- Warning: There are major spoilers ahead for “The Walking Dead,” season nine, episode 14, “Scars.”
- INSIDER spoke with Millicent Shelton, who directed Sunday’s episode, which finally revealed how Michonne and Daryl received those grisly “X” scars on their backs in grisly flashbacks.
- Shelton shared how she approached the episode, spoke with showrunner Angela Kang, Danai Gurira, and the child actors and their parents to make sure the end of the episode felt earned.
- She also shared why we didn’t see Michonne go into labour on this episode after getting sliced in her very pregnant belly.
Sunday’s harrowing episode of AMC’s “The Walking Dead” finally revealed how Michonne (played by Danai Gurira) and Daryl (Norman Reedus) wound up with matching scars on their backs.
In a series of flashbacks, viewers watch as a very pregnant Michonne gets betrayed by an old friend (Rutina Wesley) and is branded, beaten with a piece of plywood, and sliced with a knife by a young child. The flashback scenes become increasingly more difficult to watch as it all leads to Michonne ultimately killing numerous children threatening her life and the life of her unborn child.
A fan of the show from its 2010 pilot, INSIDER spoke with episode director Millicent Shelton (“30 Rock,” “Empire,” “Black-ish”) on how she approached Sunday’s difficult episode, how she finally landed the chance to direct after asking for seasons to be a part of the show, and the toughest scenes to film. Shelton also shared why it was important to have Michonne pregnant on this already stress-inducing episode and why we didn’t see her character wind up giving birth after taking a knife to the stomach.
Millicent Shelton has been asking to direct an episode of “The Walking Dead” since it started airing in 2010.
Kirsten Acuna: How did you get involved with the show and this episode?Millicent Shelton: I’ve been a fan of the show from the very first episode, the very first season. So, I have been badgering and badgering and wanting to get a meeting and wanting to get on the show ever since it began. I got a meeting at the end of last season with Angela, and that’s how I got on.
How Shelton approached this episode and making violent scenes with child actors.
Acuna: What was your initial reaction after reading the script or hearing about the story for this episode? It’s not for the faint of heart and this is something we’ve been waiting, literally all season, to get the reveal for.Shelton: I was super excited. I like big challenging episodes and that’s one of the things that I told Angela. I dig them. I get into the harder the better, and this one was really challenging. Not only was it big, but it was emotional, and just the involvement with the kids and how to be able to tell this story, but not be totally offensive to everybody, but still be true to the intent of the story and what really happened. It was a challenge, but I like challenges.
Acuna: Certainly. I was going to get to it in a little bit, but I’ll do it now since you mention the children. There’s some really tough stuff with the kids. Was there any certain approach that you had to take with them? To let them know, “Hey, this is just pretend. You shouldn’t actually go around branding people, or stabbing a woman.” Was there something that you told them during some of the scenes? I used to work with a lot of young children and they like to ask a lot of questions.
Shelton: Yes. We actually had the kids all meet once we cast the kids. In casting, we let the parents and the kids know exactly what the roles were going to entail, and then we had them meet with a psychologist I believe that met with all the children and talked to them about it, and then we had a meeting with myself, the writers, the [assistant director], and all the parents and all the kids and we talked through it again. For more on how Sunday’s episode took precautions with the child actors head here.
Did Shelton go back and look at other dark episodes like the season seven premiere or season four, episode 14, “The Grove,” which shows Carol kill a young girl? No. But that’s because she didn’t need to as a fan herself.
Acuna: There’s one other episode on “The Walking Dead” where they have really dealt with some dark stuff with kids. Did you go back and reference any other episodes on the show? Ones that come to mind, really dark ones – Negan brutally killing two characters, the cannibals, and then there’s one other time where a kid is actually put down because she wants to kill another child. That was with Carol on “The Grove” on season four.
Shelton: Yeah, I didn’t go back to it, but I remember it. I remember all those episodes because I really am a fan of the show. I really have watched every episode.
Why it was important to show Michonne pregnant on this episode: “It adds that extra bit of oomph that is very special” to the show.
Acuna: How important was it to show Michonne being pregnant on this episode? Was that a conversation at all with Angela, because that was what really added another level of stress watching the entire episode. How messed up do you have to be to torture a pregnant woman in the Apocalypse?Shelton: Let me tell you. It adds a whole other stress to me too! For all of us, with her pregnant, we were like, “Wait a minute. How is she gonna fight with a pregnant belly?” And we had different versions of pregnant bellies and it was challenging. But I do think it adds that extra bit of oomph that is very special to “The Walking Dead.” They went for it and she is pregnant, and her friend doesn’t care because it is the Apocalypse and it’s kill or be killed. In the end, yeah, she’s pregnant, but you have to protect yourself. It’s survival. It’s survival of the fittest and if she can’t survive because she’s pregnant well then tough.
