Ahead of the release of The Walking Dead’s seventh season, EW takes an inside look at the horror franchise. Entertainment Weekly’s Ultimate Guide to the Walking Dead is on sale now and can be found with a collectible cover on newsstands after Oct. 14. As part of the book, we spoke to key Walking Dead figures to look back at one of the biggest moments from each season. Some may be major, others a bit more subtle. In this second installment of the series, we chatted with showrunner Scott M. Gimple about a key moment from season 2. (Also make sure to check out our season 1 moment Q&A with Andrew Lincoln.)
SEASON 2 KEY MOMENT
THE INTERVIEW: SCOTT M. GIMPLE
THE EPISODE: “PRETTY MUCH DEAD ALREADY”
THE MOMENT: ZOMBIE SOPHIA WALKS OUT OF THE BARN
For many, The Walking Dead’s blending of heart and horror has never been more powerful than when the search for Sophia that stretched throughout the first half of season 2 ended in tragedy as Carol’s daughter emerged in zombie form from Hershel’s barn. While Shane and the others that had slaughtered the other walkers stood in stunned silence, Rick walked up and finished the job, putting a bullet in the young girl’s brain. Scott M. Gimple, who wrote the episode and now serves as showrunner on the series, reveals what it was like on set for that fateful scene, how the climax was partly inspired by Seinfeld, and what the moment meant in the evolution of the show.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: What can you tell me being on set for this climactic scene?
SCOTT M. GIMPLE: I remember the day building and building with emotion. A lot of horrible things have happened on The Walking Dead, with this story of these characters going through an increasingly deteriorating world, but this was one of the big ones. Rick wanted to be the guy who would look for the little girl who was lost. Shane was the realist who didn’t. Michelle MacLaren directed it and when she called cut after Shane gave that speech before he shoots the Walker that Rick is holding, somebody on the camera crew uttered a very supportive profanity with his performance. It was just a remarkable performance by Jon Bernthal.
I had designed the script like an episode of Seinfeld in a lot of ways. All of these disparate stories crashing together at the end. So everybody had a story that tied them up in some way emotionally and it all came together in this moment. Meanwhile, they find out about this threat in the barn right under their noses. It was just one of those moments that defined the show because it had these spectacular Walkers coming out and this violence that was very much contextualized with a heartbreaking act.
This isn’t a kickass thing they’re doing. This is somebody saying that the world is dead, which was Shane, and to be a realist. It was almost like shooting down idealism. Emotionally the energy felt like it changed and that things have heightened. It was a remarkable day. It was all these different parts of what makes a show come together in this perfect moment. It’s the kind of stuff I’ve been trying to shoot for ever since.
The remarkable thing about this episode and this final scene is that there was actually a lot of bellyaching going on among fans during the search for Sophia with people saying “Ugh, this is taking way too long.” But then everyone loved the payoff.
That’s one of the lessons I learned: The audience wants to know things sooner rather than later. In that case, I think if they knew sooner it would have been denied some of the impact. The audience, in some ways, had to suffer along with the characters. It made them bound in some way so that when you had that final moment it wasn’t just the characters feeling that. The audience felt it more because they had put in that time on that search. It’s riskier TV, I guess, because you’re asking the audience to go through some hard stuff to elicit an even bigger emotion and an even bigger payoff at the end. I loved it. It was a great experience doing that. When we put it together I was excited to see it, and it was even better than what I thought it would be.
Why is Rick the one who has to put that bullet in Sophia?
Because it was about him changing. Because it was about him accepting some realities. So many seasons are about Rick’s transformation, but this was a big one. He was the one strong enough to do this. Nobody else stepped up to do it. He did. If he was strong enough to look for the little girl, he was strong enough to put her out of her misery when she was found to be a Walker.
It’s always a big day on set when it’s someone’s death scene. How was that for Madison Lintz, who played Sophia? That’s a lot for a young girl to play a zombie and then get shot down?
She was remarkable and was an incredible pro. In many ways she was and is an old soul. Madison had to come out as a Walker essentially on stage. The entire cast for the most part was lined up in front of her and then all of the cameras all around her. It was a very strange introduction as a Walker. It was so theatrical that she basically stepped out from behind the curtain. She came out and it was horrible, so she did her job incredibly well. The acting in that scene was heartbreaking. It was one of those days where one after the other after the other, everybody was topping one another in the performances. Madison absolutely did that. For seven episodes to crash into this 10 seconds, it’s an incredibly important moment. It was one of the defining moments of the show.
Check out the two collectible covers for Entertainment Weekly’s Ultimate Guide to the Walking Dead, below. And for all the essential exclusive Walking Dead scoop, pick up the book right here.