'The Walking Dead' executive producer shares how he brought the show's scary new villains to life

Jackson Lee Davis/AMCDaryl and Michonne confront Lydia, the daughter of the Whisperer leader on the mid-season premiere and take her hostage.

  • Warning: There are some spoilers ahead for “The Walking Dead.”
  • “TWD” introduced the show’s next threat, The Whisperers, during the show’s mid-season finale in November.
  • Executive producer, director, and makeup supervisor, Greg Nicotero, tells INSIDER how they adapted the show’s scariest villains for the show.
  • A lot of inspiration came from the comics and most of the emphasis was put upon the eyes and mouths of the masks. Nicotero and his team worked on the look of The Whisperers since last April.

The Walking Dead‘s” Greg Nicotero has been designing walkers for the AMC zombie drama for nearly a decade. With the entry of the show’s latest threat, the Whisperers, Nicotero faced a new challenge – creating a stationary zombie face that still evokes the same emotion as a regular one.

The group is notorious for wearing zombie skin over their faces as terrifying masks they sew up from the back. After years of waiting, Nicotero was really excited to finally get to bring these characters to the TV show.

“We feel like we’ve pushed the envelope on walker zombie makeup design over and over again for the last nine years,” Nicotero told INSIDER. “[With the Whisperers], it’s the classic horror movie trove of of the emotionless killer that doesn’t react. Its face doesn’t move. You really only get a sense of what’s behind the mask by seeing the eyes.”

“For me, there’s something really creepy and spooky about a creature that has no remorse and no compassion or emotion in its face,” Nicotero said of diving into the Whisperer look. Of course, you can’t design the looks for the three main Whisperers – Alpha, Beta, and Lydia – without drawing some inspiration from Robert Kirkman’s comic that serves as the basis of the show.

Where inspiration came from for The Whisperer look

The Whisperers, led by Alpha (Samantha Morton), first enter the comics in issue No. 132. Similar to the TV series, they kidnap two characters from the Hilltop when they’re introduced.

Alpha twd 909AMC, Skybound/Image ComicsHere’s Alpha’s introduction onto ‘TWD’ on the mid-season premiere.

“We started with looking at the comic book for some inspiration,” said Nicotero, making a notable observation about their look. “Interestingly enough, the comic book drawings of the Whisperers, they’re all very different. Some of them look more like melted wax or melted skin. But we also wanted to maintain the fact that they had to have some semblance of a bone structure underneath because they have to look like zombies. If they were just shapeless forms of dangling skin they wouldn’t look


Of course, there were other iconic horror masks that came to mind, including Michael Myers and Leatherface. Nicotero referenced the “Halloween” character on the mid-season premiere with Jeffrey Dean Morgan’s character, Negan.

“TWD” has been working on the Whisperers look since last spring

Twd 909 whisperer bridgeJackson Lee Davis/AMCFrom behind, it’s easy to mistake one of the Whisperers for one of the undead. After all, they’re wearing repurposed faces of the walkers that they made into masks.

Nicotero told INSIDER he and his team spent a lot of time early last year in mid-to-late April sculpting three to four different masks and trying different paint schemes to fine tune their look. Some were made out of silicone and had more weight to them. Others were made out of foam latex to be more form fitting.

“This is even before Alpha, Beta and Lydia were even cast. So we had kind of started working out the look with some of the generic hero Whisperers,” said Nicotero of the timeline for planning the Whisperers. “We finished those and brought them down to set and then did a little show and tell with [then showrunner] Scott Gimple and [new showrunner] Angela Kang and then refined them from there. So they were able to see a couple of masks in person two-and-a half months before we ever even shot with them.” “I knew it was going to be a really, really critical moment, and we had to accomplish everything that we wanted to accomplish with these things in terms of them being scary and evocative and just kind of also overall sort of gross,” Nicotero said of the Whisperers’ first appearance on the show.

Twd 908 jesusGene Page/AMCJesus is the first casualty of the Whisperers.

When Samantha Morton, Ryan Hurst, and Cassidy McClincy were cast as Alpha, Beta, and Lydia, head casts of the three actors were made so Nicotero’s team could create their looks on their faces and take their bone structure and face shapes into account.

Alpha beta walking deadFrederick M. Brown/Getty Images, Jamie McCarthy/Getty Images, AMC / composite Kirsten Acuna/INSIDERSamantha Morton and Ryan Hurst vs. their ‘Walking Dead’ characters.

The most difficult thing to get right about the Whisperer masks – the eyes

Unlike his usual walker designs, Nicotero said they spent an extra amount of time focusing on two parts of the Whisperer masks.

“For the look, we really spent a lot of time fine tuning the shape of the eye, fine tuning the shape of the mouth,” said Nicotero of designing the Whisperers. “One of the things that I wanted to do is make sure that we rotated the eye so that the outside corners of the eyes were lower. So it kind of had this weird effect that the skin was sagging.”

Samantha morton alpha walking dead whisperersAMCA promo image released to tease Alpha’s entry onto ‘The Walking Dead.’

“Playing with the colour scheme was important, but I think really it was just the overall shapes, the shapes of the eye,” Nicotero added of the most challenging part to get right. “And also how the hair lays because one of the things that we really wanted to do was make the hair look really stringy and kind of plastered to the side of the head. It was important that they didn’t look like the normal hair of the walkers. It had to look a little different.”

Were there any looks that didn’t make the final cut?

“One of the initial tests that we did, we had played with that sort of melted skin, that droopy skin look,” said Nicotero. “We made the eye holes pretty big and the mouth pretty large. And I think once we had done that initial test and we looked at it, we realised that less is more. The less we see of the person’s face inside there the better it is.”

Twd 909 lydia introduction walking deadJackson Lee Davis/AMCHere’s Lydia’s look on ‘The Walking Dead.’

That also gave Nicotero the impetus to make sure they maintained some of the bone structure in the Whisperers faces so that they did blend in with their surroundings.

“We wanted to be able to look at a crowd of zombies and you had to look through from a distance and not be able to tell who was a zombie and who was a person wearing a mask,” he added. “We had to find that medium, happy ground where they looked like zombies but then when you got closer you noticed that the eyes were different.”

How the Whisperers are taking the show into its next era

Twd 910 whisperersJackson Lee Davis/AMCThe Whisperers spy on The Hilltop in a scene lifted directly from the comics.

The addition of the Whisperers to the show at the end of last year was arguably the first time “The Walking Dead” ever felt a bit scary. When Jesus was surprisingly killed, you didn’t know that walker was going to be revealed to be a person. It’s something the show had never played with before and the rest of this season will lean into this horror aspect more.

“The fact that 10 years later, nine-and-a-half years later, we’re able to craft this story that is genuinely unnerving and creepy, I think is a tribute to everybody involved. It’s unlike ‘The Walking Dead’ that people are accustomed to and that’s exactly what we want,” said Nicotero. “One of the reasons why I love the [mid-season premiere] is not only is it a great introduction to the Whisperers, but it sets the table for everything that’s going to happen in the second half of the season. It establishes that the people that we have come to love – Michonne, and Daryl and all our core cast, now the rules have completely changed. Now, they have no idea how to protect themselves.

“They have trained themselves for so long to deal with these threats in a very specific way,” added Nicotero. “That’s now all out the window.”

You can plan to see much more of Alpha and her Whisperers moving forward for the rest of the season. You can follow along with our “Walking Dead” coverage here.

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