Why Sunday’s episode didn’t show Michonne go into labour after having her very pregnant belly slit: Because that’s what you would have expected and it would have changed the meaning of the episode entirely.
Acuna: With Michonne being pregnant, I kept thinking the entire episode, or at least after she gets her belly slit, that we may see her go into labour. I was horrified that we were going to see that. Was that something that was ever discussed? Or was that just the feeling you wanted us to have?
Millicent: Not with me. I don’t know in the writers’ room if it was [ever discussed], but no version of the script that I got had it. I’m actually really glad that they didn’t do that because it is kind of the expected thing.
It’s like, “Oops, she’s going to go into labour and everybody’s going to have to deal with the baby.” And I’m glad they didn’t because the point of this [episode] wasn’t about rebirth. It was about scars. When you give birth, it is rebirth. In some ways, birth is cleansing and it’s salvation, and this episode wasn’t about this. This episode was about damage and scars.
Acuna: That’s a great point to make. It’s also kind of been done on this show before; giving birth under dire circumstances. We saw that with Lori and Judith at the prison.
The difficult process of creating the episode’s big scene, which shows Michonne kill numerous young children.
Acuna: What was the feeling on set for that scene? You’ve never really been in a position where you see someone where they have to go and kill children on the show, other than that one episode with Carol and her difficult position with Lizzie and Mika.
Shelton: With Danai, I had lots of conversations with her. I had a separate meeting with her before this episode as well. We talked with the writers and with Angela. The scene went through several different versions and one of the most important things that all of us wanted to make clear was that Michonne does not want to take out these kids.
Everything in [Michonne’s] instinct is to not have to do what she ultimately has to do, and we desperately wanted to make sure that was clear. That she had no out, and so the more that we thought about it the more we said, these kids have to be feral. They have to keep coming at it. They have to be the ones that aren’t letting her off the hook. They don’t run away. They keep charging at her and even though she is protecting herself and ultimately protecting her child she is torn and tormented over having to do this.
Acuna: I think you guys made that very clear. There were multiple times in the episode where Michonne said, “Please, I don’t want to do this.” And it’s until she’s figuratively backed into this corner where she’s pretty much forced to. It’s either kill or be killed and it’s not just her. It’s the life of the child that she’s carrying and the life of Judith along with the other children from Alexandria.
You said you met with Danai Gurira. What were some of the conversations that you had? And then you said there were some alternate versions of this scene as well?Shelton: The conversation that I had with Danai really was about her concern that Michonne does not want to do this and that she really did have to be backed against the wall. She really is not an animal. She didn’t want to kill these kids, but, ultimately, she has no choice. It really wasn’t a huge rewrite. It was just little tweaks. It kind of was just amping up the kids. The kids kept coming. That’s what changed in the script. The kids have to keep coming, and the adding of her saying, “No, don’t. I don’t want to do this.” Just little things to help sell that point that she doesn’t want to and [the kids] just keep coming. That’s kind of what we kept subtly changing in the scene. Even when we got on set, even when we were with the kids, I was like, “Guys, you’ve got to be more ferocious, you have to really come at her.”
Read more: ‘The Walking Dead’ director breaks down Michonne’s impossible decision on Sunday’s episodeAcuna: I think it’s worth noting there’s this distinction made between how easy and quickly Michonne decided to kill her old friend Jocelyn – someone who she knew, someone who betrayed her. It’s done in two swift motions in her leg and in her chest versus the kids, which is very drawn out. It’s a very painful decision. Was that something that was done on purpose – showing Rutina Wesley’s character killed very, very quickly as opposed to the children?Shelton: Yes, yes that was definitely intentional. I mean Jocelyn’s an adult and Jocelyn has betrayed her. Jocelyn to be honest, is hitting her with a two-by-four. She was wailing on her. I think they cut it down a little bit in the edit from my director’s cut. I mean she was wailing on her!
Acuna: That hit me so hard, watching that moment because I was like, “This is someone you knew. This is someone you grew up with, and you’re just going to go and hit her with this piece of wood!?”
Shelton: Yes! She’s evil! She’s evil. But when Michonne does kill her, if you look at Michonne’s face, she’s not happy about it. She is tortured.Acuna: The whole episode is really about her being tortured and the name of the episode “Scars” is not just for the marks on their backs it’s for the scars…Shelton: Psychologically.Acuna: Yeah, exactly.
Jocelyn did not know Michonne lived in Alexandria when she planned to raid the community for its kids.
