On the set of “The Walking Dead.” From left: Norman Reedus (Daryl), Lily Mariye, Lauren Cohan (Maggie), Josh Hamilton (Lance). (Photo courtesy of Lily Mariye)

By J.K. YAMAMOTO, Rafu Staff Writer

Though remembered by some for playing Nurse Lily Jarvik on “ER” from 1994 to 2009, Lily Mariye has spent the last few years building up her resume as a director. Her recent credits include “NCIS: Los Angeles,” “How to Get Away with Murder,” “MacGyver” and “The Terror: Infamy.”

One of her latest adventures has been entering the world of “The Walking Dead.” She directed one episode of the long-running show, titled “Trust,” that will air on April 3, and two episodes of a spinoff series, “The Walking Dead: World Beyond.”

“The Walking Dead,” which premiered in 2010, is set in a post-apocalyptic world where most of the population has been wiped out by a plague. But the virus, whose origin is unknown, reanimates the dead as mindless, flesh-eating zombies. They can be killed (again) by shooting or stabbing them in the head, but they often travel in herds and their numbers can be overwhelming.

There are communities of survivors, but since civilization has collapsed and resources are limited, the living can be as dangerous as the dead. Communities that appear to be friendly often turn out to be hiding a dark secret.

“I had watched the first five seasons of ‘The Walking Dead’ when they were released beginning in 2010, but caught back up with Seasons 9, 10 and the season I directed, 11, as they were released,” Mariye said. “I was also given all the scripts to read for Season 11 before my episode (15) so that I would be all caught up with the storylines.

“I was always a fan and directing this show was something I have wanted for the last 12 years!”

The show has a high body count, but two cast members, Norman Reedus (Daryl) and Melissa McBride (Carol), have been regulars since the beginning. Other long-time cast members include Lauren Cohan (Maggie) and Jeffrey Dean Morgan (Negan), and there is tension between the characters because Negan murdered Maggie’s husband Glenn (Steven Yeun) in Season 7.

On the set of “The Walking Dead: World Beyond.” From left: Natalie Gold (Dr. Lyla Belshaw), Pollyanna McIntosh (Jadis), Lily Mariye.

“World Beyond,” on the other hand, is a new show that was conceived as a limited series — two seasons, 10 episodes each. The series, whose finale aired in December, focused on young people who came of age during the zombie apocalypse.

For “World Beyond,” “I watched the entire first season and read all the scripts prior to my episodes,” Mariye said.

“We shot ‘The Walking Dead’ in a little town just south of Atlanta, Georgia called Senoia,” she recalled. “Production had bought a housing development there that had stalled due to lack of money and they completed construction. So these three blocks of houses were surrounded by a tall metal fence, and they built one of the sets there. And housed the directors and actors there as well! There was 24/7 security and a guard gate, so no one could enter without permission.

“That was fun and surreal at the same time, but I never felt safer, and the house I was given during my stay was a four-story brownstone. I’ve never felt more well cared for as a visiting director.

“‘The Walking Dead: World Beyond’ was shot in Richmond, Virginia. There is a lot of filming done there and we were very fortunate to have a very experienced crew who have worked on many extraordinary shows such as ‘Homeland,’ ‘Mercy Street,’ ‘Turn.’”

The two shows take place in the same universe, but are different in tone, Mariye noted. “With ‘The Walking Dead: World Beyond,’ we were creating a whole new world, with new characters, so along with the freedom of imagination that brings, there were also a lot of challenges along the way. I’ve worked on quite a few first-season shows and there’s always a learning curve.

The world of “The Walking Dead” is populated by zombies, often referred to as “walkers.” (AMC)

“Plus, this was the first show I accepted since the pandemic started. I waited to begin work again once the vaccine had come out, so we all had to show proof of vaccination, wear masks and were tested three times a week. There’s a certain level of stress that comes with working under these conditions, but the producers, writers, cast and crew were amazing.

“‘The Walking Dead’ is an established show, with beloved characters, produced like a well-oiled machine. The showrunner is an Asian American woman, Angela Kang, who sets the tone for the show to allow everyone to be their most creative. Directing this show was one of the best experiences I’ve ever had and I’m so grateful I got to direct one before the show comes to a close this season.

“I felt like ‘The Walking Dead: World Beyond’ had a lovely, lyrical tone and I wish they had gotten to go longer.”

You won’t hear any of the characters using the word “zombies.” “The franchise prefers to use the term ‘walkers’ or ‘the undead.’ Every horror film or TV show has their set of rules about their world, and this was theirs. I respect that,” Mariye explained.

There is a third series in the franchise, “Fear the Walking Dead,” which is set in the western U.S. and includes cast members Lennie James (Morgan) and Austin Amelio (Dwight) from the original series. Is Mariye planning a “Walking Dead” trifecta?

“It’s not on my slate right now, but I would love to go back to direct any of ‘The Walking Dead’ franchise,” she said.

Asked if she gained any insights on directing zombies, Mariye replied, “Keep your hands and fingers away from their mouths.”

Other Projects

Since “The Walking Dead,” Mariye has directed two episodes of a new show for Netflix, “Partner Track,” starring Arden Cho, written and produced by Georgia Lee, based on the book by Helen Wan. “It’s about an Asian American female attorney and her friends as they try to make partner at a very conservative, established law firm in New York City. I loved working with this cast and crew.

“We dealt with a lot of COVID shutdowns and pauses. I started directing this Nov. 4 and just finished yesterday (March 2)! It took four months to complete.”

During one of the shut-downs, Mariye directed an episode of the ABC/Hulu series “Promised Land” that will air on March 21. “With a really talented cast and extraordinary writer/producers, headed by Matt Lopez, ‘Promised Land’ is about a successful Latino family who own a vineyard in Northern California, tracing their roots as they immigrated to the U.S. I really related to this story and was thrilled to direct it.”

In November, Mariye moderated a DGA (Directors Guild of America) discussion with Chloe Zhao, who won an Oscar for “Nomadland.” 

“I had never met Chloe, even though as co-chair of the DGA Asian American Committee, we were excited about her coming on board for our Advisory Board,” Mariye said. “I was very inspired to see a female Asian director winning the Oscar. Representation is so important. Seeing people who look like us enables us to dream as big as our imaginations allow us.

“Before I moderated the ‘Craft of the Director’ episode for the DGA, I watched all her films, including ‘The Eternals,’ which I saw at a Saturday matinee in New York City with about 20 other people. I loved it because I find that in watching action films and television directed by women, I enjoy the ‘female gaze,’ or the female perspective.

“Akira Kurosawa was a master at conveying his characters’ deep thoughts and feelings. Many other men accomplish the same emotional connection as well, but I find a particular affinity for how women present that.”

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