Anatomy of a Kill: Behind the beheadings on 'The Walking Dead'
The fourth season of The Walking Dead has had a slew of awesomely violent zombie slayings, and there will no doubt be even more during Sunday's ballyhooed finale. But nothing has quite matched the intensity of a certain scene in Episode 409, aka "After."
When Michonne, played with seething calm by Danai Gurira, realizes she wants to live and not wander the woods like the zombies encircling her, she goes action-hero berserko with her trademark katana, lopping off undead heads with ninja grace.
According to Greg Nicotero, the special-effects guru who directed "After," that notoriously blood-soaked scene was originally written quite differently.
And quite cheaper.
"Michonne has something like 23 walkers following her in the field," Nicotero tells me about the shooting script that day. "We had about eight to 10 actual onscreen kills budgeted. We had only choreographed the first 10 or so, working out the particulars of the effects and stunts."
That was the plan. After all, slaying zombies costs cash. According to a 2013 Hollywood Reporter article, an average episode of The Walking Dead costs about $2.75 million to make, and special effects jack up the cost.
"But then Danai just kept going," says Nicotero, a touch of awe in his voice. The actor fought enemies both real and imagined, an unfettered ballet of butt-kicking. "And I let her go. She was getting more fatigued as the scene went on, slashing to the left, slashing to the right."
Finally, Gurira, winded and perplexed, stopped and shouted rather profanely at Nicotero: "You (mother of all expletives), you never said cut!"
Nicotero recalls telling her: "I didn't want to cut because I loved what was happening to you."
Budget be damned, in the final print, Michonne racks up 18 or 19 onscreen kills.
And who cut the check for that?
"That's where my executive producer credit comes in handy." Nicotero says with a laugh.