Warning: There are massive spoilers ahead for “The Walking Dead.”
“The Walking Dead” returned Sunday to AMC.
Monday, episode director and executive producer Greg Nicotero and Michael Cudlitz, who plays Abraham, spoke to reporters in two separate conference calls to learn more about the gut-wrenching premiere.
From the movies which inspired the episode to the fact that the entire cast knew exactly who was going to be killed for a year, the two revealed more about the making of the anticipated episode.
INSIDER was on both conference calls. Here’s what we learned.
Michael Cudlitz, who plays Abraham, was told he was going to be killed off the show a year and three months ago.
The actor said he's just been travelling and lying to most people he would run into. He has continued to dye his hair and keep his long mustache so fans wouldn't grow suspicious. The only people he told were his wife and kids because otherwise they would wonder why he was home all the time.
You can read more about what Cudlitz had to say about his character's death here.
The cast and crew all knew who died more than a year ago too and they have been lying about it ever since.
Cudlitz said the death scene in the finale was filmed about a year ago. All of those reports about no one knowing and finding out later on were all just rumours made up and spread to make it easier on the cast and crew to keep the secret.
'One of the good things was that we were able to spread a rumour that not even the cast knew what was going to happen,' said Cudlitz. 'They were going to find out when they got back. They said they filmed everybody's death scene just in case and they said they were re-doing contract negotiations for some of the cast and we weren't sure who it was going to be. All of that was a lie.'
The reason two characters were killed off in the premiere instead of one was so Negan could really break Rick Grimes emotionally.
'Part of the whole show is we really needed to drive Rick and Negan's story throughout the season and we felt that one death would do the trick, but the second death -- Glenn's death -- really, really propelled us into a very different direction,' Nicotero said. 'It's really about Negan laying down the law and saying, 'Listen guys, the bottom line is, if you listen to me, you'll be fine. But if you step out of line, that's not gonna fly.''
You can read more on Nicotero's response here.
If it felt like AMC was making fans wait about 20 minutes just to see who was killed off, Nicotero said it wasn't supposed to feel like viewers were being trolled.
'It certainly wasn't intended that way,' said Nicotero. 'If you really step back and look at the episode, what you realise is, the majority of this (is) from Rick's point of view. So, picking up from moments after the death and then going into the beginning's of Negan trying to break Rick.'
'The episode is 100% designed for you to go on this journey with Rick and start thinking, as he did, about what happened and when he starts reliving it, it's the beginning of him being broken,' he continued. 'By the end of the episode, that's where he ends up.'
You can read more about the decisions behind the season seven premiere here.
Nicotero said 'Taxi Driver' and 'The Untouchables' served as inspiration for the season seven premiere.
Nicotero has had the opportunity to direct the past few season premiere episodes for 'The Walking Dead.' When we spoke last year about the season six premiere, he said the opening sequence was his 'Night of the Living Dead.' This year, the crew looked to a few other films for inspiration.
'This is my Scorsese ... 'Taxi Driver' or Brian de Palma's 'Untouchables,'' said Nicotero. 'We were talking about the scene with De Niro in the 'Untouchables' when he gets up and wacks the guy with a baseball bat to prove his point to all of the other lieutenants. I think that's much more where our world is. Negan is clearly now 100% in control.'
Nicotero says the moment where Negan was forcing Rick to chop off his son's arm was originally intended as an homage to a big moment from the comics.
Late in the premiere, Negan gives Rick an ultimatum: chop off your son's arm or I'll kill everyone else in your group. At the last minute, Negan stops him when he sees Rick has clearly been broken, but the moment brought to mind a moment in the comics where Rick gets his hand chopped off by another antagonist, the Governor, upon their first meeting.
Nicotero said that wasn't meant to be intentional.
'That was definitely something that wasn't done consciously. I think the right hand stuff was really sort of written to play into what was going to happen at the end of the episode with Rick and Carl,' said Nicotero. 'But when we cut it together, it just so happened that in the teaser when the axe comes up and you see it was something that we hadn't planned on but it became something that we leaned into as we were editing the episode ... but it wasn't a conscious, 'Oh, let's let everybody think we were gonna cut Rick's hand off.''
