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This is Part II of AMCtv.com’s two-part report from the set of The Walking Dead. Click here to read Part I. New Dispatches From the Set are released every week throughout the production.
As the zombies gather on set and Greg Nicotero instructs one of his makeup artists to collect several gallons of dark zombie blood — and a few gallons more of the thinner blood to pool up on the ground — Andrew Lincoln receives instructions on handling a new piece of animal control equipment. “This is the craziest thing I’ve ever done,” he tells Denise Huth, The Walking Dead‘s producer. “On this show, that’s saying something,” she replies.
Jon Bernthal, meanwhile, is with The Walking Dead‘s props master, John Sanders, an expert in firearms. He’s loaded a semi-automatic handgun with quarter-round blanks that will cause the gun’s slide to pull and eject a shell, but produce little actual firepower.
“There’re seven rounds in here,” Sanders tells Bernthal, instructing him to fire six aiming at his torso and the final directly at his forehead.
“You sure?” Bernthal asks hesitantly.
“Do it,” Sanders assures, bracing.
The gun pops six times rapidly, then Bernthal hesitates once more before squeezing the trigger with the gun at Sanders’s face. Pop.
“I hated doing that,” he says afterward.
I ask Bernthal if he thinks he’ll experience the same hesitation when the cameras are rolling. “Oh I’m gonna do it,” he tells me. “When the camera’s on, the camera’s on. You lose all sense of fear, morality, everything.”
The first assistant director, Polly Matson, interrupts us: They’re ready to roll. “Alright everybody,” she shouts to the crowd of actors and crew. “We’re going to be shooting with full rounds, raise your hands if you want earplugs.” Sanders gives a brief safety lecture, the cameras roll and MacLaren yells action.
It’s lunchtime and I sit in an overcrowded, mercifully air-conditioned trailer known as the lunchbox. Beside me, Jon Bernthal is eating a stack of steaks like pancakes — he’s recently embraced a diet mandating an overabundance of protein and little else — but I’m here to talk to MacLaren.
I ask her about the footage I’ve just seen filmed — about half of what’s required to put together the final scene. It’s complicated and repetitive, a dance of some 15 actors and even more extras, playing out the same 20 seconds over and over again. “I plan everything out like a military operation,” she tells me, admitting that this is the one scene in the episode that’s been making her nervous. “I don’t think you’re gonna get everything you need if you don’t approach it that way, but you also have to accept you’re not gonna get all the shots you want.”
Indeed, the morning’s footage is enough to tell the story that episode writer Scott Gimple has envisioned. But MacLaren would have preferred to do more “squibbing” with the extras. “We made the decision that it’s time to move on,” she laments. “Hopefully we’ll be able to go back and get some more pieces later today.”
It’s the end of the day. The sun is setting behind a large elm tree, underneath which Jeffrey DeMunn sits with his signature rifle propped beside him. He’s actually had little to do today, his character Dale only approaches his battle-worn, fellow survivors at the end of the scene. So he’s made the tree his home; here he leans back with a paperback novel and surveys the action. Back home in upstate New York, his wife is living in her own apocalypse, having lost power in the wake of Hurricane Irene. “The old man finally sprung for a generator,” he tells me, referring to himself in the third person.
Nearby, crew members are erecting large spotlights to augment the sun’s final rays and give MacLaren one more chance to capture the footage she passed on before lunch. Andrew Lincoln rests on a cooler as he waits for the lights, peeling an orange.
Jon Bernthal approaches. “Richard,” he addresses Lincoln. “Shamus,” Lincoln replies, handing Bernthal half the orange. They’re both hoarse — evidently, no one won the bet — and exhausted. They sit, chewing side-by-side on the cooler and watching the sun dip over the horizon.
“Alright everybody,” first A.D. Matson screams again. “We’re gonna be shooting with full rounds again. Raise your hands if you want ear plugs.”
Bernthal and Lincoln rise. Lincoln shoves the rest of the orange in his mouth and steps in front of the cameras, where he waits to hear MacLaren yell, “Action!”