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Dispatches From the Set – Season Premiere Director Gwyneth Horder-Payton

The director of The Walking Dead‘s Season 2 premiere talks about her affinity for horror, old-lady zombies, and her most memorable moment on The Walking Dead set. New Dispatches From the Set are released every week throughout the production.

Q: We’ve heard a lot about a highway snarled with traffic. What was it like to choreograph that?

A: It was a challenge. There were so many vignettes within the pileup — all these connected bits, people under the cars who had to see certain people under other cars. I already had a plan — and then we did a model — but then to do it on the site, you still have to make sure you could get under the cars and pick the right cars to get under. You can’t get under most cars, so it was like a combination of suburban soccer mom cars and redneck trucks.

Q: You directed Episode 3 of Season 1, which predominately took place at the survivor camp. How did this compare?

A: That was a director’s dream. I was up there with a total of 18 actors who couldn’t go to their trailers because it took too long, so basically we’re up there with a semi-air-conditioned RV which is sort of not really working. So, people were just out there sitting and panting and sweating. After five days, this Stockholm syndrome set in and they felt very dependent on me. It was a great bonding experience. It was also a major character episode, where you found out who people were and what the relationships were between each other. For this episode, it felt like there was almost no dialogue. There was a lot of creeping around… But, I still had 11 actors who go around as one bunch, so it’s this interesting little pipe tribe. It’s like who goes first and then who goes next and why?

Q: You also directed one of the scarier episodes of AMC’s The Killing — Episode 3, “El Diablo.” What makes you so adept at horror?

A: I don’t know why that is. It’s really weird. As a child, I did only read Edgar Allen Poe, Sherlock Holmes, Agatha Christie, but that’s not really horror. I wouldn’t have thought that I would go necessarily in this direction. I guess it’s the humans getting caught in extreme situations and seeing how they react. I certainly like dark, and I don’t mind being in an atmosphere where I’m surrounded by chewed up bodies. I have a great picture of a zombie from last night. It’s a very old lady sitting there all chewed up and in between takes, she was knitting. It looked like “Whistler’s Mother” as a zombie.

Q: Does anything freak you out?

A: People behaving badly freaks me out. People not acting in good form, that does freak me out. But these people don’t do that. I think that usually people are always trying to do a good job. Every once in a while, though, there’s something else going on…

Q: What was the most memorable moment on-set?

A: Hmm, we went through several driving RV scenes. There was a small group of crew members in the back of the RV, Andy’s driving and he’s a very good driver, but he is going fast away from the exploding CDC and he has to make a hard right turn, and we’re all in the back and the scene back there is just absolutely absurd: Everything is just flying. The boom guy comes literally flying six feet through the air and lands on the script supervisor. [Laughs]

Q: What has The Walking Dead taught you about surviving the apocalypse?

A: What we discovered is that when you suddenly find yourself a member of a very small tribe who can’t wander very far, the notions of public and private change. People have to give moments of privacy to people even though they’re sitting five feet away. So you have Lori and Rick who want to have a private moment, but can’t walk away so they have a private moment within a group.

Q: Do you get the same feeling on set?

A: Now, that’s interesting. The social structure of set life has nothing to do with post-zombie apocalypse. But people are thrown together to make a movie or make a TV show. As a director, I’m thrown in there and I work with these people intensely for seven or eight days, and you tell these people secrets the first day that you wouldn’t tell even some of your friends. It happens. You have to bond immediately in order to get through this thing. And then, it’s over and as director it’s very painful because you leave and you may never see them again.

Click here to read a Season 2 set interview with The Walking Dead‘s writer, director and executive producer Frank Darabont

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