Exclusive interview: The Walking Dead: The Ones Who Live director on crafting Richonne reunion, and what comes next

Danai Gurira on The Walking Dead: The Ones Who Live.
Michonne and Rick’s quest for love hits a snag. Pic credit: AMC/Gene Page

The Walking Dead: The Ones Who Live has been building up to a reunion of sorts between Rick (Andrew Lincoln) and Michonne (Danai Gurira), and it’s one fans have been waiting more than five years for.

Despite reuniting in the series premiere, they have been continually driven apart by the CRM and Jadis (Pollyanna McIntosh).

Thankfully, that all changed on Sunday’s new episode, which found the lovers working through their issues and reconnecting as they embarked on a mission to return to their loved ones.

Monsters and Critics got to talk to Michael Slovis about directing one of the limited series’ most pivotal episodes and what the events mean for the final episodes.

We have just two episodes left.

Check out the interview below.

Monsters and Critics: I’ve watched episode four three times. It’s just one of those episodes you don’t get very often. Not a single scene is wasted, and it’s so satisfying after waiting so long for this next chapter.

Michael Slovis: I knew when I read this particular block of storytelling, and this particular episode, that it was not like any other episode of Walking Dead that I’ve ever read or seen.

Monsters and Critics: You worked on the original series for a bit. What was it like for you to return to this universe all these years later?

Michael Slovis: It was totally comfortable. It really was, I’ll be honest with you.

I have such a soft spot in my heart for the universe, particularly for Andy, Danai, and Norman [Reedus] from when I worked on the original series. I kept in contact with Danai. I went to see the plays she had written that were performed in New York. The first episode that I did down there, we ended up in a bar after day two or three of shooting, and Danai and I ended up at the end of the bar. We just chatted for hours.

We’ve always got along very well, and I adore Andy as well.

Monsters and Critics: When you worked on the original show, did you ever anticipate you’d get to direct Andrew and Danai in a luxury apartment with a Roomba?

Michael Slovis: The apartment was essential. I was talking to someone before, and they referred to it as a two-hander, but it really is a three-hander because that apartment is a character.

By the way, a lot of thought went into the design of that apartment, which was a set. Obviously, it had to be because it self-destructs at the end. The layout was incredibly important because, with only two people, you needed a specific space for them to move around and physicalize the story.

Monsters and Critics: It was a beautiful location for the story, too.

Michael Slovis: Yeah. And you don’t get bored in there either, right? I was part of the design, the shooting, the editing, and then, as a viewer, I think it works very well as a capsule for telling the story.

Monsters and Critics: There are many big set pieces throughout, like helicopters crashing into buildings, another one trying to blow up the remnants to hide evidence, and a building collapsing at the end. What would you say was the most challenging scene to get right?

Michael Slovis: Crashing a helicopter into the side of a building is easy for me because I don’t have to do it. I work on that with a visual concept person and send it to the post-production folks, who make it happen.

In today’s world, that kind of stuff I don’t want to say I take it for granted because on the level that it’s done and executed in this show, which was significantly, very high—I believed everything that I saw in it. I thought it was very good.

It’s just coming up with the story and creating something that feels organic to it. Honestly, from a technical point of view, the most difficult thing was the apartment and creating a space that was welcoming and expressive of what was going on in their world.

That included the big picture window. We had to reverse engineer all of that from the space we had to work in, from the big picture window to the bed. I knew I wanted the other area, the high-tech area, and the kitchen.

There’s that wonderful moment where they are after they’ve made love and are now going to go out as a team and head into the world. The camera goes right through that vertical room divider, and that was always something I had in there from the very beginning because I wanted that to move. Still, we had to create a situation whereby, as the building started to collapse, you could see it from the bed.

All of that with the big picture window, which is the window to the outside world, was all very intentional, and we labored over it for a very long time.

Monsters and Critics: I have to say it’s not something I’ve ever seen in a movie, let alone a TV series. I think it’s really fantastic what everyone accomplished with this episode.

Michael Slovis: You’re so kind. It was very special to me to do that because you cannot hide behind the action in an episode like this, right? You’re exposed. And even as a director, you’re exposed, not as much as the actors are, because they were emotionally raw and exposed during this episode.

It was a challenge to make it something that would play as organically and as fluidly as it did. And we put a lot of time and a lot of thought into it and how it would work in the end. All three of us, really. Danai was the core, the heartbeat of the episode, obviously, but I have to say, it could be very intimidating directing an episode for the executive producer, your friend, the star of the show, and then there’s just me, but she was so welcoming and an open ear to everything that we brought to the table that helped to move it forward.

Monsters and Critics: You were talking about the emotion throughout the characters. There is so much raw emotion in Michonne and Rick in this episode because they start very much apart, but by the end, they’re together. The episode features so many hurdles for them to get to that stage. The scenes must have been taxing to film. What was the vibe like on the set filming these scenes?

Michael Slovis: The challenge with this script is knowing where you are in the story because, with most television, you don’t shoot in sequence.

We had limits on that because as the building self-destructed, beams would come down, things would fall, and all of that stuff, as props got broken and used for other purposes, we had limitations on how far out of continuity we were able to really shoot, but I still had to constantly remind myself where we were in the story as we moved forward.

All of us who direct television have gotten used to having writers and showrunners around on the set. I was very fortunate to have my writer right there, so I could go to the outfit’s brains and say, “What do you think of this? This is where I think we are.”

We would talk it through and then proceed from that point. If we thought it was too much, we would back it up. If we thought it wasn’t enough, we would move it forward a little more because we didn’t want to upstage that moment. The post-lovemaking moment where we head over the mountain right over the form of the story, if this was a film as initially planned, would have been the catharsis.

This would have been the moment the movie turned. And so, if you look at this as a series, this is the moment in the single story where it turns.

Monsters and Critics: You’ve worked on some fantastic shows throughout your career. What do you look out for as a director when a project comes your way?

Michael Slovis: I’m a really lucky person. I can’t believe I work at all; nonetheless, on some of the shows I’ve been very fortunate enough to work on and be a part of. I look for the writing. I look for the truth, and I look for the stories that come out of the characters rather than stories that are imposed onto characters.

Before I went down there, I had never watched The Walking Dead. When I finally watched it and caught up, I was amazed at how personal it was.

I always thought of it as a show about people who think: Are we stronger as a collective, or are we stronger individually?

That’s what the story was about, and the fact that it was about zombies. Okay, that gave it a visual structure, excitement, and a story, but the real theme is survival, and that’s what Danai hits upon in this episode, isn’t it?

You know, and that’s what she’s saying—everything that we work towards. What was it for, if not for us to rejoin?

The Walking Dead: The Ones Who Live airs Sundays at 9/8c on AMC.

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Jerome Schneider
Jerome Schneider
1 month ago

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