Walking Dead creator Robert Kirkman himself admitted to challenging the AMC series with adapting his comic tiger, “Shiva,” so is Season 7 up to the task? See for yourself, as AMC releases a new photo of Ezekiel’s majestic companion, and bosses explain in-depth how the animatronics and CGI work.

In addition to the new photo of Shiva and Khary Payton’s King Ezekiel below, Entertainment Weekly spoke to executive producer and FX guru Greg Nicotero to flesh out the complicated effects. We’d known that Season 7 would use a combination of practical and computer effects, but the finished product is actually more real than we might realize:

It’s definitely a mix. We started building at the end of February, and I have a tremendous advantage, which is experience with animatronic animals starting way back with Dances with Wolves. So we created the character and the forms digitally, and then output those into full-size standing and sitting animatronic tigers. And then we’ll be supplementing multiple shots. I would say a good portion of it, the majority of it, will be animatronic.

And then we will digitally augment with either moving eyes or moving tail, or we will have a few shots if the creature has to walk, take several steps forward, or turn around, or roar, going from a neutral expression to a roaring expression, we’ll do those shots digitally. But it’s been a very collaborative effort between myself and digital effects and [showrunner Scott M. Gimple] to dial in just the right patternings, the right saturation of color, the right movements.

It’s that kind of thing, that if you study anything for too long you’ll start to realize that it’s being operated by puppeteers, so understanding that it’s not the star of any particular shot, but it just has to be present in the scene just like the other actors. And when it comes time for it to do something, we will make it do that, and then it will be sort of integrated into each particular sequence.

Shiva does have at least one memorable action sequence in the comics, though it remains to be seen if the AMC series will follow suit, or even arrive at said instance before Season 8 in 2017.

In the meantime, Season 7 will finally premiere with the answer to Negan’s killer mystery this coming Sunday, so stay tuned.

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