking about the family on the show, the effect the events of season seven have had and what it’s like being part of the biggest TV show on the planet.
And what better place to start, than with everyone’s favourite Dixon brother…
“It totally gets in me, and I do take it home. But I’ve always been like that on the show, and the longer I’m on the show, the more I do it. And it’s even like with the death of Glenn. I mean, I know we did The Talking Dead, and we were driving there, and all of a sudden, I was like, ‘Man, I hope I don’t get a lot of shit for this. I didn’t even think about it,’ and he goes, ‘Oh, I’m just gonna blame Daryl.’ [Laughter] And then, of course, like a jackass, he goes on TV, and he goes, ‘It’s Daryl’s fault,’ and then if you throw that out there to that many people, they’re gonna run with it. But in all honesty, I – the only thing that ever crossed my mind was, ‘I hope Maggie forgives me.’ I never really broke the wall and thought outside of it. I do take it home, personally. I do, but that’s the only thing I thought the entire season, was, ‘Man, I hope Maggie forgives me,’ you know?”
Norman Reedus On Why He’s So Big On Social Media
“What happened, I did The Boondock Saints II, and Sony asked me to start a Twitter account, and so I started a Twitter account and started posting about doing Boondock Saints II. And then I started this show. And in season one it just grew, grew, grew, and in season one, this friend of mine texted me and said, ‘Hey, can I call you?’ and I said yeah. So I’m driving home from set in season one, and she goes, ‘Hey, so my nephew drowned in a swimming pool, and he’s on life support, and the family started a Kickstarter campaign to pay for the hospital bills because they don’t have any money. Can you help out?’ And so I’m driving from set back to my place here, way back in season one, and so I tweeted, I said, ‘If anybody can help this kid…’ and I sent a link to the Kickstarter, and before I got home, she called me crying, saying, ‘We just raised all the money in like 25 minutes,’ and I was like, ‘Oh, shit. You can do that with this?’ and I just kept going.”
Ross Marquand is best known as the group’s perpetually soft spoken, wry diplomat Aaron. He’s also an astounding impressionist and still a relative newcomer to the show. Here he is on the effect Negan’s big entrance had on the show and its viewers.
“Yeah, so I hear people’s points, but I think at the same time, it’s a tough thing to watch for all of us, myself included, my parents, everyone. I mean, [the unit publicist] and I were talking about it the other day. Like, it’s a tough episode, but it sets up what’s coming next, which I think will ultimately be a conspiring of sorts for Rick and the group, and they’re going to have to go underground in a way that they never had to before. They were always so brazen, and now, if they’re gonna be able to fight back in any real way, they have to do it in a very covert and very quiet way, but I don’t think that’s even a possibility right away, because they’re just still so much in shock.”
Ross Marquand On Ticks And How To Remove Them…
…proving you can take the boy out of the country but you can’t tick the country out of the boy
“Well, they breathe through their butts, a little known fact about ticks, so you put Vaseline over their body, and then they have to back out, ’cause they can’t breathe, and then you can just flick ’em out. But yeah, I think that’s a fun little science fact. We know that we have snake wranglers on set who do get rid of most of the poisonous snakes, and the ticks; you just kind of learn to get in the habit of doing a thorough tick check every day you’re out in the woods.”
Seth Gilliam made his bones on one of the greatest TV shows of all time, The Wire. His role as Father Gabriel has been challenging and he’s often been a near antagonist for the group.
“Well some very kind fans felt the need to give me a couple of the versions of the comic book where Father Gabriel was most recently killed. They happily gave them to me. [Laughter] I smiled politely and then pulled out my voodoo dolls and tried to hex them. But in the graphic novels and the comic books it seems to be a very brutal and grizzly and horrible death, so I don’t see why they would skip doing that at some point, since brutal and grizzly seems to be, you know, one of the hallmarks of the show. [Laughter] But I myself have tried to stay away from deathly visions.”
Seth Gilliam on the difference between the role and himself
“You know if it gets personal – and I think sometimes some people have a bit of a struggle with telling the difference between the performer and the actor – you know if it gets too personal then I would probably address it a little bit just to see if, ‘Hey, you paying attention?’ You know – flash bright lights at them. “I’m an actor, this is the character.” And if they want to go any further then you suggest where they could get psychological help. You can’t take it personally, but you can’t listen to too much of the good, because then that means you have to listen to the bad as well. You just try to throw it out there and hope that it has the impact and the effect that you were looking for. Then you focus on watching your fantasy football team.”
Tom Payne is Jesus. Sort of. Hilltop’s resident zen asskicker is a fan favourite even though he’s had relatively little screen time and that’s all down to Payne.
“Whenever there’s a fight it’s always like – it always goes to the ground and it’s always messy and I mean that’s how it is – everyone is fighting for their life. But I think I wanted Jesus to be a bit more clinical and a bit more practiced about how he conducts himself in that kind of situation and whether or not he even resorts to violence or not. I thought it was quite fun to establish that this character is capable of violence and of hurting someone but actually chooses when he uses that and applies it in each situation.”
“I think that the show is an ethical show. I think it’s about morals and ethics and the shifting sands of those two things, you know, and how they merge. And how there’s so much to do with subjectivity, you know. And I think that that’s the interesting thing that we’re moving into. We’re moving into civilisation building, you know, or conflict within civilisations, and how people run their communities. And certainly I fight till the death to defend my character’s decision-making, but I do think probably with hindsight that the decision we made – that we were forced into last season because we had nothing else to offer Hilltop but us as a mercenary force – was a bad decision, and it was badly conceived.”
You probably hate Austin Amelio. Not because he’s bad, but because he’s so good at being bad. Dwight’s tragic, brutal life has been a big part of season seven so far and while he’s still monstrous, we can see a lot more of why now than we could when we first met him.
