The Walking Dead ended its 12-year run Sunday on AMC.
TV Fanatic got the chance to speak to EP and director Greg Nicotero about the series finale, including Rick and Michonne’s comeback, Rosita’s death, and Carol and Daryl’s final scene.
Check out the full interview below.
TV Fanatic: I’ve watched the episode twice. It’s very satisfying.
Greg Nicotero: That was the big ask. How do you finish a 12-year run on a series that feels like it pays tribute to where the show started and honors those characters?
It was definitely a challenge, to say the least.
When I chatted with the cast this season, they were excited to have you direct the finale. What did it mean to you to direct the final chapter?
It’s difficult to say because I started the show a year before it was even sold. I think for me, directing the finale sort of encapsulates everything that’s happened in my career over the last 12 years.
To be put in a position as a director and a producer and a creative, and really educate the general public about the benefits of this type of material, I think, has been really important for me.
If you remember, prior to 2004, zombie stuff was generally considered a horror genre only, and it was mostly reserved for independent films.
Knowing Frank Darabont and I had this opportunity to really embrace this story with this cast and talk about how we could take Kirkman’s book and make it into a long-running series was tremendously exciting.
So in my office, I have framed the call sheet from day one, when Frank directed the first day of the pilot, and next to it, the call sheet from the last day of filming that I directed. So that, to me, speaks volumes, and I’m really proud.
I was worried about the finale not having closure because the franchise is thriving. There are lots of shows coming out, but it managed to feel like the end of a chapter. How important was that for you?
Interestingly enough, that was something that Scott Gimple and I talked about — not only the closure but also the tribute to past characters.
That was one of the things that we added as we were going into production on the last eight: putting those little bits and pieces at the top of each episode that reminded the audience of the journey that they have been on, so you know, the episode wasn’t just about wrapping up the Commonwealth story, but we had to leave the characters all in places that we felt that they were at peace.
Everything with Rosita was really intended to show she died protecting the children and leaving a world out there that is safer for her daughter.
Christian had a huge part in that storyline. She said, “look, you know, I want Rosita to go out with a bang, and I really want her death to have some meaning.”
So Christian kind of led that, and I was really grateful to be able to direct her in that episode.
Christian did a fantastic job. It was really emotional watching it as a viewer. Very sad, but Rosita fought to save her child, and I couldn’t imagine any better way for her to go out.
Good, I distinctly remember her sitting in my office saying, “I think I’m gonna die.”
I think Rosita goes out like she wanted to. She wanted it to be a powerful and meaningful character moment for her other than just the show ending and them finding a place for her.
So she really championed that storyline for herself.
Christian’s final scenes as Rosita was heartbreaking. Could you speak a bit about what it was like shooting as everyone said goodbye to her?
Without a doubt, it was emotional. We’ve shot scenes like that before, where people really do have the moment to say goodbye.
But there were, I think, between that scene and the scene with her and Josh, where she reveals the bite to him, both of those scenes really had a lot of emotion and a lot of power to them. I think the last one really was more about how Maggie, Carol, Daryl, and Gabriel sit with her and have a moment to have that goodbye because they represent various elements of our viewers who want that chance to say goodbye. They don’t know how to do it, you know?
The Rick and Michonne segment was great. It was shocking. I didn’t know whether to expect that they would be part of the final episode because I figured it could go either way. Could you speak a bit about how you all landed on how to bring the iconic characters back?
It’s funny because we went back and forth for a long time, and Andy and I had a lot of discussions about it. Does it take away from wrapping up the storyline? Does it distract from, you know, Daryl, Maggie, and Negan, and does it take away from all of that?
We didn’t want to do that because we didn’t feel it would be fair to the other characters on the show. Where we ultimately ended up landing was the fact that the Walking Dead started with Rick Grimes. It started with him, and it really was his story.
There was never really a world where Rick shows up at the end and helps them defeat all the zombies at the Commonwealth. That was never on the table.
Scott always imagined that it would be a sort of standalone opportunity where we get a moment to see where he is and where Michonne is.
We shot that months after we had wrapped the show. We just shot that sequence at the beginning of August over two days. Shot all of Andy’s stuff one day and all of Danai’s stuff the next day.
It was really intended to be impressionistic imagery that not only showed characters from the past but also let us know that they are separated by whatever distance Rick and Michonne are separated by but they’re still connected.
Andy spent a week with me in Los Angeles going through the material, and we really dug in and talked about emotionally what we wanted for the shoot, and when we shot it, Scott was on set with me.
We knew that it had to have scope, scale, and emotion in a very short time. So it was fantastic to shoot. It felt like no time had passed since Andy had worn Rick’s boots, so to speak. I was really excited to do it. It re-energized to me a lot of what the Walking Dead is about because it’s always been about Rick Grimes.
Carol’s ending was particularly emotional, too. She took over Lance’s job at the Commonwealth. I know Melissa was initially attached to the Daryl spinoff. Are you able to speak about whether Carol’s ending was changed when Melissa departed the spinoff?
It’s hard to address that because things change and evolve.
Let’s just say just because Carol has a job at the Commonwealth doesn’t mean that that doesn’t keep her free to potentially go out into the world.
At that moment, I think Daryl’s a little keener to get out in the world than she is at that moment.
I love their final scene. The chemistry between Melissa and Norman has been undeniable for over a decade, so when we were scouting locations for that scene of them sitting at the lake, I wanted there to be this element of peace and feeling of them being okay with where they are and the decisions that they’ve made.
Watching Carol when we shot that scene of Norman getting on his motorcycle and riding away, just the look on Melissa’s face as she was saying goodbye to him for that moment, you know those two, you don’t have to give them a lot of direction because they know their characters so well.
It’s instinctual for both of them, and it was something to watch and something I was thrilled to be a part of that.
The Walking Dead may be over, but we have spinoffs on tap for 2023.
Paul Dailly is the Associate Editor for TV Fanatic. Follow him on Twitter.