SPOILER ALERT: This article contains details of tonight’s The Walking Dead series finale and more.
“I wanna talk about the future,” says Maggie Rhee (Lauren Cohan) to Daryl Dixon (Norman Reedus) and Carol Peletier (Melissa McBride) right near the end of The Walking Dead series finale tonight.
It is a line in the Angela Kang-, Corey Reed- and Jim Barnes-penned “Rest in Peace” episode that launches the bloody and fiery conclusion of AMC’s long-running zombie apocalypse series based on Robert Kirkman’s comic from prose to verse in many ways as spinoffs galore loom.
Coming off a penultimate cliffhanger that saw Judith Grimes (Cailey Fleming) shot by ruthless Commonwealth Governor Pamela Milton (Laila Robins), it is a series finale that saw the ragged Survivors finally defeat the Commonwealth forces and a marauding herd of walkers to form a new community of their own.
However, it was not without cost.
While Judith lived, Rosita Espinosa (Christian Serratos) and others did not. Still, the Greg Nicotero-helmed 90-minute finale did see Daryl, Maggie and a finally contrite Negan (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) make it, as they all have TWD offshoots coming in the next year or so – with or without Carol coming along for the ride at some point. “It’s not like we’re never going to see each other again,” Daryl tells Carol in a suitable emotional scene between the two soulmates. “I love you,” he says, with one last stare before riding off into not quite the sunset.
To that end, right at the very end, over a montage of all those who died over the show’s 11 seasons and 177 episodes and those who lived, Rick Grimes (Andrew Lincoln) and Michonne (Danai Gurira) return writing to each other, searching for each other. Black Panther vet Gurira’s Michonne is more of a medieval warrior than ever, while muddied and long-disappeared Rick is foiled in an attempt to escape from an urban Hellscape.
Drawing from the final editions of Kirkman’s 2019 comic series, showrunner Kang and former TWD showrunner and now Chief Content Officer Scott M. Gimple sat down with me to chew over the finale, their motivations, those spinoff setups and getting Rick and Michonne back for that reunion of sorts and their own limited series.
DEADLINE: There’s a line in the finale that I feel almost everything hooks on. It’s where Lauren’s Maggie says to Norman and others: “I want to talk to you about the future.” So, let’s talk about the future, the spinoffs and how this finale gets us there.
KANG: It was really important to us to try to close the chapter of this show and this story, but we know we have to leave some doors open to go into the future stories. So, in some ways, the setup for where that goes is sort of up to the new shows. Scott and I talked about it and the feeling was like how do we just leave the door cracked without kind of, you know, forcing the other new shows into like exactly what that is.
DEADLINE: Do you think you succeed?
KANG: I think we just kind of left it at this is about the future and the future is trying to know more about what’s out there in the world and what adventures is that going to lead to. And I think that it’s really important after this story where they were so focused on where did we come from in the past and, can we go back to that? Maggie is really focused on what comes ahead and so are the other characters that are there. They’re like looking at, how do we build something out of this?
GIMPLE: The paramount goal was to conclude The Walking Dead. Like full stop. That said, you know, obviously, we did want to have a little something towards the trajectory of some of these stories. Some aspects of the spinoffs, you can’t really see in there obviously, but there’s some broad strokes towards it. And then, yeah, the final piece, there’s some pretty specific things.
But I will say thematically this is about a group that has finally achieved some peace, and what are they going to do with it? And Maggie is thinking about the future. But that to me that’s…you know, Angela and I had talked about that. I mean, that’s a logical extension of where things are going with this group. Like, you know what, maybe we should go out into the world and see what’s up now that we found this peace. Like, we’re strong enough to do that.
DEADLINE: Angela, you teased a big action-filled finale when we spoke last, but, like much of this final season, “Rest in Peace” is more at its heart a deeply emotional family drama than a horror show. So, what that the vision you had in mind and how do you think it landed?
KANG: You know, you want to have the candy for the audience, which is like the action and the adventure and the fun and the zombies, but ultimately, I do see the story and the show as having this really strong core of emotion and the feels. You know, our audience likes to cry along with us.
And so, I think in just thinking about what does a final episode of The Walking Dead feel like? It seemed like to me and the writing staff that it really is about this found family and how they fight for each other, how much they love each other, and even when there’s these just horrible losses around them, like losing Rosita, they find ways to move on and honor those memories. That seemed something that was really key to the story.
DEADLINE: It in many ways feel like the real DNA of TWD…
KANG: You know, going all the way back to the pilot, it’s an incredibly emotional story, and it’s quite simple in some ways. And so, I think that that really felt like it was important because I also think that that ties back to the story that Robert was trying to tell in the comic, and Scott was really supportive. You know, I’m proud of the episode and I think the people that worked on it are proud of it.
