Gene Page/AMC
October 08, 2013 at 02:45 PM EDT

Walking Dead fans were thrown last December when it was announced there was going to be a changing of the guard when it came to showrunner duties for season 4 of the AMC drama (which premieres Oct. 13). The move was especially surprising seeing as how the departing showrunner, Glen Mazzara, had already taken over for original main man Frank Darabont when Darabont was removed form the show halfway through season 2. If there is a silver lining for fans worried about all the upheaval, however, it comes from the fact that the man now assuming the showrunner duties is the same man responsible for writing some of the show’s most acclaimed episodes.

Scott M. Gimple — who wrote season 2’s “Pretty Much Dead Already” (in which poor Sophia finally emerged out of the barn) and last season’s “Clear” (which saw the return of Lennie James’ Morgan) — has certainly proven his chops. It is also clear from my conversations with the cast that they are universally excited with the new more character-driven approach that he plans to take in season 4. Of course, “character-driven” does not mean there won’t be any action. The season premiere features one of the biggest and most intricate action scenes the series has ever filmed. I spoke with the new man-in-charge about taking over the controls and what to expect in season 4 of The Walking Dead. (Note: Read through both pages for the full Q&A.)

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Before we get into this season, let’s talk about last season a bit. You guys killed off a lot of freakin’ characters on this show, and four of them were originals with Lori, T-Dog, Andrea, and Merle. Do you all ever discuss internally that maybe this is a little bit too much, too quickly?

SCOTT M. GIMPLE: It’s a high-wire act, really. You do what’s best for the story, first and foremost. That is the number one thing that we are serving. It’s scary to lose characters and you lose a tool in your toolbox, but so much of what we do on this show is about loss. I was thinking the other day just about what it would be like if Dale was in the story right now, and what kind of story of his that we could tell. There’s a big loss there. It’s very difficult to know one way or another, but at the end of the day if you feel it’s the best thing for the story, both currently and then also in the future, where things are leading, how it affects the other characters. That’s generally the metric that we’ve always sort of followed.

EW: Does that mean we can expect the same in season 4?

GIMPLE: I would say season 4 isn’t a total reinvention of the wheel or anything, but I would hate to also phrase it as more of the same either. It’s the same world. It’s absolutely the same show, so nobody is safe.

EW: What was it like reading and hearing things when the showrunner changeover went down, especially when you saw blame being thrown around on social media or in other places? How did you handle that?

GIMPLE: I think anybody — and I imagine you’re the same way — anybody that works in any sort of popular media knows that you read internet comments at your own risk. Everybody is entitled to their opinion, and, I don’t know…. I care about the fans a great deal, but I don’t know. I don’t want to be held hostage to Twitter at any point in my life.

EW: What would you say might be slightly different in the way the show might look and feel with you at the controls?

GIMPLE: I loved working for both guys. I’m really proud of the work I did under both guys. I’m really trying to pursue a greatest hits approach. I did “Pretty Much Dead Already,” and I was so happy and proud to do that episode. I did “Save The Last One,” I did “Clear” and “Hounded,” and I just want to make more episodes like that. And I’m so excited about the stories that are upcoming that are inspired by the comic book.

EW: Does that mean we’re going to see a lot of stuff from the comic book in season 4?

GIMPLE: You know that the show and the comic book are in very different places, so in some ways we can’t do exactly what was in the comic book in many ways. But the way I look upon it is that it’s sort of like a remix of the comic books. So absolutely, we’re going to see all sorts of things from the comic book. Some of the things will be very direct as we move forward. A lot of things will just be kind of the same content but in different contexts — different characters doing some of the things we saw in the comic books, situations from the comic book, but sort of in different locations, involving different people. I think comic fans will be able to pick out like, “Oh damn, they did that in a whole different way, but it is that moment. It’s undoubtedly that moment.”

EW: It’s interesting the differences between the two seasons just in terms of what the fans know leading into them. Last season we had iconic moments and things we knew were coming: the prison, Michonne, and the Governor. With season 4, you don’t have those hooks to grab people in before they see the episodes.

GIMPLE: That’s kind of awesome because I think we do, but if people aren’t aware of it then that’s pretty cool. That’s a double-edged sword because I think we’re up to twelve issues [of the comic] that people could spoil themselves on, but we still have ways for even the people who know that book intimately that they’re not entirely sure what’s next. And I believe those moments are there, along with some oddly original moments that are inspired by the comic book that lead back to things from the comic book. It’s very much like a remix.

EW: Let’s talk about some of the specifics of season 4. I was shocked when I was on set and saw the new look of the prison with the vegetable garden and the makeshift barn and horse and all this stuff. What’s going on here? It looks like this group is building a little mini society in the prison.

GIMPLE: Very much so. They’ve obviously reached a certain stability in the prison. Rick’s decision to allow people in has had benefits. And that was one of his major journeys last season, was just letting people in.

EW: And as he lets people in, that changes the group dynamic. He’s stepping back from the leadership role. Where’s his head? Is he trying to sort of take himself out of this “Ricktatorship” position?

GIMPLE: I think one of the biggest events for Rick in the finale, and there were a lot of things that went down, was Carl shooting that young man. His name is Jody, actually. He seems to be putting down his gun. That’s a real wake up call. It’s funny, I mean Dale said to Rick — I think it was episode 11 — “Is that the message you want to send your son, shoot first?” His son did reach that point in episode 16 last year. That’s a wake up call. He’s returning to being a parent and trying to find a way to contribute that might not involve the brutality of both going out there into the world and the brutality you need to have in leadership.

EW: He’s going to try to step back and we’re going to see a new model of leadership with this council.

GIMPLE: And this stuff will be kind of well established by the time we jump in. When we jump in, a new stability has been reached in the prison, a new normal, as much as normal applies to this world.

EW: Is that lulling them into a false sense of security?

GIMPLE: I don’t think so. I think they are that much more capable. They put procedures into place. They even have their arms distributed throughout the prison for once. I don’t believe they’ve evolved into a false sense of security. But, there are some threats that you just can’t count on.

NEXT: More zombies, more areas of the prison, and more Governor

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