The godfather of the zombie genre, George A. Romero, turned down the opportunity to direct an episode of The Walking Dead. Currently in its ninth season, The Walking Dead is unquestionably the most popular zombie television series of all time and, based on the successful comic of the same name, has gone on to spawn spinoffs, video games and untold amounts of merchandise. It was also recently announced that the franchise would be moving into the realm of movies, producing three films centered on the show's recently departed lead, Rick Grimes.
When it comes to the movies however, the undisputed king is George A. Romero. In 1968, Romero started the entire zombie horror sub-genre with Night of the Living Dead, and some would say he went on to perfect it with 1978 sequel, Dawn of the Dead. Romero continued working on his zombie series until he sadly passed away last year following a brief battle with cancer. The director is considered a movie icon by many, and is responsible for establishing Hollywood's "rules" for zombies.
Like every zombie movie or TV show, The Walking Dead certainly takes influence from Romero's work, but the director was actually offered the chance to direct an episode of the series. Greg Nicotero, a producer on TWD who has also worked with Romero, confirmed to EW that he suggested the idea but was politely refused, with Romero preferring to keep the worlds of TWD and his own movie series separate. Nicotero explains:
"You know, we loved the idea of George coming onboard. Frank Darabont and I talked about it after the end of season 1. And I had a conversation with George and I said, 'Hey, man, would you ever want to come and direct?' This was after we’d only aired six episodes. So, the show hadn’t really even caught on. And George said, 'No, listen, you guys have your world, and I have my world' and it’s cool. I think he really was still intending on developing some other zombie stuff."
There's no doubt that many fans of The Walking Dead would've loved to see an episode directed by Romero, even if his style was quite far removed from that of the AMC TV series. While Robert Kirkman's world has a dark, modern, gritty feel that often focuses on human drama instead of zombie horror, Romero made the undead more central to his stories and the zombies would often become characters in their own right, rather than just a threat to be avoided or killed. Of course, there are areas of crossover, such as the effect a zombie outbreak has on a person's morality, and it would've been fascinating to see how Romero presented this on The Walking Dead.
With that said, Romero's reasoning for not wanting to direct an episode of the show makes complete sense. Part of the director's legacy is not only the work he created himself, but the wide array of zombie fare inspired by him that put a different spin on the genre. The Walking Dead is the most mainstream example of Romero's influence, but some might argue that by getting creatively involved with the show this inspiration would become too direct, and dilute the elements that make Kirkman's franchise an evolution, rather than an imitation, of what came before.
The Walking Dead season 9 returns February 10, 2019 on AMC.