By Dalton Ross
March 17, 2014 at 12:00 PM EDT
Gene Page/AMC
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It was the episode that set social media on fire. And now Walking Dead showrunner Scott M. Gimple breaks down the heart-wrenching episode that was “The Grove.” [SPOILER ALERT: Read on only if you have already watched Sunday’s episode of The Walking Dead.]

It would have been crazy enough to have an episode featuring one little girl (Lizzie) stabbing her sister (Mika) to death. But throw on top of that a scene of adult Carol then putting a bullet in young Lizzie’s brain and you have the true makings of a WTF?!?!? classic. We already spoke to the woman who pulled the trigger, Melissa McBride, who plays Carol Now we catch up with the man behind the plan, Walking Dead showrunner Scott M. Gimple, who explains why he did it, why he made some changes from the event in The Walking Dead comic book on which it was based, what he felt they could and could not show on screen, and why it was important for Tyreese to forgive Carol for killing his girlfriend. Gimple also offers some teases for what to expect coming up in the last two episodes of season 4. It’s a truly enlightening chat into the most impactful episode of the season, if not the entire series. (Click through both pages to read the entire interview.)

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: One of my pet peeves is when a TV show does something really dramatic but doesn’t lay the groundwork for it in the sense that it feels like they just realized “Hey, we need to do something crazy here,” so it doesn’t really track or make sense. What you guys did, however, was really play this thing out all season long. You dropped clues and hints and showed a progression that ultimately all led up to what transpired on Sunday.

SCOTT M. GIMPLE: A lot of it is right there in episode 401 for you. And kind of the rest is in 402. We knew where we were going and I knew that this was a story that I desperately wanted to tell. This is an example of a story that I really dug in the comic book, but didn’t want to do it verbatim. But the story in the comic, which was different but was the basis for our story, was longplayed as I recall too.

EW: It was, but you don’t necessarily see that patience played out on television. When this was first brought up, this whole storyline and the gruesome ending to it, was there any discussion like “Okay, this worked in the comic, but is this too much for TV?”

GIMPLE: I had originally talked to [creator] Robert [Kirkman] about it because in the comic it’s more Carl’s story and I remember pitching it to him because I wanted to know what he thought. It was important to me. And what was funny is I started going, “I’m thinking about taking this thing away from Carl, this super-important part of the comic,” and initially he was like, “Oh, I don’t know.” And then I pitched him the story and he was like, “That’s awesome!” Which was exciting because I was really nervous, because you want to honor the source material and I wanted him to be excited about it and he was. Beyond that, I wasn’t really that worried about AMC. I know they have faith in us. This was not a story that was sensational. We weren’t exploiting anything. It was something that was very much a part of Carol’s story and very much these girls’ story and very much a story of this world, and I felt that from the jump we had a very sensitive approach to it. No matter how extreme the end was, we weren’t just doing it for shock. And AMC felt the same way. Even between all this we tried to do it as sensitively as possible. There were a lot of conversations about that.

EW: I was going to ask you about that, because when we spoke about baby Judith at one point you said how you couldn’t really show a baby being killed on TV. So how did you guys decide about exactly what you would and wouldn’t show as far as those two little girls being killed? You know, we see the body, but we don’t see the stabbing. We see the gun go off, but we don’t see the bullet land. How did those decisions get made and how much did AMC weigh in on that?

GIMPLE: With Mika’s death, that was something I wanted Carol and Tyreese to discover. I didn’t want to see that happen. And I would love to take credit for an awesome idea, but basically that’s how it happens in the book. It was discovered. It wasn’t shown. It was very effective in the book. It worked on me when I read it and I knew that would be effective that way too. I don’t think we needed to see that part of it. That’s something where the audience’s imagination will be far more horrible that anything we could have done. As far as the gunshot, we did wrestle with the cut of that. We played around with it in a variety of iterations. Initially it was about what we felt was tasteful to show and what we felt was not tasteful to show and figuring that out. I’d say the discovery along the way was the shot where we don’t see it, but we see Carol pull the trigger and we stay on Carol. It’s such a remarkable piece of acting that Melissa does in that moment that I wouldn’t have wanted to cut away anyways, because really in that moment that is all about Carol. The die is kind of cast and this is Carol’s story. This is fulfilling a big part of Carol’s story in a very tragic way. And too see that character feel that moment and feel the gravity of that moment and the impact upon her and even just change her in that very moment — I actually felt Melissa’s portrayal of that moment. I could feel it. So in the end it went towards storytelling anyways.

EW: What was the reaction of the cast? Because I remember Andrew Lincoln told me he read the script and asked you, “Are we really going to do this?”

GIMPLE: I was coming into Atlanta for prep on this episode, and I landed and I had a text from Andrew, who had also already called me. And the text said, “Just read your script, I really need to talk to somebody.” And yeah, he was asking, “Are we gonna do this?” It wasn’t out of fear that he was asking that. It was out of hope that we could tell the story the way we wanted to. So few of the cast was in the script, but I got all these emails and texts just so excited to see this episode and so into the story we were telling.

