SPOILER ALERT: This story contains details of the Season 6 winter finale episode of The Walking Dead and the return of the series next year.

In a season that was different in many ways from previous years, last night’s final episode of The Walking Dead for 2015 was very much in line with previous winter finales. We had the death of a major character, chaos among the survivors, and potential cliffhangers galore. Also, in the post-credits preview, we had the introduction of a character that will play a big role in the future of the AMC blockbuster.

walking dead s6 ep 8 10Familiar to fans of the Robert Kirkman-created comics on which TWD is based, the first mention of the Negan villain last night seems to put Rick Grimes, Glenn Rhee, Daryl Dixon and the other survivors in even greater danger than usual – and that’s saying something in a world gone terribly wrong. Add to that the fact that Sunday’s “Start To Finish” episode saw the Alexandria Safe-Zone now under siege by legions of Walkers and the community’s leader, Deanna Monroe, bitten by one of the Walkers.

walking dead nov 22 2015After the multi-episode arc of whether or not the Glenn (played by Steven Yeun) survived being knocked into a horde of frenzied Walkers (he did), Season 6 of the series marks yet another shift and reinvention for a show that regularly reinvents itself. With tensions within the Safe-Zone between its residents and Grimes’ survivors, a murderous invasion by members of the Wolves gang and a moral decision by Lennie James’ Morgan character that will definitely determine aspects of the rest of the Season 6, TWD also saw the series hit some ratings potholes after years of record-breaking growth.

I chatted with TWD showrunner Scott Gimple today about the half-season that was, including those ratings and what is coming up for the rest of Season 6 once it returns on February 14. The executive producer also offered insights on the roles of Negan and Norman Reedus’ Daryl, plus looking toward Season 7.

DEADLINE: You’ve said that the return of the second half of Season 6 of The Walking Dead next year will be with one of the biggest episodes you’ve ever done. What do you mean by that?
walking dead scott gimple season 6GIMPLE: Oh Lordy, it’s taking us to …I can only speak in adjectives really without giving things away. It’s taking us to a closed-quarters situation that is both emotionally explosive and terrifying in as much as people are closed in with an army of Walkers. It’s a horrific and unique type of claustrophobia.

DEADLINE: What was your reaction to the reaction of the fate of Steven Yeun’s Glenn Rhee character this past half-season? 
GIMPLE: From the end of Episode 3 to the beginning of Episode 7, I thought it was a remarkable pop culture moment. I love that people who didn’t know each other had something to talk to each other about and that made the world a smaller place with a lot of passionate feelings on both sides, on all sides.

When it was all said and done after Episode 7, the incredible elation that fans seemed to have was very cool to see. We don’t get to tell those type of stories very often on the show and to see Glenn live, to see the hero survive, I felt was something the audience earned after six years of watching The Walking Dead. Six years of seeing the hero die, I believed this was something the audience deserved.

walking dead comics carl injuryDEADLINE: Fans familiar with the comics that the show is based on know that Glenn does die at the hands of the Negan villain and that played into a lot of the speculation of whether Steven’s character was actually dead or not. Last night’s midseason finale also seemed to really tease the fate of Carl and whether he would suffer the horrific injury he gets in the comic. How much were you playing against that expectation?
GIMPLE: It wasn’t specific to play against that expectation, but I will say that last year’s midseason finale and Episode 15 of Season 5 were very much episodes that closed the stories. We wanted to do something different this year; we wanted to play with that general expectation and that it’s not always going to be the same thing as the comic or previous seasons.

DEADLINE: To that, the short preview that played after last night’s midseason finale had the first mention of the Negan character Jeffrey Dean Morgan is playing. That character is the one who kills Glenn in the comics, so how is that character going to be different on the show than he is in the comic?
GIMPLE: I would say this: It’s an incredible drag that its come out that we’ve cast that role. I know that it’s really hard for that information not to get out, but I would have loved to have been able to manage expectations there with fans. We make this show pretty far in advance and when they find out about things we’ve planned in the future, pretty deep into the future, I don’t want them just thinking, “Oh I want to get to that.” In a perfect world they wouldn’t even know about that or asking questions about that save for our mention last night, which is fair play.

I will add that we’ve done things from the comics to the letter and we’ve done things from the comics very very differently. I think that’s probably the guiding principle that fans should have when they think about Negan.

DEADLINE: Speaking of doing things differently from the comics, are we going to see a lot more from Norman Reedus’ Daryl Dixon character, which isn’t in the comics, the rest of this season? There seems to have been a lot of emphasis on him, as that preview from last night hinted as well…
walking dead s6 ep 6GIMPLE: I will say that we are going to see much more Daryl Dixon next half-season.

DEADLINE: Really?
GIMPLE: This past half-season saw the characters very sequestered from each other and there’s much less of that in the rest of Season 6. This upcoming half-season is very very different than the previous half-season in the structure, in the lineup of characters in the episodes, and I think even in the types of stories we are telling.

I have us go outside what is my comfort zone because I love telling stories that are character-based first. In lot of ways, this next half-season has that character but the plot really does take over for several episodes. I was trying to push myself to take it in a new direction, maybe not permanently but for these next eight episodes I wanted to do something different and you’re going to see something different.

DEADLINE: This first half season on Season 6 has seen some dips in the ratings though still big compared to almost everything on TV but down. Why do you think that is?
GIMPLE: I don’t think it’s been that huge a dip and further I don’t think it might be a story regarding The Walking Dead but really I think it might be a story about television. I think that there are similar shows in the 18-49 demographic that pretty much experienced proportional dips.

Look, we’re undergoing a shift, even from when Walking Dead started, in the way that people consume television. We’re seeing it’s effect not just in Walking Dead ratings, but rating across the board. Technology is taking a nibble out of us. I’m to blame too, I watch a lot of things on my DVR. I can only blame myself, I like to watch my shows when I want to watch them and I think a lot of people are in the same place. I will say, I get far too much stuff spoiled for me and if I had my druthers I’d liked to watch TV when TV is on. Like, I’m just getting into Game Of Thrones now and I already know everything that’s going to happen and that’s annoying.

DEADLINE: OK, but after several years as the showrunner, how would you rank this season of all the Walking Dead seasons?
GIMPLE: I can’t do that (laughs) but I will say that this certainly was the most challenging. Just from a really basic physical standpoint for myself, for the crew and for the cast. This was a really hard one. We’re very proud of it, but man, people are still sleeping it off.

DEADLINE: How soon until you start pulling things together for Season 7?
GIMPLE: I’m sitting down with the writers next week, in a lot of ways we haven’t really stopped. There isn’t entirely a break because we’re still doing post on Season 6 and we just stopped shooting just over a week ago. Robert Kirkman created the never-ending zombie movie and we’re in the never-ending television production.