DEADLINE: Scott, with so many stories wrapping up, so much left unsaid, so many characters heading off to new adventures and the return of Rick and Michonne, or at least where they are, how did it all end for you?
GIMPLE: You know, I wanted to achieve a conclusion to the Walking Dead story, a satisfying conclusion to the Walking Dead story, and that had everything to do…I mean, action, absolutely. That’s part of Walking Dead. That’s part of the DNA of The Walking Dead too. I was never worried about that. And the action and scope of this episode is crazy.
But in the end, I think the big thing I was after was concluding this story and supporting Angela in her vision of what the story should be, and she and I were on the same page, this should conclude the Walking Dead story. Even though some of these characters’ stories will go on and the world will go on, what did this all mean? That’s what we’re after.
DEADLINE: Lots of looking back to look forward…
KANG: Yes, it feels like it’s sometimes satisfying to reward that by bringing things full circle. But it’s also like something about this story of the Commonwealth being so hung up on the past, it just feels like a good story to have those echoes to show how people have changed over time too. It’s a case of here’s something that was like the past but what happens next and is that different or does that mirror exactly. So, that was a lot of conversation that we had while we were doing this entire storyline.
DEADLINE: Like a lot of the public premieres, you’ve done over the years, the Hall Hs at Comic-Con and this event in downtown LA for the finale, it sounds like those echoes were a galvanizing universal force for the show …
GIMPLE: That last thing you said, galvanizing universal force. I’m pretty shy and I’m pretty self-conscious but feeling that moment that you brought people together in whether it’s laughs or whether it’s a gasp or geez if you’re lucky enough to make them cry in the best way, to be there when it happens or to even be a part of it, I am affected by this when I see it. I want to be affected with people. I want to bring people together and be a part of that togetherness. I mean, I hope to be a part of that on finale night one last time.
DEADLINE: No one is ever going to say a series finale is easy. I mean season finales are hard, series finales are very hard. A series finale that is I think doubly hard when you know that you’ve got one, two, three spinoffs happening. So, here there’s a chapter closing, and there’s a door closing a door opening, a new chapter opening. Let’s talk about these lean-ins to the future.
We don’t get a lot about Negan and Maggie in that lean into the future, even though we know a Dead City spinoff is coming, but we definitely get Daryl and the long goodbye with Carol, which seems to hint at things, and of course, Rick and Michonne. How did that all come together, and what do you want audiences to take away from that as you’re ending one part and transitioning to these at least two others, if not more?
KANG: I think with Maggie and Negan, I always had this thought that what is needed in that relationship is an attempt to reckon with the past because it’s still hanging over them and kind of getting to a point of apology and is that apology accepted or not.
So, the entire season, we had the ups and downs of that relationship, and it just didn’t feel true to me that she would accept the apology. However, she would at the same time recognize that he’s not the same person that he was many years ago, and neither is she. And so, that felt if you were just going to end the series, you could just end on that with them if we wanted them to be alive at the end. It feels at least they’ve gone through their major problem, the issue that they’ve been dealing with this entire time.
But I think that that also just speaks to the emotional dynamic that carries into the next series. You know, we didn’t feel like Negan gets to just be integrated with the group, and it’s like a kindness to Maggie that he doesn’t try to force that on her. That was kind of how we just wanted to bring the emotional dynamic to a resting place, and that’s how we approached that one.
DEADLINE: And even though you had them at Comic-Con and we knew there was a Rick and Michonne series coming, getting Andrew and Danai back?
GIMPLE: We’ve been working on that story for like a long time, and we knew we knew each episode. And those episodes are turning out pretty much towards what we planned them to be, and I really wanted to stress that we did that together.
So, in some ways it was like picking the right moment from the story that we were telling. To get to that point or to be able to tell that story that we were telling in The Walking Dead, which is the way that you continue on through hardship is from the strength that you have drawn from all the people that you’ve known and love. So, we have the story pretty well down. We just were like, okay, what point works with what Angela and I are hoping to say. Yeah.
I mean, luckily those worlds you see are built out. We’re not telling you much in this. And in fact, I was really hoping not to…I wanted what they were saying to not overshadow what people were seeing as far as I didn’t want it to serve as a tease for the next thing, but rather a necessary view into the circumstances they’re in to get across the story that we’re getting across, which is the thing that keeps them going is the family that they have.
KANG: Daryl and Carol obviously there were some changes that happened really late in the game in terms of like, what was happening with the spinoff. And so, it’s a little different than we initially imagined, up until very, very close to the end of this. We thought she was going to ride off with him. And so, we chose to just make it about they’ve each chosen for their various reasons to go one way or another, and that relationship isn’t over, which is true. This is not just something we’re saying in the past. That story has to resolve itself.
