Director Meera Menon talks The Walking Dead ‘Bounty’ (Exclusive)

NEW YORK, NY - APRIL 19: Director Meera Menon speaks on stage at the Tribeca Talks After The Movie: Equity at SVA Theatre 2 on April 19, 2016 in New York City. (Photo by Robin Marchant/Getty Images for Tribeca Film Festival)
NEW YORK, NY - APRIL 19: Director Meera Menon speaks on stage at the Tribeca Talks After The Movie: Equity at SVA Theatre 2 on April 19, 2016 in New York City. (Photo by Robin Marchant/Getty Images for Tribeca Film Festival) /

Undead Walking had a chance to talk with Meera Menon, the director who brought The Walking Dead “Bounty” to life. She had a lot to say about this intense episode.

It seems like every episode of The Walking Dead season 9 has racheted up the action and drama with every episode. Now that we’re three episodes into the back half of the season fans are starting to see where the road is going. After “Bounty” there is no denying that the Whisperers are the most terrifying threat the survivors have ever seen. We had a chance to speak with director Meera Menon, who masterfully brought Matt Negrete’s script to life with the perfect balance of suspense and levity.

Menon is no stranger to The Walking Dead universe. While this is her first episode of the flagship show, she started out directing an episode of Fear the Walking Dead. In fact, the episode she directed was season 3’s chilling “This Land Is Your Land” and yes, there are some (unintentional) parallels between the two episodes.

Throughout the conversation Menon had nothing but praise for the cast of The Walking Dead. She’s fond of working with the veterans, but she really had high praise for the newcomers to the cast and the work they did in this episode.

We talked with Menon about the challenges bringing an episode of this magnitude to life.

(Undead Walking) This episode started out with a whole lot of action in the first two minutes, and those two moments really carry the whole episode. It goes very quickly between the past, with Jesus and a newly departed Tara, and then there’s a huge jump.

(Meera Menon) That’s definitely something to be said on the writers’ part, and it’s something I talked to Angela about with to understand where you are in time in the episode. I think that it nicely provides a frame to understand it. You see Ezekiel and the charter and that moment that was lost. He was given the charter in that opening scene like he can be the purveyor of hope moving forward in the future, and then moving forward in the future the reality is different. But it was smart of [the writers] to give him that kind of optimism, which is still very much Ezekiel’s character and being as a person, and that sense of optimism and hopefulness can kind of contextualize why he was given that charter [at the beginning of the episode].

There’s this interesting juxtaposition between Ezekiel’s joy in the episode and what happens later in the episode at Hilltop with Alpha and the baby. What was it like going back and forth between those moments of levity with Ezekiel and Jerry where you can’t help but smile even when you’re banging your head into the wall because they’re risking so much going after a light bulb and this immense sense of doom and dread within the same episode?

I think you hit the nail on the head in terms of what the challenge of the episode was. It was a conversation I had every day with Matt Negrete about how to tonally balance the whimsy of the Kingdom and how that fits into the episode with the sense of danger that’s there. It’s interesting to see that while learning more about the Whisperers and their code of conduct and their laws. So you have to balance that with the tone and levity of what the Kingdom is doing, and keep that storyline as earnest as possible. Matt and I kept talking about how if you really believe in Ezekiel’s mission and reasoning that kids watching the movie is so important to sustaining life in the community, and if we were able to sell that as an inspired idea that a person would willingly put himself in that kind of danger then it would balance out well.

When you first saw the script and you saw that moment with Alpha where she so effortlessly gives a look to the mother because the baby was crying. She doesn’t have to say anything, which suggests it’s not the first time something like this has happened. Last week Lydia was triggered by the sound of the baby and now it makes sense because maybe babies don’t fare well in this group: It’s clearly not the first time this has happened. What was it like when you saw that moment in the script, and what was it like on set going into that scene.

It really felt like a suspensful horror movie, like an unimaginable horror moment. The herd of walkers is coming toward the baby on the ground, the tension that serves up and the image that evokes is the kind of thing that really shocks and horrifies you. And you can really anchor it in the reality of what choices and laws govern this group of people. Everyone was really mortified by it but excited to see how we could build that tension in that sequence and make it something. On set, Samantha Morton is so powerful and she sounds like the truth of Alpha’s conviction. She understood how messed up it is that Alpha has made a series of choices because their world would have gone insane otherwise. And they’re sticking to it. They’ve decided that it’s as good an option as any in a world where they aren’t many good options. I think that finding a sense of truth to why Alpha believes the things she does and her sense of conviction is how to really understand her.

This is the first episode of The Walking Dead that you’ve directed but it’s not your first episode in the universe. You directed an episode of Fear the Walking Dead, “This Land is Your Land,” has this sense of claustrophobia where Alicia and the survivors think they’ve found somewhere safe only to realize that there’s no air. And then you have the scene of Connie running through the corn, which is inherently scary, and not being able to hear, which is a similar kind of claustrophobia. Did anything from the Fear episode guide you with “Bounty?”

I hadn’t hadn’t thought of it, but both episodes involve the heightened sense of losing a faculty. In Fear it was losing air, and then losing consciousness. In that episode it was all about playing with the cinematic toolbox, playing with lenses to get that sense of going in and out of focus. That’s similar to how we approached Connie and the corn sequence, where we played with the sound design to really get a feel for her point of view. I remember early on talking with Angela about Connie’s sense of disorientation. It’s also the idea of how camera work and lenses can help support the story.

When it comes to the intensity of the scenes with Alpha and the baby, and even the moments of joy with Ezekiel, what were your instructions to the cast? What was their approach going into filming?

For the Kingdom, they’ve been together for so long that it was really about them getting together and playing games to share their connection…because they have been building that relationship for so long. So for them the focus has been keeping that storyline going and Ezekiel’s mission to raise the spirits of the people despite the danger they’re putting themselves in. That’s what we talked about. Jerry’s kids will be able to see a movie. And that scene outside the theater is where

For Norman and Samantha they were enjoying being able to do the scene for the first time so it was fresh on screen. They talked about it independently but they waited until they were across the gate from one another because they wanted that moment to be fresh and it really worked.

By the end of the episode, seeing everyone in the montage after Alpha left was almost cathartic.

We had a song in mind, and you’re meant to feel that there are moments that are stabilizing. Ultimately with the storyline and the episode I think the idea with the viewing of the montage is that sometimes it’s harder to accept peace than conflict. It also reminds you that there are only hard choices in a world that has broken down this way. And Connie’s intersection at the end is a reminder that everything is not ok and it wasn’t right that Lydia had to go back.

Next. The Walking Dead 911 recap: Bounty. dark

There’s no question that “Bounty” was a turning point in season 9 of The Walking Dead, and we’re thankful to Meera Menon for taking the time to talk with us about this powerful episode. Be sure to follow her at @meeraonthewall to keep up with all of her current projects.