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'The Walking Dead' showrunner Scott M. Gimple answers midseason finale burning questions

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The Walking Dead
Gene Page/AMC

[SPOILER ALERT: Read on only if you have already watched Sunday’s midseason finale of The Walking Dead.]

We got answers in The Walking Dead’s midseason finale last night. But we also have new questions! Like when was it decided to kill off Beth? How will Maggie recover to the latest in a long line of Greene family deaths? Is Rick becoming Gareth? How close is Morgan to the group? And what can we expect when the show returns in 2015? Like I said, we have questions! So we asked them to the main man in charge, showrunner Scott M. Gimple. And here’s what he told us. (Also make sure to check out our deep dive with Andrew Lincoln, midseason finale Q&A with Norman Reedus, and emotional chat with Emily Kinney.)

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Tell me how you came to the decision to kill Beth. Was that the plan once you came up with the whole hospital story structure and mapped out the direction for the first eight episodes, or did it evolve that way later?

SCOTT M. GIMPLE: I will say that it evolved a little bit. We were going over a lot of different iterations of the season and the way that this story fits into the greater story this season and the way that it fit into Beth’s story itself — it was the story we both wanted and didn’t want to tell. We absolutely wanted to tell this very tragic story of someone who found out that they were strong all along. And even so strong as to not be able to swallow injustice when it is given to them with Noah being left behind. And strong enough to believe that maybe she would lash out against this person — and really sort of underline who she didn’t want to become, which is someone who is compromised like Dawn. That’s the tragedy, that the compromised person took her down, which is a very painful story. And it’s not a story that we relish making the audience watch, but the feeling that that leaves to the audience and to the characters is a portion of the story that we’re telling and will resonate into next season and put the characters in the places that we find them.

What’s it like having to tell actors like Emily that they are being killed off? I imagine it is not the favorite part of your job.

No, I can say with certainty it is by far the least favorite part of my job. And it’s something they don’t teach you in film school — like, this is how you do that. So it is even a learning process on how to do that. It’s awful because there are characters that you love writing and there are people you love working with. The one solace that I’ve had is knowing how talented the people are that I have been working with, and hoping that maybe I work with them again, or I just see them in awesome things which I would enjoy — which has been the case over and over. But yeah, it’s a terrible part of the job.

You’ve done a great job of taking characters that were maybe a bit more in the background in the early seasons and giving them juicier storylines, but often there is a big price to pay because right after you make us care about them, you do horrible things to them. Were you worried that people were going to see this Beth death coming because the dramatic and heroic evolution you gave her this season?

You want character deaths to have meaning in this show, meaning for the characters’ stories, and you don’t want people to get ahead of them. But this audience is so smart and so savvy that it’s like a mind game with yourself while you’re working because you’re like, well, the obvious thing to the audience might seem not obvious, and the not obvious thing is obvious because they’re just so smart, so it’s a bit of a Rubik’s Cube. Character deaths in and of itself should never be done for shock. This certainly wasn’t done for shock. It was an incredibly tragic story and so as far as people getting ahead of it, some people will always get ahead of it just because people guess everything in every direction. But as long as it resonates with people and as long as we’re going for something great and meaningful, that’s the best approach I know.

I know for you it’s all about moving the story forward and you hinted at that briefly earlier, but tell me what this is going to mean for the group, and particularly Maggie, who has now seen her family die at the farm, her dad get beheaded at the prison, and now Beth here. Some viewers have pointed out how Maggie was not talking about Beth a whole lot while she was missing, but we saw her reaction when her lifeless body was carried out. What does this mean for her individually and the group at large?

It’s devastating for her, and I think the way that we’ve seen her processing Beth in general — which has been quiet, she hasn’t been bringing it up every episode, although she brought it up in one of the first lines of the season — this is going devastate her and we’re going to peek into how she’s been processing everything. But she’s destroyed, and this group is devastated, and the emotional place we start them in the next half of the season, they’re all in a very dark place and things only get darker for them until things for them change in a huge way.

I want to go back to the first scene in this episode. Rick says to the cop he’s just run down with his car, “Cant go back, Bob,” which is the exact same line that Gareth said to Bob Stookey at the trough. I can’t imagine that was unintentional.

So Rick was there, and when Rick hears those words come out of his own mouth, they don’t taste very good. He doesn’t like hearing those words come out of his mouth. But they were in a situation right there where those words were true. So what do you do with that when you’re saying the exact same thing that somebody that you held as a monster said? And those words are true in that moment. It’s not a small thing.

I know your whole season is centered around these questions of how far can you go and can you come back? We’ve all been celebrating what a badass Rick is and take-no-prisoners Rick, but are we getting to point where this zero tolerance attitude is going too far? Is that something to keep an eye on going forward?

Absolutely. And what is the message he just got from this episode and this story? He wanted to go in there guns blazing, and they didn’t and Beth died. That isn’t going dissuade him from doing such things in the future.

Going back to that first scene, where Rick runs down Bob with his car, I assume that was an homage to the way Rick kills Martinez in the comics, correct?

Absolutely. And that was something that we never got to in the early episodes and it was always a moment I thought was very important to define who Rick is and it was very much in line with who he is now in our story at this moment.

So we got another post-credits scene with Morgan following those marks on the trees to the church and rocking a Goo Goo Cluster. How close is he now to the group? Is he making up some time here?

I wouldn’t want to say too much, but if you look at the first post-credits coda back in [the season premiere] it does appear that some time has passed since Rick and his group were at that sign. So if time has passed, how close is he? I can’t really answer that question because that’s for the story to answer. I will say, though, he just picked up a map that said Rick Grimes’ name. That’s pretty heavy. And that affects him deeply. And it definitely is a part of our story.

You know what would be great? If you only kept him in these post-credits sequences and he never catches up to the group and keeps missing them. “Damn! Just missed ‘em again!”

Well, slowly but surely the post-credits scenes will get longer and longer and sooner or later it becomes Morgan’s show and we just have the teaser with the rest of the cast.

So Robert Kirkman said on Talking Dead last night that you will be introducing “a very prominent gay character from the comics.” I mean, I think that has to be pretty obvious for fans of the comic whom he is talking about when he says that, right?

Well, but, you know as a reader of the comic that there isn’t just one gay character in the comic.

True, but there is a big one right around this time, however, that would match up nicely.

Well, what is “this time,” really? I will say, we do loop back into some really specific comic stories in the back half, but we are playing with time and remixing things, so it might be the character you are thinking of, or it may be a different character.

Well played.

Oh, thank you!

One huge thing that may have been overlooked with the whole Beth death is that the group is all together again. Obviously there are always going to be people going off on side missions or supply runs or what have you, but is this group going to stay together for a while now?

You know I don’t like being totally specific, but I will say we’re going to see them much more together than apart. We’ve been loading up on super wide lenses.

I spoke to Andrew Lincoln and Norman Reedus and they both said that the next eight episodes will feel a lot different than the first eight of this season. What does that mean? Does that mean tonally? Location-wise? General vibe?

In every way. I will say it starts in a very familiar tone and situation and then just everything gets turned on its head. What Norman and Andy said is correct. It isn’t just like the tone changes or the landscape changes — everything kind of changes. We will be fulfilling what I said, which is every eight episodes it’s a brand new show, and this will be a brand new show. Not initially, but we get there.

Also make sure to check out our deep dive with Andrew Lincoln, midseason finale Q&A with Norman Reedus, and emotional chat with Emily Kinney. And for more ‘Walking Dead’ intel, follow Dalton on Twitter @DaltonRoss.

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