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The Walking Dead Boss on Glenn's Fake-Out Death: We Weren't Playing With People's Emotions

Plus: He breaks down what the latest death means for Rick

Adam Bryant

[WARNING: The following story contains spoilers from Sunday's finale of The Walking Dead. Read at your own risk.]

Sunday's midseason finale of The Walking Dead was perhaps the least bloody season-ender the show has ever done. But that was all by design.

Even though Deanna (Tovah Feldshuh) met an untimely end and Morgan (Lennie James) and Carol (Melissa McBride) had a stand-off in the "all life is precious debate," executive producer Greg Nicotero says that the show purposefully wanted to take a breather after the "epic" events of the first half of the season and before the show introduces one of its most iconic villains, Negan.

The Walking Dead: Who died in the midseason finale?
However, even though the body count wasn't as high, Nicotero suggests that the table has been set for an exciting second half of the season, particularly as it applies to Rick (Andrew Lincoln) now fully taking the reins at Alexandria. Of course, the question remains: After the controversial fake-out death of Glenn (Steven Yeun) earlier in the season, will the audience continue to follow the show?
Read on for Nicotero's take on the big finale moments and why he doesn't think the Glenn story line worked exactly as planned.

This finale had a low body count compared to others. What was the thinking behind that?
Greg Nicotero:
I think we're setting up for the second half of the season. The first half of the season has been big and epic and sprawling, and I think by ending with the overrun of Alexandria and then leading into the introduction to Negan, we're setting up some of our stakes for the second half of the season.

The Walking Dead and more TV's biggest fake-out deaths

Deanna's death did have some significance for Rick, however, who seems to have finally accepted the Alexandrians as "his people."
[This season] was, without a doubt, setting up Rick's journey where he has to learn in a very hard way that in order to survive, it's no longer us and them. It's a very hard lesson for Rick to learn and a hard transition for him to make. But clearly, we can see that Rick has begun a transformation into somebody who's less concerned about just protecting his group but concerned about protecting all of Alexandria.
But is Deanna right about Rick? Has he fully made that change?
I think so. I definitely think that it's a step in the right direction for him, especially given where he was at the end of last season. He showed up and he basically said, "You're all going to die here. You guys are not going to make it unless you do what we tell you to do." It was a very maniacal way of looking at things, and I feel like the circumstances of just surviving and living in this world have changed dramatically over the last seven episodes. Even in Episode 7, when Rick sees Spencer trying to make a go for the cars. ... I don't even think Rick knows why he [saved Spencer]; he just did it. So, I think we're honing in on who Rick is versus who he believes he is.

Another big debate of this season was between Rick and Morgan and, last night, between Carol and Morgan. Given what happened with the Wolf, was Carol proven correct in her belief that you have to kill bad people in this world?
Nicotero: It's just two clashing ideologies. Carol doesn't want to have to kill, but she has become this reluctant executioner for the greater good of the group. ... Morgan says, "All life is precious," but Carol is like, "All life isn't precious. If I have to kill somebody in order to allow other people to survive, that's what I have to do." I think the fact that the "W" man took Denise at gunpoint did prove Carol correct in terms of her interpretation of people. But there's a reluctance in having to square off with Morgan. ... There's a great conflict that is developing within Carol that we saw a lot of where she was willing to go up against Morgan for her beliefs that this guy should not be allowed to live.

Why The Walking Dead's latest death needs to stick

Will Morgan be persuaded to change his thinking based on what happened?
Both of them are strong-willed people and both of them believe very strongly in what their current mission is. But I think it's safe to say that one of them will probably be forced to rethink their position.
Deanna certainly went out in her own blaze of glory. Why was it significant for her character?
Nicotero: Deanna signified strength in Alexandria. She was smart, and she was planning for the future. The reason she brought Rick and his group in was because she realized that they were not necessarily equipped to protect themselves. We saw Deanna's transformation into somebody who realizes that Rick is someone that would benefit their group. She went out on her own terms. She could have just as easily pulled the trigger when she put the gun under her own chin, but I think she was too proud. By doing her part and shooting the walkers in the hallway, that was her standing up against the threat that overtook her city. She took her death well and imparted her last bits of wisdom onto Rick and onto Michonne and really laid the groundwork to see how her death will affect Michonne. ... Maggie was her protégé, but Deanna chose to hand the plans for the expansion of Alexandria to Michonne because she knows that Michonne is investing in living and invested in the future.
So is this the end of Alexandria, or is Rick planning to make another stand?
Where we left off was that they were heading to the armory to get weapons to defend Alexandria. So, that is the current plan and seems to make sense.
And Glenn has made his way back to Alexandria finally. What's his mission in the second half of the year?
Glenn has always been a binding force in the group. He's always been Rick's confidante, much like Hesrhel was. I think by convincing Enid that she does not need to wonder around in a dead world alone, that there is a reason for her to continue onward, that speaks volumes for what he has in store for Alexandria.

The Walking Dead (finally!) reveals Glenn's fate -- but does it even matter?

Well, we have to address how Glenn hung over this season. Why was it necessary to play with the audience's emotions to tell this story?
I don't feel that it was playing with people's emotions. When these people leave Alexandria and go on a run, they never know if they're going to see them again or not. The story that we really told was that Daryl, Sasha, Abraham, Glenn and Nicholas -- none of them have returned. Rosita said last night, "I feel like Abraham is dead." [There's] that uncertainty of not knowing whether these people are alive or not. So, what we did was we put that uncertainty in the hands of the audience and we allowed the audience to experience what our group experiences every time somebody leaves.

But many,myself included, have argued that it hurts the show's credibility going forward. Do you think it was worth it?
The fact that people had such an outpouring of emotion and people literally begged for Glenn not to be dead, that just shows how invested people are in Steven's performance and his character. It really made people uncomfortable with the fact that in that world, this might be a reality that people have to deal with every single day. To me, one of the most gut-wrenching aspects of living in that world is would be not knowing if you're ever going to see the people who leave again. It's a powerful emotion. We allowed the audience to experience that emotion by not knowing whether or not someone had survived.
That final teaser hinted at the introduction of Negan. How much of a threat will be he and his group be in the second half of the season?
What I love about that sequence is that it really is launching us into the second half of the season. This is somebody we haven't really been in contact with much because our group has been so caught up with redirecting the walker herd. It's an exciting time for The Walking Dead. It's introducing a new threat, it's taking our story off into a different direction. And I think the threat of Negan and his group will continue to become a disturbing and prevalent force as the second half of the season unfolds.
The Walking Dead returns Sunday, Feb. 14 at 9/8c. What did you think of the finale?