SPOILER ALERT: This story contains details of tonight’s The Walking Dead midseason return …and more.
“I’ll say we’re working on different sorts of Walking Dead goodness coming up and we’ll be telling you about it as it comes together,” teased a tight-lipped showrunner Scott M. Gimple of his new role as Chief Content Officer and more possible spinoffs as the AMC blockbuster returned tonight for the second half of its eighth season. “And it’s all sorts of stuff,” the soon to be ex-TWD showrunner added cryptically as the show based on Robert Kirkman’s comics saw the death of a core character with Chandler Riggs’ Carl Grimes.
Up against the Closing Ceremony of another Winter Olympics, tonight’s almost 90-minute long Matthew Negrete & Channing Powell-penned and Greg Nicotero-directed episode titled “Honor” picked up where the December 10, 2017 fall finale “Where’s it’s Gotta Be” left off with Carl and his Survivors family comprehending his fate after a fatal walker bite and ended with Andrew Lincoln’s Rick Grimes alone and bleeding from a deep wound.
Yes, the death of the son of Rick Grimes was center stage on Sunday but there is a lot of change afoot in the TWD universe. A crossover with Fear The Walking Dead is coming in the spinoff’s upcoming fourth season via Lennie James’ Morgan. With Gimple’s promotion and Dave Erickson’s exit, both shows have new showrunners in longtime writer Angela Kang for TWD and Ian Goldberg and Andrew Chambliss for Fear.
As he finished up postproduction on the final episodes of Dead’s Season 8, Gimple spoke with me about the changes, his new role, and rumblings of more crossovers and spinoffs to come. Now an executive producer on both TWD and Fear, Gimple also chatted about what’s going on with Lauren Cohan’s contract and if she will be back for the already announced Season 9 of the mother show. And, because this is the real world of ratings, the Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance co-writer ventured who would take the gold this year as TWD battled part of the Closing Ceremony on NBC.
DEADLINE: Bleeding Rick is clearly a set-up you are not going to reveal much about, so let’s start right near the end, specifically at the conclusion of the “Honor” episode. In another one of the future-set Old Man Rick sequences, we suddenly see a kindly Old Man Negan at the end as a friendly face and beloved resident of Alexandra. What is all that about and what is it telling us going forward?
GIMPLE: That is Carl’s idealized vision of the future. That’s what he hopes happens. That somehow, someway they can make peace. That’s what he’s asking his father. That is brought to life there.
DEADLINE: Speaking of life, the Season 8 return episode is focused on the death of Carl from a walker bite, a death that was announced — so to speak — with the fall finale. Obviously, the decision to kill off Carl was a momentous one for the series. He was an original core character for the show and the death is a big deviation from the comics, where he lives, loves, and grows. I’m just going to be blunt with — you know that there was a lot of backlash from fans and even Rigg’s own parent about the decision to kill Carl. What are your feelings about that and do you still think it was the right call?
GIMPLE: It’s hard, honestly. Killing a character on this show has never been anything we’ve taken lightly and it’s never been something that we’ve liked doing. This show, The Walking Dead, is a wonderful curse in that it is a terrific group of professional people that are supportive and warm, and familial. Yet it’s a show in which people die because it’s the world in which the characters inhabit. It’s always painful and it’s always difficult, but it’s the world that this show lives in.
DEADLINE: But to take such a leap from the comics and for the audience…
GIMPLE: I know the story that we’re telling with Carl and I know the point of it, and I know the gravity of it. So I look at his death [in] episode nine of this season as an episode that fulfills — the story isn’t over, so far it fulfills what we want to do. I know that Carl’s death has massive importance to the characters and even to the fate of the world that we have on the show and how it moves forward. Obviously, I want our audience to be happy and I don’t like them in pain, but it’s part of a very big story that takes a lot of hard turns. But honestly, it is going towards a greater purpose and a greater message.
DEADLINE: In wanting your audience to be happy, what’s happening with Lauren Cohen’s future on TWD? Is she coming back as Maggie for Season 9?
GIMPLE: Well, these sorts of negotiations do happen all the time in television and we’re working on it. We’re all talking so stay tuned.
DEADLINE: OK then, staying tuned, it seems like this first TWD of 2018 is in Carl’s dying wishes a recalculation of the All Out War approach between Rick and the Survivors and Negan and the Saviors that propelled the first part of the season. The death of Carl was a deviation from the story of Kirkman’s comics but that overall shift seems to be moving more in line with the print version of Dead, no?
GIMPLE: To a point, I’d say. Clearly, it’s a challenge to Rick, to Michonne and to others to even envision a world like the one Carl is describing. It seems like they have a choice now. Carl’s way or the way they’re currently doing now and it’s so hard to even imagine what Carl wants. They’re sitting in the burning ruins of Alexandria, but it is his wish and a giant wish of an incredible hero that’s not going to be something they could shrug off.
DEADLINE: Is that what those goodbye letters he penned to everyone contained the beginnings of?
GIMPLE: A lot of what I’m talking about is what he said to Rick over the course of the episode, but there are different things in those letters. There [are] different messages for different characters. I will say, those letters affect things throughout the season because there [are] different things in different letters. It’s not quite contiguous as far as what he said.
— The Walking Dead AMC (@WalkingDead_AMC) February 26, 2018
DEADLINE: Going forward, we are going to see Lennie James’ Morgan joining Fear The Walking Dead in the long-awaited crossover between the mother series and the spinoff. There was a lot of hype out of the confirmation of the crossover at New York Comic-Con last year and then unveiling of Lennie as the one to make the leap but why was Morgan, another core TWD character, the one you thought best for the job, so to speak?
