‘The Walking Dead’ 100th episode special: interviews with the cast

Andrew Lincoln as Rick Grimes at the Hilltop on the season eight opener – Photo Credit: Gene Page/AMC

Posted by RODNEY HO/rho@ajc.com on his AJC Radio & TV Talk blog on Sunday, October 22, 2017

As part of the 100th episode celebration of “The Walking Dead” returning Sunday, October 22, here are interviews I did while on set in May, 2017: 

If you take the Atlanta Movie Tours zombie tour, you can see Woodbury, Terminus, Alexandria, Morgan’s hiding spot season three and the exact location where Merle died.

But many of the sets are actually located on the expansive Raleigh Studios, not accessible to the general public.

A handful of journalists this spring, including me, were given an exclusive tour of the 120-acre lot during a cool, rainy day. We got to peek at the Scavengers space, which used to be part of the prison from seasons three and four, then moved on to the Hilltop, Oceanside and The Sanctuary. (King Ezekiel’s camp is over at Tyler Perry Studios.)

We even passed the spot where Negan killed Abraham and Glenn, now considered sacred ground they plan never to use again. I wish I had photos or video but we were not allowed to take either.

Part 1: “The Walking Dead” A to Z

Part 2: “The Walking Dead” six most annoying characters

Part 3: “The Walking Dead” my, how they’ve aged!

Part 4: “The Walking Dead” 15 most heartrending deaths

Here are excerpts from group interviews we did that day:

Scott Gimple (left) at Nic and Norman’s, a Senoia restaurant owned by producer Greg Nicotero and actor Norman Reedus. The show held a small party with us reporters and many of the actors on May 4, 2017. CREDIT: Rodney Ho/rho@ajc.com

Scott Gimple (showrunner)

On what season 8 will be like: “The narrative itself is incredibly propulsive and cuts around. Characters are all mixed up. They’re working against the clock and racing each other toward objectives, toward victory. It’s interesting.”

Gunning for 200: “We’re planning it out, projecting to 200 episodes [which would take them to season 14.]. I don’t think this story ends. Carl might need a cane. We want to keep doing it as long as [comic-book creator] Robert [Kirkman] is doing it. There are times when we write through the comic stories. There are times when it gets way expanded out… It’s always the comic story and then some… We’re prepared for the long haul.”

Melissa McBride as Carol Peletier, Norman Reedus as Daryl Dixon – The Walking Dead _ Season 8, Episode 1 – Photo Credit: Gene Page/AMC

Norman Reedus (Daryl Dixon)

Still here: “I never knew I’d be around this long. It’s great. We fought really hard to make this show what it is. It could have gone south so easily from the beginning. With zombies and swords and crossbows. All that s***. Every year, we see a new guard of people join the show. I think some of us old schoolers, we really work hard to keep the train on the tracks.”

Season 7 vs. Season 8: “Last season sucked. It sucked. He wants revenge. He is seeing red right now. He’s gone through this thing with feeling the built, realizing Glenn wouldn’t want him to give up like that. He’s fighting for himself, fighting for those he loves… No way to talk him out of what he wants to do.”

Andrew Lincoln’s leadership: “He’s first on set here, first to welcome new people. If I don’t like something and have a tantrum, he says let me handle it. If we didn’t have him, we’d have a free fall. Actors are a**holes, overly emotional, take everything way too seriously, especially themselves. Not having Andy leading the pack, we wouldn’t have gotten this far. He’s definitely that dude we all look up to.”

On Melissa McBride (Carol): “A fan favorite and a Norman favorite as well. I remember my first scene with her. I handed her a pick ax so she could kill her husband with it. I liked her right off the bat… She and I have very similar tastes with regards to how scenes should look and lines should be said. She’s the first person I talk to when I watch episodes and compare notes.”

Will Daryl ever have a romance? “I’m tired of talking about it. It’s literally one question I get every time. When it happens, it will be a big deal. I don’t want to waste it. I don’t think Daryl is noticing anyone flirting with him right now… It would probably have to hit him like a frying pan. There were moments with Carol and Beth where there might have been something, might not have been something, I don’t know.”

Lennie James as Morgan Jones – The Walking Dead _ Season 8, Episode 1 – Photo Credit: Jackson Lee Davis/AMC

Lennie James (Morgan)

In the beginning…: “It’s strange. I did the first episode, we had no idea what the show would be. I didn’t know they’d get a second season. Everything at the time was vampires. We were not vampires.”

Isolated: He noted that he has done a lot of scenes with Rick, Carl, Michonne and Carol but “I never got to do a scene with Steve [Yeun] or [Michael] Cudlitz or Sonequa [Martin-Green]. I hate the show for that! I did my first scene last year with Norman!”

Morgan is no longer a peacenik:  “A mother was holding her child. She said, ‘I’m so glad you’re killing people now.’ That’s a weird thing to say in front of your kids!”

Killing an addiction? “The analogy of what Morgan was going through was almost like a 12-step program. He knows who he is. Morgan’s decision not to kill was never about cowardice or fear, only fear of who he is. He’s trying to hold that beast at bay. It’s now in front of his face… The death of Benjamin has pushed him beyond the point where he can hold himself back. He’s hanging on to the beast.”

The connection with Carol: “It was the birth of a friendship, a birth of two people who recognize each other – not just the pain of the past but the potential of who they can be in the future.”

