Interview: Michael E. Satrazemis talks The Walking Dead 1011

Undead Walking had a chance to talk with “Morning Star” director Michael E. Satrazemis about bringing an epic episode of The Walking Dead to life.

Director Michael E. Satrazemis has been part of The Walking Dead Family since the very beginning, and he has also been behind the camera for some of the biggest episodes of the show. Undead Walking had a chance to talk with the prolific director about his work on “Morning Star” and he revealed some very intriguing details about bringing this episode to life.

“Morning Star” features the start of the Whisperer War at Hilltop. The survivors are trying to prepare but the Whisperers are proving to be a bigger threat than they ever could have imagined. Bringing a massive episode like that to life is a big job, and it’s no wonder that Satrazemis was tapped for the job.

So far in the second half of season 10, The Walking Dead has played on viewers’ fears of caves and cramped dark spaces, and then in 1010 we have Beta doing his best Jason Vorhees impression. How does the creative team manage to keep finding new ways to keep the excitement building after 10 years?

You have to applaud Angela [Kang] for that. I think the thing about this episode that was amazing to me is the wind up of this whole season builds to these amazing complications between every character, and then all of the characters and their relationships with each other. That’s what was really nice about everything leading up to the battle, that you bring in impending doom and it affects your life to where a lot of characters start to realize that there is no way out and may be losing people that they care about and that they love. There are so many things that were unsaid that need to be said.

You have a knack for finding ways to really bring together the lighthearted moments with the really dark ones to keep the episode balanced, like Eugene doing his apocalyptic Tinder while everything is falling apart. 

Apocalyptic Tinder, so good! It’s important to have Eugene and that relationship blossoming and really have it balancing the episode. It was very heavy, it was very deep, and we know what it’s going to build to. I thought we did that really well, just having Josh [McDermitt] to bring that to the scene between Eugene and Rosita, Rosita was also just amazing. And I was like, shoot, I love Christian and I love Josh so much, and I love those two characters and those scenes were really fun to shoot.  

What was it like bringing that massive battle scene to life? It looks like you’re in the middle of the action the whole time. Was it a lot of stunt work and explosions and a lot of things that needed to be choreographed? And then on top of that it’s all done in the dark, which is a theme for you these days… (Author’s note: Satrazemis most recently directed 1011, 1009 and 908, which are all known for big scenes shot in the dark)

Some of the things in that scene had to be planned out well in advance. Before I got the script I got the outline for that act, for the battle, because we had to lay it all out. We had to talk about the frontier lines and the sapping and how to get everyone sapped, and then show everyone reacting to the sap. And then there was the fenceline, because we had to show everyone being doused. And then there are the discussions about how many walkers we need, the stunt work we need and then there’s the fire. So there was a lot to work out before I even started prepping the episode, so I’ve been working on it for quite a while. But the payoff was worth it, and I love that the audience is right in the middle of it. 

That buildup certainly helped to create a ton of very memorable scenes in the episode, from Eugene and Rosita to Carol and Ezekiel, and that powerful exchange between Daryl and Judith. 

There was an endless amount of amazing scenes. That’s when you realize it; once I met with everyone and you see the wealth of talent that we have and such amazing characters. It’s so well written, you know, Julia [Ruchman] and Vivan [Tse] wrote an amazing script. That was just an amazing script, and having these kinds of actors. This is the most fun I’ve had in a long time. And that’s my job. I love the show, and I love Fear, and this is all a blessing. 

Your love for your work really shows. And you’ve been with the show for so long, since the beginning. I don’t know if this is a coincidence or if there’s something to it, but we’re three episodes into the back half of season 10, you directed two of three of those episodes and those episodes both featured a little freaky deaky. So…is that a coincidence, or are you going to be the freaky deaky director?

[Laughter] I feel like I might get into trouble here. You’d have to ask Angela about that!

Getting back to safer territory, you’ve been working with Melissa McBride and Norman Reedus from the beginning and “Morning Star” was a huge episode for them both. Could you talk about what it’s like from your perspective seeing their evolution?

I think it’s kind of two sided. The evolution of Melissa and Norman from the beginning they were amazing actors. I remember Melissa from the beginning blowing my mind. And Norman just being so into it and giving it everything he had. They’re two of the greatest actors I know.

Daryl and Carol, boy. Talk about soulmates! I’d need way more time than we have to get into that. The nice thing about having 1009 and 1011 is getting Carol really getting into that confrontation and then in this episode getting that scene where Norman goes “I’m not going to hate you” and then they don’t embrace, but him knowing that they might die and him wanting to give her that. I thought that was so beautiful. It’s the smallest scene and it really affected me and I think it’s going to bring some tears, that’s for sure. 

And they’re so good [together]. You just let them go. 

Did Cailey Fleming paint Daryl’s vest?

When they came up with [the idea that Judith would paint Daryl’s vest] I said that we should have her paint it herself. It’s important to have her be involved with it, and so we had her paint it. Cailey designed it, she picked the colors, she put the stars on it. And we just gave her a template for size. So that was all Cailey.

Thanks go out to Michael Satrazemis for taking the time to chat with us during a break on set. His insight into the show and into the episodes he brings to life is always appreciated.