The Walking Dead’s Greg Nicotero — and That Gruesome “Well Walker”


Following is continuation of a panel discussion among Walker Stalkers Con hosts James Frazier and Eric Nordhoff, and special effects czar Greg Nicotero of the Walking Dead. They spoke before an audience at the Peachtree Plaza Westin hotel in Atlanta, Georgia, November 2 2013.

Greg Nicotero: This is a make up Kevin Wasner did on  a guy named Kevin Galbraith. This was the walker that killed Dale in season 2. (boos) And one of the things we really wanted to do — we’ve done it several times– is we really wanted to play up that the bodies were really emaciated. When I was offered this episode to direct, Frank Darabont said “Do you want a big zombie episode, or do you want a small zombie episode?” I’m like, this is a trick question. I don’t know which answer I’m supposed to answer, and I’m like, he directed Shawshank Redemption so he’s really smart, so I’d better figure it out. And I just said, “Aaah, a little zombie one would be good.”  And ironically, I had one. It wasn’t like 12 walkers. One walker. So we really wanted to make sure that it was great and it was memorable, and that this performance was fantastic. You know, the guys did a great job on the makeup and even when I edited — all the close-ups, even when he blinked, I edited out the blink. So he looks like this grimacing skull with these giant eyes, and you know when he jumps on Dale, the shots that you see of him super close, it really feels like he’s right there. So this was really a great opportunity to make sure that you realized how dangerous these were.



Greg cont’d. And the funny thing about it is, when he reaches down and rips Dale open, there was some discussion amongst the producers, because they were like, why, how –- can his fingers rip the stomach open? I think it was even [writer/producer] Robert Kirkman, he’s like, “He’s not superhuman. How does he actually tear the flesh open?” And they almost wanted to cut that shot, the closeup of him being torn open. I was shooting second unit, and I just kind of set it up on the side; nobody knew I was shooting it. It was like “OK, so let’s go over here and shoot this insert of Dale’s stomach getting torn open,” and then I cut it in, and they were like, “I don’t remember that in there like that.” (laughter) [mimicking other producers] “It was weird. It was there, I don’t know what happened. Did you shoot it? I dunno.” (hoots, applause) So I got a call from Robert saying “I don’t know about the ripping,” and I said, “You have to show that the wound is fatal enough that they’re going to go ‘Sorry,’ [mimes the pistol shot that killed Dale].” Otherwise they’re gonna go, “I think he’s gonna make it,” and that’s not really what the script intended.

James: Yeah, that whole “I think he’s gonna make it” thing is over now.

Greg: He didn’t make it, by the way. If you hadn’t seen the episode, sorry. (laughter)

well walker

well walker

Greg: So this was the sculpture for the well walker. Now, this was a really interesting situation because all of the writers for season 2 came to KNB, had a field trip and Frank Darabont pitched the entire season 2. And all the writers were there. It was like the Bugs Bunny cartoon where all the  writers are like, “Yeah? Yeah? And then what happens? And then what happens?” And then they got to episode 8 and he goes, “And then Sophia [Madison Lintz] comes out of the barn,” and I went [draws in breath loudly] “Oh my God, you’ve killed her.” And then he pitched the rest of it and interestingly enough, the original season 2 ended one episode earlier. Shane is shot, we see this big giant high wide shot of the walkers coming up, and boom, and that was the end of season 2. That was originally one pitch as to how it went. So they left KNB that day and I got a call from one of the producers. They were like “Hey, we have this really cool idea about this walker that’s been in this well for like months and months and just absorbed all this water and stuff [and is] horribly bloated.” So they were walking around KNB and saw some stuff that we were building there and came up with this idea. So we ended up making a full suit and this was another joint effort by everybody, in terms of application and execution. But it was, this was probably aside from in season one, the CDC — this was the hottest day on the planet. And this guy, Brian Hillard, who wore the suit, we put a racecar driver cool suit on[him] so we could  pump cold water through him because the suit was full silicone, so there was no way any air could get to him. And I gotta give the guy a lot of credit: he never complained. He didn’t vomit, he didn’t pass out. (light laughter) Those were all bonuses at that particular moment. So it was full head prosthetic, hands, full body. And then there’s a picture of him being dragged up from the well.