DEADLINE: Almost from the day it was made public that Melissa would no longer be part of the spinoff with Norman it has felt like she was about to become part of that spinoff again, you know what I mean?
KANG: Yeah, and at least now that felt like the best way to kind of deal with their story because we know that it’s like they are going in separate directions, but they’ll eventually come together at some point.
DEADLINE: Rick and Michonne?
KANG: For Rick and Michonne that was the trickiest piece because we were trying to keep that secret and things were leaking right and left all season
We’re like, how do we hold on to this, and that’s something like from the first pitch that I gave to the network, I feel like we have to come back to Rick and Michonne in some way. Just to me, but I think to a lot of fans, it’s not going to feel complete, it’s going to feel satisfying to see them, and everybody kind of was on board that idea. Truthfully, though, for a long time, we didn’t know if it was going to happen. I mean, there was a lot behind the scenes to get us to the right place.
And then, you know, ultimately, I wrote the finale script with Cory Reed and Jim Barnes, but at this point, we knew that Scott was going to do this spinoff show with Andy and Danai.
So, it was like Scott, do you want to just write this because it sort of flows into your thing? Like, I’ll totally write it if you don’t have time, and he’s like, no, no, I’ll do it. I’d love to, which was great and very gracious of him, and I think he really did a great job working with Andy and Danai kind of talking about how do we, you know, not make it just feel like it’s a commercial at the end for the next show but just really like flow into what are the emotions of the episode that we have.
It was really important to Andy, but I think Danai too that it didn’t feel like it was just a coda, that it somehow came as it was stitched into the end piece. So, we tried to do that, and hopefully, people will enjoy seeing two of our favorites, and it was really great to have them in the show at the end of the day.
DEADLINE: When we see that scene with Rick, a lot of close-ups, very intense on Andrew there, when we see the scene when the chopper comes down and you see Rick standing there, we see a cityscape in the background. Where is that?
GIMPLE: I mean, I don’t want to say obviously, but I will say that there have been hints of it in The Walking Dead Universe.
DEADLINE: It looks a lot like New York City, and of course, with what Jeffrey and Lauren are doing, I’m wondering, are we going to see connections between the spinoffs themselves? Is that how this is evolving?
GIMPLE: I will say you have gotten something definitively out of it. It is not New York City. That said, in the future we might see some connections. But yeah, that’s not New York City, and the band is not quite getting back together.
DEADLINE: Band or not band, for now, or later, and I don’t mean this to sound like a therapy session, but where are you at now this is all over and the Rick and Michonne secret for the show you are co-showrunning essentially with Danai is out?
GIMPLE: It is a little bit like the thing I was telling you about because I’m running the Rick and Michonne show in addition to my duties as chief content officer, which sounds like I work for a bank. So, it is interesting. You said therapy session, Dominic. It’s like, that’s what these worked out to be man, because this is the moment where I have to look at it. Where it’s not like I’m dealing with, oh, there’s that text, there’s that email, and there’s that page that I have to finish. There’s that coda I have to finish.
You know, there was like this secretive part of this end scene, and then just working on the whole finale. Again, really trying to support Angela’s vision in any way I could, and then just sort of that crossover with the stuff I’m working on. Luckily, we’re on the same page of like where those things meet. Okay. Here’s something. I don’t know if this is going to do it, but I think it was 601 was the episode that we showed in Madison Square Garden. That was the premiere at Madison Square Garden.
DEADLINE: You mean the one back in 2015 where Norman rode the motorcycle through the crowd?
GIMPLE: That’s right. Yeah. That was a hard episode. Right. And that was crazy because we do the black and white in it, and I wound up, you know, in the, whatever green room, you know, during the screening of the show at Madison Square Garden. One of my biggest regrets is like why wasn’t I just like sitting with the audience or sitting in the wings like you always see in those movies when they have a Broadway show.
Tonight, I really want to be in the wings at the Orpheum downtown, because this is it.
This was so hard in so many ways, and there’s so much emotion attached to it, and being down in Georgia, and shooting that, the ending was so intense.
Then like, it got weird.
It’s like we got this bonus content, or this bonus level, where like on a video game where it’s like, oh, shit, we get to do it again. We get to go do this little piece with Andy and Danai. Because at the end of Walking Dead you’re like, man, we’ll never do this again, and then boom, we’re there doing it again.
It was just such an amazing time doing that, even though I was working on Rick and Michonne at the same time, but it was really cool because I could pull Andy offset and be like, hey, man, what about this, that and the other thing? And see, with Danai that was so wonderful that it would made it that much more painful when it was over. I don’t know, I just want to see what people think of the whole thing. I want to see what people think of that coda. I want to be there with them and enjoy that one last time because this in and of itself is singular and unusual, and there will never be another thing like it.
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