Nicotero added that was solely how he interpreted the sequence and doesn't speak for what showrunner Scott Gimple may have had in mind.
'That's me. Scott Gimple might have a different take on that,' he added. 'I know as we were prepping and shooting the episode there was never a conscious decision to say, 'Oh, let's tease the audience and make 'em feel like we're gonna lose Rick's hand' because I think there's enough going on in that episode as is.'
Rick was always going to be given an ultimatum to chop off his son's arm. There was never any other version of that scene.
During the call, INSIDER asked Nicotero if they ever considered other versions of that scene. Was it ever in the cards that Negan would have attempted to chop off Carl or Rick's hand? Nope.
'There's a unique relationship between Negan and Carl and I think what we spend some time doing in the finale and in this episode is really having Negan kind of eye up Carl,' said Nicotero.
As Nicotero said, in the comics, Carl and Negan grow to eventually have a really interesting relationship, and the last two episodes were starting to lay the groundwork for that bond.
'To me, my opinion on that was, there's this weird bond (between them),' said Nicotero. 'Negan sort of admires Carl and I think if you're going to have an opportunity to break Rick using his son as the tool is probably the most effective. In my opinion, I don't think it would have been impactful if it had been anybody else.'
'I remember sitting next to Steven (Yeun) when I read issue number 100 and talking with him and Robert (Kirkman) about it,' said Nicotero. 'What struck me about it, was it was horrifically graphic and senseless and brutal. I wanted to try to capture those moments.'
Nicotero referenced how Negan is, by far, the 'most despicable villain' the show has adapted to screen and he really wanted to make sure that came across on screen. He also wanted to make sure the episode stayed true to the feelings elicited in the comic issue when Negan was introduced.
'In this instance, we thought that it was important to launch us into this season by showing the extent of what Negan is capable of doing because that drives so much of where the series is going from here on in,' he added. 'The haunting remnants of that episode are very, very similar to how I felt when I read the comic book and I experienced that sensed of loss.'
Sure, Negan just killed two of Rick's men and took another one, Daryl, hostage, but that doesn't mean Negan's a sociopath.
'I think there is a weird alternate universe where from Negan's perspective, Rick's a pretty bad guy because he just showed up and killed off a bunch of his people,' said Nicotero.
Nicotero explained that you have to think about the larger 'Walking Dead' universe.
'Every one of these people have done, in their perspective, they have done something right because they're still around. If we're talking about a year and a half/two years into the apocalypse and they're still around, they have done something right,' said Nicotero. 'I think what Negan has done, he has been able to build this army by saying, 'Listen guys, I will keep you protected. I will keep you safe. I will keep you fed and alive, you just have to follow my rules.' That's pretty powerful.'
The only reason Negan kills Glenn is because Daryl stepped out of line and punched him after Abraham was killed. Negan was only originally planning to kill one of Rick's men after Rick and his group took out a lot of Negan's men. He warned Rick that if anyone stepped out of line that there would be consequences and Glenn's death was the result.
'When he (Negan) actually hits Glenn and then looks over and sees Maggie and says, 'Aw, I'm really sorry about this. I can only understand,' he's not screwing around,' said Nicotero. 'He genuinely does feel bad for what he's about to do, but he needs to remain a man of his word.'
'To me, I don't really see Negan as crazy, I see Negan as just there's definitely menace and there's definitely sadistic brutality there, but he's still alive and he's still got all these people working with him,' he added. 'In his mind, it's working.'
'When we were on set, we wanted to find an opportunity to have (Abraham) speak to (Sasha) without looking at her because we were locked into what we had shot in the season finale, which is, the point of view is locked on Negan,' said Nicotero. 'That was something that Michael (Cudlitz) added and it was a beautiful little moment.'
Because the season six finale ended with Cudlitz's character looking straight at Negan they couldn't add in the character looking off to the side to bid his lady love farewell.
'We had to figure out a way that he could basically tell Sasha that everything was going to be ok and to say goodbye,' said Cudlitz. 'That was what we came up with. For those who caught it, I think (it was) highly, highly effective.'
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