“And the comics are so good. Like, I always find it interesting that the people that actually read the comics before they watched the television show are normally not too worried about what’s gonna happen because they have an idea of what’s going on in the comics. Like, you know, I’ll have people come up to me at the conventions and be like, ‘You know, I know you’re gonna be a good guy, so I just wanted to say, like, hang in there.’”
Austin Amelio On His First Experience With The Cast Being, Ironically, Michael Cudlitz & Steven Yuen’s Farewell Dinner
“You know, I didn’t even know the guys that well. But, like, what all the other cast members said about them and – it was actually probably the best thing for me, because I got to see really see – like, they talk about it all the time. They’re like, ‘Yeah, you know, this is like a family,’ and I felt that as soon as I came on. But you go to one of those dinners and you’re like, ‘Oh my God, this is like…’ You know, they had, like, Christian and Alanna and Danai and – they all came out and did, a dance for Cudlitz. Like, they planned it that night, you know? So, it was eally nice to see all that, and the camaraderie and – very emotional, yeah.”
Greg Nicotero’s direction has been a vital part of the show for a very long time. Nicotero understands the theatre of The Walking Dead, the way to frame its violence, instinctively. So, of course, here he is talking Negan.
“He relishes in the theatre of it all. But behind all that you strip that away and he’s cold and calculating, just like Rick is. Rick is equally as capable of doing the same things that need to be done that Negan is, so.
“The interesting thing about that is there was a much longer version of that sequence. It was intended to be intercut through the episode where you see Rosita lighting a torch and you see Glenn playing with his son, and you see Abraham and Sasha, and you see everybody. It was one shot; it was a beautiful technicrane shot that came through and just discovered everybody and then pulls back over the entire table and then comes back in and settles just on the two of them. And it was just heart-breaking. You know the sun came out and it was just this sort of ethereal moment. And we used the last bit of the camera coming back into them.
“But I called Scott the other day and said, ‘We should put that entire shot on the DVD,’ because it really shows you the entire community. And the reason that it was written that way is because you want Rick to get a sense of what could have been. That dinner scene is all about this is what it could’ve been. They could’ve had the baby; they could’ve all lived happily ever after. Everything could have been beautiful and poetic. And in the shot, I don’t know if you noticed it, but you know baby Judith is grown up now, and she’s got Carl’s cowboy hat on. I mean it’s really the entire sequence was designed so that as Rick hears Negan’s words over and over again, ‘Think about what happened and what could happen.’ Negan says that over and over in the episode, because what he’s doing is he’s implementing that individual direct set so that Rick he can break it.”
Khary Payton is our new favourite part of the show. King Ezekiel is such a huge, exuberant figure and so fundamentally decent and kind that you can’t help but be swept up in his gloriously weird world.
“I’ve got to overdo it just to keep my sanity. I think because this is such a grim and kind of grey world that’s all about survival, in some ways you forget just how crazy something like this would be on the human mind. Everybody is living with post-traumatic stress all the time. How do you deal with that? Not physically. Not like, ‘How do I live another day? How do I eat enough? How do I kill what I need to kill to make a safe zone for me physically?’ But how do you reconcile that mentally?
“I don’t know that anyone has taken the time to think about ‘How do I keep myself sane?’ more than Ezekiel did, because he’s taken very specific steps to not let this world get to him, you know what I mean? That’s what I think is special about him. Yeah, he kind of fell ass backwards into this situation. He was a zookeeper before and he was a theatrical person already before. He did Community Theatre. I imagine he was the kind of guy who worked at the zoo who was fascinated with kids seeing the animals for the first time – there’s that sense of wonder and that sense of joy.”
Khary Payton On the Remarkable Camaraderie The Cast & Crew Share
“Yeah, like the key grip, Ray Brown, he came up to me the first day. I didn’t know who he was, but he introduced himself and said, ‘I’m key grip.’ He said these exact words, ‘Man, I’m so glad you’re here.” I felt like he meant every word of it even though we’d never met before. He says that to me every time I go on set and I believe it every time. Now I say it to him every time. That’s the kind of welcoming feeling that I got from the group.
“I didn’t meet the entire cast. Andy was nice enough to come and introduce himself and came a couple of days to that episode, but I was kind of introduced to the world through Melissa McBride and Lenny James. They just couldn’t be more welcoming. Also, just for me, these are two of the most talented people that I’ve seen on screen in the last several years, especially on this show. Two of my favourite episodes were about Carol and about Lenny. I think for me, The Walking Dead, I realised, was something bigger than your average zombie apocalypse show. When you see Morgan staring out his window through a scope waiting every night to try and kill his wife. In that moment, I was like, ‘Okay, this isn’t about zombies. This is about family.’ It was just something that I hadn’t thought about in that particular perspective. Just the arc that Carol’s character has taken, I think is just kind of brilliant and really rare on television. To have these two kind of walk me through it was really wonderful.”
Lennie James is one of the greatest actors of his generation and is turning in career best as Morgan. James is never less than impressive and approaches the role with a studious care and immense respect for the audience’s connection to it.
“The characters in our show carry their history with them all the time. So Morgan carries the history of you know, finally killing his wife, not being able to kill his wife, losing his son, going mad, doing all of those things, meeting the goat man, all of those things. He carries that history with him, and our fans own our history and they and I think they kind of grow with it. Melissa’s character, Carol, is the obvious example of that. Where she started is a million miles away from where she is now but she still has that frightened, abused housewife in this new ninja goddess that she’s become. And in this season, she is questioning it. And I think it’s because people either come or don’t come for the genre but they stay for the characters.”