Spoiler Warning: Do not read on unless you’ve seen “The Walking Dead” season five, episode nine, titled “What Happened and What’s Going On.”
No one can accuse “The Walking Dead” of holding on to characters too long. It was just two months ago that fans said goodbye to Beth Greene (Emily Kinney) in the midseason finale. In tonight’s midseason premiere, they had to do the same for Tyreese (Chad L. Coleman), who joined the show back in season three and leaves behind his sister, Sasha (Sonequa Martin-Green).
It was a powerful, potentially divisive, installment, and Variety asked executive producer and the episode’s director Greg Nicotero to talk us through the decision to lose Tyreese at this point, what it was like for Coleman on set, working with some very special guest stars and what lies ahead for the survivors after these brutal back-to-back losses.
Why Tyreese and why now?
Tyreese has had a great story, he’s been on a great journey. Ever since the beginning of season four we’ve noticed that Tyreese was struggling. He’s standing at the fence talking to his girlfriend and he says, “Listen I don’t like killing (walkers) at the fence any more.” He goes out and the helicopter falls through the Big Spot roof and he comes back and says, “I don’t like killing them in here either.” He’s clearly having some issues. Then his girlfriend is murdered and her body’s burned up, and two little girls die. So Tyreese’s real reason for pushing so hard to survive was for the baby, for Judith. Now that he’s reunited with Rick… I think it’s a world where he’s having a hard time accepting that he would want to live there.
It seems it’s dangerous to be a voice of morality or doubt on this show.
Tyreese experienced a little girl murdering her sister — the world is not a place he’s comfortable in. He tries to make Noah comfortable about the prospect of his family still being alive, but ultimately it’s a brutal world. Tyreese doesn’t want to kill people with his bare hands. He’s holding out some hope that humanity might prevail. Sadly, the world isn’t necessarily meant for everybody.
The walker attack seems random, but do you think it could’ve happened to anyone? Or was it because he wasn’t on as high alert as someone like Michonne?
Well, when he’s looking at the picture on the wall, it harkens back to that sense of innocence lost that he’s dealt with so much. He stared at those pictures probably a little too long, maybe longing for the world the way it used to be. In doing that he wasn’t focusing on what was happening right in front of him in the real world. He was lost in what the world once was. He blinked.
And you can’t do that.
Not in our world.
When do you find out you’re directing an episode featuring the death of a regular cast member?
I found out about a month and a half before we were supposed to start shooting. I was maybe going to have to pull out to direct a pilot for Ridley Scott, and I remember saying to Scott (Gimple), “It’ll be tight but I’m going to try to do it.” And he said to me, “I really want you to because we’re saying goodbye to a lead character.” I’ve had a great relationship with Chad, I directed some of his first big scenes in the series. Having that opportunity to direct the actors when they first get on the show and then sending them out, it’s important. Chad said the same thing to me that Jeff DeMunn (Dale) said and Michael Rooker (Merle) said, “It sucks going out, but if I’ve gotta go I’m glad you’re the guy doing it.”
What was Chad’s mood like during filming?
He loved the script and was very, very happy with the character development and what happened on the show for him. It wasn’t sad or depressing — no anger. He was excited about the challenge of playing these fantastic emotional moments where Tyreese can defend himself and the reasons why he did the things he did.
You also got to work with some familiar faces from the past, as Tyreese hallucinates several characters who have passed on: Beth, Bob, Martin, Lizzie, Mika and the Governor.
Having the chance to have David Morrissey back, and Brighton Sharbino (Lizzie) and Kyla Kenedy (Mika) — it’s fun to bring them back. We’ve done it before with Sarah Wayne Callies and Jon Bernthal. It’s kind of like if you die on our show, you’re not really dead. David had a blast, I don’t ever remember seeing him so excited. It’s a lot to do with the cast and the crew we have working with us. Everybody wants to come back if there’s an opportunity.
It reminded me of the phone calls Rick receives in “Hounded,” but this was even more striking to see them all there in the flesh. How did you pull it off — were all the actors really there at the same time?
Yeah, they were all there. We didn’t want it to feel like they were ghosts, we wanted to make sure everyone was interacting with (Tyreese). There were a few instances where we panned from the girls over to Emily (Kinney) or the Governor would walk through. But these are all fevered visions from (Tyreese’s) dream. We could do whatever we wanted to do, there weren’t any rules to follow.
Tyreese’s death feels even more tragic because he ultimately decides he wants to fight.
He does and I think that’s what makes it such a great story. You really do feel he’s gonna make the decision to survive and that’s what he should do. I watched it the other night and I was so sad when it was over. I kind of forgot how sad and emotional it was. I’m tremendously proud of the episode, even though I’m gonna have a lot of people yelling at me on Monday: “How could you!?”
It does come right on the heels of losing Beth. What do those back-to-back losses mean for the story going forward?
We don’t kill characters just to kill characters, it all plays into where the story is going. Tyreese’s death and Beth’s death being back-to-back like that, the important thing about it is it really affects our group. You’ll see the result of it over the next several episodes — the loss of these people. What are they going to do? How are they going to survive? Their predicament resonates because of the deaths of these two characters.
We haven’t yet seen Maggie’s full reaction to losing Beth and we barely get to see Sasha in this episode. Will we be seeing both of them deal with losing their siblings in future episodes?
Yes. One of the toughest things when we did season three was Merle dies in episode 15, and in episode 16 there’s not even a mention of him being gone.
Because it’s total chaos.
Yeah. I remember Norman Reedus saying, “Don’t I get a chance to grieve him for one episode?” So, yes, we’re certainly cognizant of that.
Tyreese doesn’t mention Sasha in the episode either, was there any discussion about that?
What’s important is how his death affects her and her state of mind in upcoming episodes. There’s one beautiful moment at the end of the script when everybody is shoveling dirt into the grave and you see Daryl hold up the shovel to Sasha — the look on her face, you can tell something has died in her.