Warning: There are some minor spoilers and potential spoilers ahead for “The Walking Dead.”
The upcoming ninth season of “The Walking Dead” will be Andrew Lincoln’s final episodes on the show, and the fans aren’t the only ones having a tough time saying goodbye to Rick Grimes.
“I think I’m still in denial,” executive producer, director, and makeup supervisor Greg Nicotero told INSIDER of Lincoln leaving the AMC zombie drama. “I keep thinking he’s still going to walk down the hallway.”
Lincoln confirmed at San Diego Comic-Con season nine will be his last on “The Walking Dead” as the show’s main star. Lincoln told fans he wanted to spend more time with his family and children. His departure comes a season after Chandler Riggs, who played Lincoln’s son Carl, was unexpectedly killed off the show.
Nicotero was a part of “The Walking Dead” a year before the show went into production mid 2010. Back then, he was the zombie guy, helping to figure out how to bring the dead to life, and overseeing the makeup and special effects of the walkers.
Over eight years, he forged a close relationship with stars Lincoln and Norman Reedus, who plays fan favourite, Daryl Dixon. He also expanded to become a producer on the series and has directed many season premieres and finales for the show.
“I’ve grown into the filmmaker that I am, with Andy at my side and with Norman at my side. I watched him as an actor, and he watched me as a makeup effects artist, and became the producing director on the show,” said Nicotero, looking back on his time with Lincoln.
“We’ve shared a lot. This season, Andy has great instincts,” he continued. “Every time we get together, and it’s an episode that I’m directing, we’ll get together at my house, and we’ll read the scripts together. He’ll do his character, and then, I’ll read the other characters, and we sit, and we dissect the story, and we dissect the script, and we make sure that it feels authentic to who we believe the characters are. It’s been an amazing opportunity to collaborate with an actor like him, and a friend like him. It’s still weird. It’s so weird.”
In addition to the premiere, Nicotero told INSIDER he will direct Lincoln’s final appearance on the show this fall. The only other episode Nicotero directed for this first half of season nine is its fifth episode, “What Comes After.” So expect five more episodes with Mr. Grimes.
What can fans expect?
“It’s a magnificent episode. I don’t want to get into it too much, because I don’t want to really ruin anything,” Nicotero teased of Lincoln’s final episode.
“It’s, the storytelling aspect of it, and his journey really, really touches upon some of the highlights of the show over the past eight years. It was a delight to craft the episode, so it’s a really unique situation, and we had a great time making it. Even though it was sad, I think all of us were sort of in a little bit of shock. The direction that the show has gone in, in the remaining episodes of season nine, have got some fantastic actors. I love all of them. They’re unique. They’re interesting. They’re thought-provoking.”
While Nicotero and AMC have been trying to keep the details of Rick’s final episode under wraps, reports from Entertainment Weekly and The Hollywood Reporter confirmed former “TWD” star Jon Bernthal, who played Rick’s best friend Shane, will return on one episode of season nine. Former showrunner Scott M. Gimple, and now the “Walking Dead” universe chief content officer, told TV Line Bernthal’s appearance will be “heavy.”
“It’s been a very unique transition for a show that was so grounded with Rick’s character,” Nicotero told us the legacy that Lincoln leaves behind, but also how an ensemble has shaped the show.
“But the truth of the matter is, ‘The Walking Dead’ really was grounded by a lot of fantastic actors, and great performers – Melissa McBride, John Bernthal, Scott Wilson, Norman Reedus, Steven Yeun. So many great actors have really done a lot to leave their fingerprints on the show. Andy, we’ve been grateful and honored to be able to see what he’s been able to bring to the show. … I was sad, and I’m still sad. But I still think he’s going to walk through the door, so I think I’m sort of in denial about the whole thing.”
When pressed if the audience will cry when watching Lincoln’s final episode, Nicotero was careful in choosing his words.
“Yeah, probably,” he said. “It’s a little hard for me to say, because I directed it. I sort of dealt with it in the more technical aspect of what I needed to do. There were moments on set when we would look at each other, and we would both have to turn away, and walk away, because there’s so much unspoken history between us and we’re so close that neither of us really was ready to say anything to each other other than just… I think I have 300 pictures of him and I just leaning on each other, on the set. Just that, to me, is what makes it, what made it beautiful.”
Fans can probably expect to see some of those photos make their way to Nicotero’s Instagram this fall.
INSIDER reviewed the first three episodes of the show’s ninth season and while the show gets back to its first-season roots, it’s made extremely clear that Rick is the heart and soul of what made this show so popular.
It’s difficult to imagine how it will carry on without its lead when the show heads into its second half come 2019. And then there’s the expected absence of Lauren Cohan from the show, at least for a time. The actress has an upcoming spy dramedy on ABC called “Whiskey Cavalier.” Cohan has said she’ll appear on, at least, the first six episodes of season nine. Nicotero told us her story will be left open-ended.
“I think because we’re still here, and we’re still fighting to make the show great, and his [Lincoln’s] spirit is here with us, fighting to make the show great, we have an opportunity in the episodes following that moment, that like we did in the premiere,” said Nicotero, who recently finished work on the season nine mid-season premiere which will air next year on AMC. “It’s a unique transition, and then, once we have the addition of the newer characters, it really feels like it’s a great journey to be on.”
If you watched the season nine “Walking Dead” Comic-Con trailer closely, you should be aware of some of the new characters Nicotero is hinting at. Comic characters, including Magna, Yumiko, and Luke (Dan Fogler, “Fantastic Beasts”) were revealed on the season nine official trailer.
At the same time, “The Walking Dead” creator Robert Kirkman confirmed Samantha Morton (“Jane Eyre”) will play “Walking Dead” villain, Alpha. Ryan Hurst (“Sons of Anarchy”) was recently announced as her right-hand man, Beta. The two are part of a larger, mysterious group called the Whisperers in the “Walking Dead” comics who travel around wearing the skin of walkers to blend in with their surroundings.
“I’ve really tried very hard, in the episodes that I’ve directed, to have the audience really going on this journey with us,” said Nicotero. “There’s some mystery coming up, and it’s very different than what we’ve done on the show in the past, where we’re allowing the audience to go on this journey with us, and sort of discover clues as to what’s happening, and I think really that’s one of the things that I really like about this season.”
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