NEXT PAGE: The secret that only the two girls knew, what’s coming next, and why Gimple is “not excited about things that are just relentlessly dark”

Gene Page/AMC

EW: How exactly does one go about telling two sweet little girls they are about to die incredibly horrible deaths? I mean, you’ve had to make those calls before to Scott Wilson and what have you. But I imagine it’s different when you are dealing with a child.

GIMPLE: Well, it’s face to face whenever we can. The thing is, like I said, we knew where this story was going before when these gals were cast. So I was hinting at things going really badly from the moment we started. And they are both incredibly bright and talented and mature performers. We talked very candidly about everything from before we even started, so it was difficult and I talked to their moms first. But it wasn’t wholly unexpected. I was trying to lay the groundwork for that from the beginning. And they knew. Everybody was like, “Who is killing the rats?” and they knew. I didn’t share that with everybody, but the little girls did have that secret. I told Brighton and Kyla about their character’s histories and what led up to this. And Lizzie had her problems before the apocalypse. And it was just an incredible thing to lay it all out and see that groundwork from the beginning and slowly dole it out and see them grow close to Carol. And in episode 10, it was really something to see the reaction to people seeing Lizzie almost smother Judith, because that was a bit of a reveal at that point. Not to mention the bunny rabbits. Those poor bunny rabbits.

EW: Let’s talk about the Carol and Tyreese scene at the end, which obviously could have played out a few ways. Was there ever a scenario discussed where Tyreese does not forgive Carol?

GIMPLE: It was very important to me that we have this moment of grace from the beginning. And I remember talking to Chad Coleman at the beginning of the season — knowing where the story was going — and telling him that, you know, things in the apocalypse for Tyreese had not been sooooo terrible. He had lost people like anybody, but things that directly hit him, it hadn’t happened until Karen was killed. And I told him things were going to be very, very rough for him this year, and that he would come to a place where he would have every reason to lash out for revenge, and that through everything he had been up to at that point, Tyreese would find grace. He would find forgiveness. And this was all without telling him what everything was about, just a general arc. But it was very important to me that in the context of such darkness, there be some light. And Tyreese is a character, being such a humanistic character, that’s the way I believe he would go. I’m not excited about things that are just relentlessly dark — that are just one thing. I get excited about stories that really do show every part of the human experience, and even in that horrible, horrible, horrible situation, there was some good that came out of it. There was grace. I was so thrilled to see how it came out.

EW: It’s definitely a theme I’ve noticed in these back eight episodes. In the first Rick and Carl episode you had the lighter moment at the end with the knock at the door and Rick says, “It’s for you.” Then you had it in the Daryl and Beth episode where they burn the house down at the end. Then you had it last week with Bob, Maggie, and Sasha all smiling when they are reunited on the train tracks. I’ve definitely noticed that even in these brutal episodes, many of them are ending on a note of hope.

GIMPLE: I think this show at its core is hopeful. Thee people are trying to remain people in extraordinarily bad circumstances, and to me that is one of the most hopeful things in the world. The thing about that is, if things do get light, if there are smiles, if there is love, if there is friendship and forgiveness and grace, it makes the darker things that much more dark and makes the defeats that much more crushing. And I will say that in my mind when Tyreese forgives Carol, in some ways, that is just a crushing thing. That’s a devastatingly sad thing, a reminder of  the goodness of the world — and yet, they lost these little girls. They had seen how the world destroys, but it isn’t so easy to say the world is just a destructive place or just an evil place, With that there could be some sort of surrender. To know that life can be good to is both heartening and extremely painful.

EW: Is that smoke we saw last night from the fire that Daryl set?

GIMPLE: I keep getting asked that and I refuse to give a definitive answer. Because I don’t want to tell you what it is. If I wanted folks to believe that definitively, I would have somehow tied that in definitively, but I want people to decide that. In the end, I have very hard feelings about what everything means, but I would never tell the audience they’re wrong. Unless it was a story point that we were very specific about.

EW: Was Greg Nicotero like a kid in a candy store coming up with those charbroiled zombies?

GIMPLE: We had done charbroiled zombies in the past but I wanted them to be still smoking. And that was some amazing work. We had extra crispy and original style, which was like half-crispy.

EW: Okay, just two more episodes left, sir. What can you tell us about where we go from here after that incredibly emotional installment?

GIMPLE: To the emotional conclusion of the season. Both episodes are really big episodes. There are some insane things that happen. There are some tragic things that happen, There are some things that happen that are hopeful. And there is just some remarkably dark stuff. And stories crashing together.

EW: So we may see some groups reuniting by chance?

GIMPLE: Possibly. Maybe.

EW: Those train tracks gotta be leading somewhere, right, Scott?

GIMPLE: Or it’s just like Where the Sidewalk Ends.

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AMC's zombie thriller, based on the classic comic book serial created by Robert Kirkman.
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