GIMPLE: (laughs) You’ve kind of got to watch the first episode of Fear to see that. But I guess I can say the issues that he’s had, the place where he’s in at the end of Season 8 of Walking Dead, really, really lent towards the story we were telling in Fear.
DEADLINE: So, the crossover is not a step back in time? A prequel?
GIMPLE: (laughs again) You know what, I can answer that one. It’s like a secret story that Morgan never shared. We’re moving forward. It’d be kind of cool if we had like young Lennie James, like, it’s a prequel like Gotham but this is not a prequel. I will say, and it’s important, it’s not a prequel, but we do play with time in interesting ways in this upcoming season of Fear to tell a certain story.
So, I don’t want to sell like everything is happening on this precise timeline that I’m giving you. We do play a little bit with time in Fear, but as far as Morgan goes we’re not telling a story about Morgan’s past.
DEADLINE: You know, from the way you are talking and crumbs you and Kirkman have been dropping in recent months, especially with your new uber-gig, sounds like Morgan may not be the last crossover between TWD and Fear…
GIMPLE: Well, I don’t think it’s the last, though I don’t think it’s going to be happening all the time. It is a very, very special thing, but it would be weird for me to say, “Oh, it’s absolutely the last time.” It’s a very special thing that might happen once in a blue moon, but we do get blue moons. We had one recently.
DEADLINE: Yes, we did – though I thought that might be more connected to the big leap you guy made from the comics in killing off Carl on the show…
GIMPLE: You know that I believe in the comics. I believe in fidelity to the comics, but I also believe in trying to tell the comic stories in different ways to ensure that the impact of those stories can even hit fans of the comics.
So much of The Walking Dead comic was unexpected things happening, incredible turns that had incredible significance to the story and in some ways, you can’t always do that on the show. I know you know that if we want to fulfill the comic’s mission of doing that, these incredible turns that tell incredible stories, you can’t tell the exact comic story sometimes because it’s not going to be an incredible turn for that comic audience because they know what’s coming.
So to fulfill the feeling of the book you often have to sort of drift away from the book to get back to the book. Sometimes with verbatim fidelity, sometimes not. Also, to even crank up great stuff from the book you have to sometimes change the book to get even deeper at the message or the moment, or the turn that the comic story was telling. So, we intend to tell stories from the book, but we are trying to do it in very unexpected ways that can even heighten the feelings that you got while reading the book.
DEADLINE: Heighten is an interesting term as we look at your fairly recently announced step away from being the showrunner on TWD after a pretty long run to become Chief Content Officer for Walking Dead, Fear and what were unspecified as “potential brand extensions on a variety of platforms.” You know it seemed like a bump upstairs but to what a lot of us are still unclear…
GIMPLE: I know…
DEADLINE: So lay it out for us: how did the new position come to be and how did you envision it actually working with new showrunners at both Walking Dead and Fear in their upcoming seasons?
GIMPLE: Well, I was talking to AMC about the future the opportunities to do even more stuff. The Walking Dead universe came up and that led the conversations about Fear. In some ways, the opportunity to step back to elevate Angela seemed exciting because I was excited about trying to get new stuff going in The Walking Dead and even do more with old stuff in The Walking Dead.
DEADLINE: Does that mean more spinoffs?
GIMPLE: I mean we’re working on all sorts of things. It’s all kind of coming together, but we want to keep doing great Walking Dead stuff. And Angela’s amazingly talented. Look, I had done five years, more than 80 episodes, and it just seemed like a really good time for a change. I have a great relationship with Angela and I hired Andrew and Ian over on Fear — folks that I had worked with before — and it’s been really exciting working on that show too. I just didn’t want to try and do it all at once.
I love working on Season 9 with Angela and it’s very impressive to see how she’s attacking it. And we’re just starting our eighth episode of Fear so we’re almost halfway through that season and I’m so proud of what’s come together there.
DEADLINE: Scott, you are weaving around my spinoffs question…
GIMPLE: I’ll say we’re working on different sorts of Walking Dead goodness coming up and we’ll be telling you about it as it comes together. And it’s all sorts of stuff
DEADLINE: You took over suddenly in many ways after Glen Mazzara was out as TWD showrunner in late 2012, what is this more measured transition with Angela, who is the first female showrunner the series has ever had, like and how has your day-to-day changed?
GIMPLE: With Angela, its great, just great. Angela is very much the showrunner of Dead and Andrew and Ian are very much the showrunners at Fear. So now it’s being in a position to talk about sort of the stories globally and sometimes specifically. It’s about breaking the whole season and figuring out where things are going. And then, the showrunners really do take the ball and run with it.
DEADLINE: Still satisfying?
GIMPLE: That part is really satisfying. It’s very much trying to give them an even better experience than I had and trying to also make sure that the franchise has a certain continuity. That has the same story values and the same entertainment values. It’s great and I’m excited about all the other stuff that’s coming down the line. That stuff I’m really digging into in the next month as I finish Walking Dead Season 8.
DEADLINE: Well, you are clearly not going to say more than that on what’s next but let me ask you about ratings, which have been down this season so far for the most part. You guys are back again head-to-head with another Winter Olympics Closing Ceremony. In the new ratings landscape we live in, what’s your prediction? Is it a Walking Dead gold this year?
GIMPLE: I’m hoping we take the gold and I hope the Olympics takes the silver. But off what you just said about this ratings landscape, if people are watching television in general, it is a win. We want people to watch TV. It’s a fantastic medium and if people haven’t watched television recently I really hope they do. Especially episode nine because it was really some incredible work by everyone involved but especially Chandler Riggs. It was the best performance of his career so far in my opinion.