Greg: He had a stunt harness on underneath the suit, and that set was — the well was actually a set built on stage, and they put a kiddie pool in the bottom of the set and filled it with water so that he could dunk himself down in the water, and then we lifted him up. But you know, the way it was shot, you never really got a sense of what he was down there. You just saw past Glenn on to the walker, so when we pulled him out, we had the actor in the suit coming all the way out, and then right at one point when he gets stuck, we cut. And then we put a dummy together that was rigged with squibs and explosives and blood bags. And then we triggered it and it ripped apart. And poor IronE – when he saw that, like the look on his face when he’s like [makes a horrified face] – totally real. That was not acting. And then he smashed the head in and all the black gore and brown gore came out, he was not happy. (laughter) [But] you ask him, and he’ll be like, “Naw, man, I was acting.”

James: I always thought he had a weak stomach.

Greg: He does. But you know what, they kind of, they all do, to a point, because the crap that we put in those things — you know. Season one Sarah Callies, their trailer was right across from ours. And she had nightmares. She’d come out with her bagel and her hair up, and like getting her makeup done, and this horrible walker comes out and she’s like [another horrified face]. I think by season 2, they were starting to get used to it.  But you know, I love that the actors are constantly like — still, they’ll come up to all of us on set and say, “That’s the best one yet,” and we’re like, “Really? Well all right then, we’re done. We’ll go back to LA.” But no, they really, they really love it. Andy[lead actor Andrew Lincoln], especially, will pull the guys aside and be like, “Oh my God, this is great.” The guys, you know, they still love it.

Q: My question is, when Michael Rooker’s character [Merle] turned, was there a big decision as to, do we make him really ugly, we really like him now, does he need to be likable enough that we need to feel sorry for him when Norman [actor Norman Reedus] kills him?

Greg: No, there needed to be a connection between Daryl and Merle. He was freshly turned; we went a little more extreme with his makeup than we did with Shane, for example. Because Shane had a little more subtle pieces and Daryl, Merle was probably right about the same amount of time. But we felt that we wanted him to be a little more walker-like. But there’s a really important shot there when we shot that sequence, where there’s a closeup of Merle’s eyes. And you cut back to Daryl, and there was a lot of discussion in the editing room about whether that shot gave him too much awareness. Like, wait, Merle recognizes him? Like, does Merle know it’s Daryl? But to me, what makes the emotion land with Norman was that closeup. I think Kevin [Wasner] did that. Kevin, you did that makeup, right? It’s, you know, the trick with Michael was that him dying was sort of a last-minute thing. Like, it wasn’t planned out at the beginning of the season. As we were going, it was like, “Ah we love this character, he’s so great,” and then I was directing that episode, and they called me and were like, “Hey, so Merle’s gonna die.” Are you kidding me? Really? I killed Dale, now I have to kill Merle? And I was just like, “Rooker’s gonna just beat the crap out of me one day.” I was like, my doorbell’ll ring and it’ll be Repo Man to beat the shit out of me. And it was, you know, him and [actor David] Morrissey, that fight scene, all that stuff, I mean, it really was great. And I’ll tell you, it was an easy scene for me to direct because Norman’s performance was so spot-on that I got emails from people going, “You made me cry, man, that was bullshit.” (laughter) I just forwarded them all to Norman. But that’s what’s great about the show. That emotion. If you don’t feel that, it just doesn’t resonate.


Greg: This is a makeup that we did for a commercial, a Bing commercial, and what I like about this makeup – the reason I wanted to show this is – we try to de-emphasize a lot of features, and with this particular– this is Ashton– we wanted to make his face look flatter, like the nose is rotting off. And there’s a really cool thing if you look at the corner of the mouth. We would cut holes in the prosthetics so you can see the dentures through, so it looks like the skin is rotting and stretching. So again, there’s a lot of those little details that you don’t get a chance to see on screen because they’re, they kind of go by really quick.

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