Gene Page/AMC
March 17, 2014 at 12:00 PM EDT

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”

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