Acuna: I want to back out a little because I didn’t ask about Jocelyn. But we do meet Michonne’s old friend and she’s obviously at Alexandria for more than just a reunion. How would you describe Rutina Wesley’s character and how things have changed for her in the time that transpired since she and Michonne last saw one another?Shelton: Well, I think they really were friends. That scene in the kitchen, they really were close friends. In a way, that never changes. [It’s] like when you run into someone who’s your friend, but it just kind of fell apart. When you get back together it’s almost like it’s just been a day, it’s been a moment, and you fall back into a routine. So when they’re in the kitchen together, they are college friends again and that love and that friendship was real.
Shelton: What we had discussed, and what Angela had discussed, is that when Jocelyn comes to Alexandria she does not know that Michonne is there. It’s not like she went to stalk out to kill her friend. She doesn’t know Michonne is there. So, it really is a surprise. But, when she is there, life has changed significantly for both of them. For Jocelyn, her truth is that the children are her family and even though Michonne is an old friend, she’s no longer family in this new world. It is about staying alive, and to her staying alive is the children and taking over.Acuna: Yeah, well we’ve seen how everyone in the Apocalypse has gone about their own way of choosing to survive. We’ve seen what the Whisperers have done now. This is her course of action despite how messed up it might be. I went back and I watched the episode for a second time and I realised Jocelyn’s injured. Was that for real or was that part of a show? Is that her MO?Shelton: It’s part of a show.Acuna: That’s what I thought.Shelton: Yeah, it’s part of a show. That was definitely part of a show.
The toughest scenes on Sunday’s episode to direct: Michonne and the kids at the end and the branding scene.
Acuna: What was the most difficult moment for you direct on this episode? There were so many difficult moments to watch – The realisation of the kidnapping, the branding, the shock of when Michonne is sliced by a child in her belly and then the decision for her to not only kill her former friend but also the children who were trying to kill her.Shelton: The scene with the kids outside, that was hard. It was hard for all of us to try to figure out how are we going to do this? And then making sure that the kids understand and having them go and them not being afraid that they were going to hurt her because they were afraid they were going to hurt Danai. And then making sure that she didn’t hurt them. It was a lot of logistical, technical things that we had to go through to make that happen. One of the other scenes that was tough was the branding scene, because we were physically in a very small space. We had a stand-in that did not understand it. We had to replace the stand-in, because the stand-in was freaked out by it. But our lead kids were not. And it was very uncomfortable for Norm and Danai to be hanging from those poles.
You can read more about the challenges of the branding scene here.
“TWD” never planned to show the kids get killed directly on screen. It was always planned to have it juxtaposed with the undead.
Acuna: We talked about the major scene at the end with Michonne and the kids and the killing and how there were some different edits that went through. Was it always thought out to juxtapose that with the walkers. I couldn’t have imagined you guys showing that in any other way. It was done delicately, but at the same time, it was a complete WTF moment.
Shelton: Yes, it was always written that way. I elaborated it more. I actually made more of it because I thought it was a good idea. When we started on the storyboarding it I was like, “Oh we need to have more of it to really tell the story.” I just elongated it.
Was there anything cut with Daryl on this episode since we don’t see what happens to him after he escapes? Nope.
Acuna: Was there anything else that maybe was cut from this episode or anything that you wanted to add that was too dark? I thought that maybe we were going to see a little bit more from Daryl’s perspective, but it was really just focused on Michonne this episode. I’m guessing maybe that was just the focus and the intent.Shelton: It was [meant to be focused on Michonne]. I mean, if I had my way I would have had even more juxtapositions of the walkers and the killing and the kids. It could have been seamless, but I think the way it is, is really tasteful and is really well done.
Acuna: I think you’ve most certainly made your mark, not scar, on “The Walking Dead” with this episode. I think it’s going to go down as one of the darkest if not the darkest, to date at least. May we see you return to do another episode of “The Walking Dead” in the future? Is that something you would like to do?
Shelton: I’d love to. Absolutely.
Were you surprised by the turn of events on Sunday’s episode? You can follow along with our “Walking Dead” coverage here and chat live with me Sunday’s about the current episode on Twitter @KirstenAcuna. There are two more episodes of the show left this season, and with no major deaths yet in the back half of the season things should only continue to get more rocky from here.
“The Walking Dead” airs Sundays at 9 p.m. on AMC.
- Read more:
- ‘The Walking Dead’ took extra precaution with its kid actors for Sunday’s dark episode: ‘There were 3 levels of conversation that happened’
- 11 details you may have missed on Sunday’s ‘The Walking Dead’
- ‘The Walking Dead’ director breaks down Michonne’s impossible decision on Sunday’s episode
- ‘The Walking Dead’ finally reveals how Michonne and Daryl got their scars and the answer is intensely dark
- Where are they now: Actors who have been killed off “The Walking Dead”
- The most shocking deaths on “The Walking Dead” ranked
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