SPOILER ALERT: Read on only if you have already watched Sunday’s “Dead or Alive Or” episode of The Walking Dead.
Danger here, danger there, danger, danger everywhere! That was certainly the case on Sunday’s “Dead or Alive Or” episode of The Walking Dead as we saw several different storylines play out at once. We watched Father Gabriel’s quest to get Dr. Carson to the Hilltop end in tragedy, Daryl, Tara and company making their way through the swamps (with Tara trying to kill Dwight in the process), Maggie deciding what to do about dwindling rations and her prisoners, Carol and Morgan dealing with the aftermath of Gavin’s death, and Negan sending Eugene off to make more ammunition.
We spoke to the man who put it all together, director Michael Satrazemis, and he shared some key behind-the-scenes intel on all the various plot-points, including why Daryl is so gosh darn mad.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a Walking Dead episode with as many simultaneous stories in as many different places as this one. What’s the biggest challenge in terms of shooting so many different stories in so many different places and tying them all together?
MICHAEL SATRAZEMIS: Just from a practical level for me it is exactly that: How to keep the emotional content and get what you want out of each of these little stories fit within an eight-day schedule. You know there’s not, “Well, tomorrow we’re still here at this location and we can just make it up.” It’s kind of a one day in every spot. You only have one location for a day and you’ve got to really be on it.
For me, it’s just to prep every cut and make sure that I know my exact cut so I don’t waste a minute of time. It’s one of those episodes where you talk in prep and then when you get to shooting, you just stop talking — let’s just do it. Yeah, this one was a little more than normal. Normally you have a couple storylines, a midseason finale or something like that. You have to check-in with everybody, but still having five separate storylines was big.
Let’s take each of these stories, starting with Gabriel and Carson. Father Gabriel is so confident throughout this episode, even when things look their bleakest, that God has a plan and they’re following that plan and everything’s going to work out just fine. Yet then Carson gets killed and a half-blind Gabriel is brought back as prisoner labor. That’s pretty brutal. What do you think this does to Gabriel and his faith as we see him looking pretty low there at the end?
I think his faith is destroyed. This is the hard stuff. When I read it, I got excited about telling these kind of stories because of the big emotions. That’s what I’m on this planet to do. That one was a tough one. To literally have blind faith and then have it crushed, I don’t think it looks too good for a blind bullet sorter. It’s a rough place to be and he’s right back with the one guy that gave him a chance and it didn’t work out and he wound up right back with him. We’ll see. It definitely had his faith crushed, I believe.
Let’s get into the story that had the most action elements, which is the Alexandrians making their way to Hilltop. You have Tara trying to take out Dwight here complete with a chase scene through the woods. Explain the challenges you all have to deal with in a scene like this where you have a lot of fast movement instead of actors just hitting a mark and standing there.
The first challenge is they cover a lot of ground, especially Alanna [Masterson], who is fast. She’s got a motor. They were revving each other up before we started chasing each other. Just a simple walk and talk covers a lot of distance. Now you’ve got to light for a large area and then the crew’s got to accommodate all of this travel and we’re always stuck in the woods. It’s kind of a military exercise in the woods to get all the gear in.
Once they started running, we almost ran out of room. Knowing how fast Alanna was from the bridge and beach episode, I knew that we needed to get a little golf cart and a Steadicam and try to fly with them. I really wanted to make it look like they were flat out running. I hate when I see actors kind of fake running to slow down for the camera. It just doesn’t have the energy. We let them rip and luckily nobody bounced off a tree. It looked to be pretty wild. It just felt good. Real is real. I’m a big fan of making it real. We found a stretch of the woods that had a semi-flat area that we could race through. We just ripped through and chased them. That’s why all those foreground trees are ripping through and they look like they’re flying. It really helped.
Dwight had switched sides and taken out some Saviors. But he also killed Tara’s girlfriend. All that considered, you okay with her taking a shot at him there?
It’s a tough call. After you see him in the midseason finale take out all of his people, I think he’s just trying to redeem himself and he doesn’t care if he dies. He’s probably fine if Tara shoots him in the face, but only after he completes his redemption. You feel for the guy. Maybe let him complete his journey. He knows he’s going to die, I think. He knows somebody is going to kill him hanging out in that pack. You could also understand where Tara maybe just has to quell the pain by just putting a bullet in him. I don’t know. We’ll see.