Secrecy before he re-appeared on the show: “I was put in Newnan. I wasn’t allowed to go into the city of Atlanta or hang out with any of the actors. The guests at the bed and breakfast had to sign non-disclosure agreements. ‘I don’t even know who you are!’

Worldwide popularity: “I was on vacation in Budapest. I came out of a hotel. There were 15 people with posters and stuff to sign. What is going on?”

Khary Payton as Ezekiel – The Walking Dead _ Season 8, Episode 1 – Photo Credit: Gene Page/AMC

Khary Payton (King Ezekiel)

There’s light!: “We dug this f**king hole. It’s like we built this depression of a story and we’re digging out way out of it to see the sunlight and realize life is worth living again. It’s a very cathartic experience.”

Ezekiel’s philosophy: “I really appreciate Ezekiel’s leadership style and forethought. He’s a pendulum in a way. He had done things because he had this kind of idea of a utopia… He wants to expand the kingdom but if you expand too fast, that’s when the cracks in the wall can let the bad stuff in. He doesn’t want to make mistakes or decisions that are unnecessary.”

The Saviors: “You can only hold these people back for so long. It’s ‘Lord of the Rings’ over there! We have to let them know they can’t slap everyone around. We have to slap them first… If we’re going to die, we’re going to die on our terms… I think when Benjamin died, he realized that we’re not truly free with these guys.”

Working with Andrew Lincoln: “I love this guy. I freaking love this guy. It fires me up. You can’t diminish the fire coming out of Andy…  To be standing next to Andy and Lauren [Cohan]. It gives you freedom to go for broke… It’s an exciting time. We’ll see how long it lasts.”

Josh McDermitt (Eugene)

Enthusiasm: “Not a lot of shows get to episode 100. This is exciting. The last show I did, we got to episode 20. This is five times the fun… The fact people are still coming back and watching, it’s exciting. I’ve said this many times but I was a fan before I worked on it. To be part of it at this milestone is special. I’m blessed.”

On Eugene: “He’s on Team Negan. He’s looking out for himself. He’s thinking about self preservation… He’s always the smartest man in the room – at least from my point of view.”

Justifying his allegiance switch: At the Sanctuary, “people aren’t mean to him. They value him and want to hear what he has to say. That’s reaffirming to him.”

Missing Cudlitz (Abraham): “Michael is one of my best friends. You know it’s coming and it comes and it still hits you in a weird way. We talk all the time, two, three times a week, text and phone. In a weird way, he hasn’t gone anywhere. But he doesn’t know what’s going on here. Less and less I’m able to talk to him about things. So that’s a missing piece.”

The mullet: “I can’t get away from the mullet. My life’s great. It sucks.”

Tom Payne (Jesus)

Trust in Maggie: “He sees within her the amount of love and strength and courage she has. He thinks she’d be a great leader for the community. I think he sees an opening.”

Recognition: “I’m just so recognizable now. It’s really interesting just walking anywhere. I notice the girls aren’t recognized as much.”

Ross Marquand as Aaron – The Walking Dead _ Season 8, Episode 1 – Photo Credit: Gene Page/AMC

Ross Marquand (Aaron)

How he sees his character: “I think he’s a mix of Morgan and Rick. Aaron will fight but he always wants to believe there’s a diplomatic solution there.”

A musical episode? “That’ would be hilarious. I’m in ! I come from a comedy background, started in improv. If any writer would make it happen…”

Xander Berkeley (Gregory)

In defense of his character (in a sense): “Yes, he’s a douche waffle. I suspect he’s a lot like a lot of people than we’d ever want to acknowledge. He doesn’t have a wife or children. He’s on his own. He’s proven to have a strong survival instinct… Life has taught him bad lessons. He’s been rewarded mid-level management status. It’s buoyed him up. He’s a mix of slightly bullying and bravura. He has imagined charisma because of his status.”

Steve Ogg (Simon)

A long leash: “He has a very long leash to do what he needs to do. I don’t think he necessarily emulates Negan. He could be a good leader himself. He just doesn’t want to be. He’d rather be the drummer in the band.”

Pollyanna McIntosh (Jadis)

Her speech patterns: “How do you deal with dialogue as an actor without sounding like a pretentious wanker? As soon as I got the script for audition, I was surprised how natural it felt to speak that way. She is so minimalist. Nothing is wasted. It made sense to me. She’s very precise… The weirdness of the language keeps them cohesive as a group and also keeps distance from outsiders.”

Gale Anne Hurd (producer)

Bring on the hope: “With season 7 behind us, we’re able to jump into all out war. It’s really freeing and even tough. There’s is a lot of action. It’s good to really see our guys fighting back. And there’s hope and they really encourage each other to have faith. It’s all about setting that up for the launch of the season.”

For the fans: “You’ll see Easter eggs for sure, especially for the fans who may know the show almost as well, if not better, than we do. They’ll definitely appreciate quite a few.

Seeing Carl grow up: “It’s remarkable when I look at him now. I see so much of that innocence still. Yet he does seem like someone who has the skill set to survive. You’ll never think that he might have lost an eye. In no way does this diminish his ability to survive.”

Humility: “We do live in a bubble. We work in a bubble. It’s great. No one has changed. That’s what’s special about this who. Not one person fromthe OG cast thinks they’re some sort of superstar and has a big trailer or an entourage. I attribute a lot of that to Andy’s leadership and the fact it’s a family. The family not only includes the cast but the crew. There isn’t this sense of above the line or below the line.”

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