You have a scene after that where Daryl is just screaming at Tara after Dwight had left and misdirected the Saviors away. I’m not sure I’ve ever heard Norman Reedus yell like that before. That was jarring!
Yeah, that was just Norman and I chatting about it for a minute. We thought, let’s see another side. Let’s see him peel her hair back. He did. He let loose. I think it shows the state that he’s in and that everybody’s in. They’re trying to make their way back. They have imminent attacks probably from Negan again and there’s a lot of stuff in flux for everyone. That’s the one thing all these stories parallel where people get lost in search of a purpose or survival or just really trying to hang on. I think it shows that Daryl is not doing 100 percent well and it affected him. I love that one. I love just letting Norman cut loose and seeing some power.
And clearly, he and Dwight have a history too, which is tied into all that.
Yes, I think there’s a lot of people there that are looking to take Dwight out, and the fact that they kind of had him — whether he’s lying or telling the truth — they still had him and he was part of the group. If they needed to do something, they could. Now that he’s gone, I think it definitely affected Daryl.
Okay, let’s talk some Swamp Walkers as you have Daryl and Siddiq clearing those out. How did you all stage that scene and how disgusting were those things close up?
The swamp is interesting itself because we created it. There’s a freshwater lake on our property and we literally drained it because most of the actual swamp areas you can’t bury human beings — whether they’re dressed as dead people or not — underneath the water. The water is just not safe enough.
We made a clean water environment and put netting down on the ground so people wouldn’t get stuck in it. It was quite an ordeal just to build. We had to build berms to retain the water and then put everybody in it. I thought it worked out really fantastic. Yeah, they were disgusting. Greg [Nicotero] whipped us up some good swamp water. It also happened to be freezing cold. I kept calling it the hot tub, “All right. We’re going to go shoot in the hot tub” because it was so cold.
Let’s move over to Hilltop where Maggie has an interesting dilemma. They’re running out of food, and if they keep feeding the Savior prisoners, they’ll run out even faster. So let’s put you in the hot seat, Mr. Satrazemis. What would be your decision in that regard: Feed the prisoners and perhaps starve yourselves, or cut their food to make it stretch longer?
That’s the true moral dilemma with Maggie. I don’t know. I might have cut the prisoners by now. I guess they’re a good bargaining chip, but they’re definitely putting a lot of pressure on them, especially knowing that an attack could be coming at any moment. It might not be a good idea to share all your rations. She made the choice with her conscience. I think that’s who Maggie is. She still hears Hershel whispering in her ears, I think.
What’s Maggie struggling with here? Is it mercy vs. wrath, kind of like Rick, or it is mercy vs. wrath with some issues of strategy and practicality mixed in.
I think the latter, actually. She’s very smart and I think she’s calculating and trying to figure her way out of what seems to be pretty much a tough, tough situation that most people wouldn’t make it out. She’s trying to keep that part of herself, maybe keep that part of Glenn and Hershel inside of her and keep it alive. I guess that’s all human beings. I feel like Alden kind of has cracked through a little bit and allowed her to make what she feels is the right decision for everybody.
You guys obviously have to film some really heavy stuff on this show, but I always find myself sometimes with a weird little smile on my face whenever Eugene is onscreen. I just know some weird ass vocabulary is about to come out of his mouth. Are his scenes fun to film in that way that they’re always just a little off-kilter?
Yeah, it’s always been that way for me. I’ve found myself, even when I was the [director of photography], watching Eugene when he’s in the deep background. I can’t stop watching Josh [McDermitt] and the character he’s created. When you mix in all of his dialogue, it’s hilarious. You always go on a ride with Josh and he’s always so prepared and so tight.
So we see Negan at the very end of this episode. He has a new plan, and it’s one that’s familiar to comic book readers of using walker blood as a weapon. What can you tease in terms of what’s coming up with that?
Well, he’s probably going to do something about his big plan. There was so much presentation in that scene. He’s probably got to try it out. Whatever it is, it was a big show for all his people. A lot of times you take the act on the road.
For more Walking Dead scoop, follow Dalton on Twitter @DaltonRoss.