The Walking Dead showrunner Scott M. Gimple on that big death and even bigger injury
[SPOILER ALERT: Read on only if you have already watched Sunday’s “No Way Out” midseason premiere of The Walking Dead.]
Good news! The folks of Alexandria fought off the zombies! But that was only after the entire Anderson family was devoured and one of our major characters suffered a critical, life- (and vision-) threatening injury. As teased in December’s midseason finale, young Sam indeed starting freaking out, immediately drawing zombies upon him. This caused a chain reaction which included Jessie then being eaten, Rick having to chop off Jessie’s hand when she would not let go of Carl, Ron trying to shoot Rick, Michonne stabbing Ron, and then Ron inadvertently shooting Carl in the face.
Denise saved Carl’s life, but not his right eye. So, you know, that was the bad news. We caught up with showrunner Scott M. Gimple to get his take on this pivotal episode, and he revealed the biggest mystery of all — the name of that seemingly nameless Wolf guy. (Click through both pages to read the entire interview. Also make sure to read our midseason premiere Q&As with Walking Dead creator Robert Kirkman, director Greg Nicotero, and actress Alexandra Breckenridge. And for more Walking Dead scoop all season long, follow me on Twitter @DaltonRoss.)
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Was there ever any scenario once you cast Alex Breckenridge as Jessie that the character was going to survive after this point?
SCOTT M. GIMPLE: I would say anything is possible, but no. The story was the story, and we were going to follow the story, more of less, of the book. That said, if a meteor hit the earth, and you know, huge changes happened throughout our society, you never know. I will say, Alexandra is such a talented actress who is so wonderful to work with that sometimes I was hoping for that meteor because she’s fantastic. But yeah, from the beginning we were intending on telling the story from the comic. I guess if there was any sort of variable is that the sooner or later of it might’ve come into play.
The same act of Rick chopping her hand off to leave her with the zombies and free Carl, but you’re just saying it might’ve happened at a different point?
Yeah, I would think so. And you know, sometimes things get mixed up as well. I mean, I’m talking extremely theoretically. The plan was to tell the story from the book. I will say just talking to you now, it would’ve been interesting if it was the converse, if it was Jessie to Rick rather than Rick to Jessie.
That would even some things with the comic with Rick finally losing his hand.
Exactly! It would be sort of a very aggressive homage. And maybe she’s wearing an eye patch too. Would’ve been great.
Then sort of knowing that her fate in a sense was sealed when she was cast because she had this huge moment from the comic that we know about, when and how then did you deliver the bad news to her that this was happening?
I will say that there’s a lot of characters that I knew a long time before they would go, and I’m always just try to figure out when is the best time and what’s both the most considerate for them and also leaves room open for things to change in the show, especially the timing. So, you know, I kept in pretty close contact with Alexandra about it, but I don’t want to get into the details too much.
You had the moment right before Rick does the big chop-chop move where he’s having these flashbacks to all these happy Jessie moments, and you guys don’t do that much if at all. So talk about that decision, because that certainly is not something that we’re used to seeing on the show.
Yeah, I’m glad you bring that up. It was a very impressionistic moment, certainly inspired by a certain style of filmmaking from the ‘70s that was something [director Greg Nicotero] and I talked about. It was such an intense moment. It was so emotional, and difficult, and horrific in every aspect of the horrific thing inflicted upon the other person is by someone who really doesn’t want to do it, but needs to do it. And those flashes in many ways I felt even heightened what was happening.
It reminded the audience that they were human beings under that pile and that the context of their relationship — there was such an urgency to what Rick was doing. We wanted to contrast that in an emotional and horrific way as it all was happening to heighten your emotion. We do like to employ impressionistic and sort of experimental moments in filmmaking.
I love that because it’s just yet another way to give the audience a new experience. We don’t want to give an inch as far as letting go of an opportunity to enhance the experience for the audience, and that does take experimentation. It does mean taking risks, and we’re always going to do that for the audience, and I will say that we’re on a network where the DNA is about giving the audience a cinematic experience, and that’s what we try to do, and we’re very lucky that we landed where we did.
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Obviously in the comics it is Douglas Monroe who accidentally shoots Carl while trying to fight off zombies. You had been laying the groundwork for a while to set it up as Ron being the one who shoots Carl while trying to shoot Rick. Why move away from having Deanna — the TV version of Douglas — do it and at what point did you come across this idea?
Pretty early on. I would love to say, “Oh, man, what a genius move by us!” but there’s a scene in the comics where Ron comes at Carl. Not really physically as much as just threatening him, but that dynamic was so cool in the book, and it was just one we wanted to explore and fulfill that much more. And Enid was a big part of that as well. We absolutely took inspiration from the book, to depart from the book, to circle back to the book, to depart from the book. Yeah, it’s this sort of M.C. Escher style of adapting source material.
NEXT: Why they took Carl’s eye, and the name of that Wolf that took Denise[pagebreak]
I asked you about the possibility of taking out Carl’s eye a long time ago and you were predictably cagey, but was there any talk about, do we really want to do this to Carl’s eye, in terms of the logistics of dealing with that going forward? Because it’s not just someone getting shot in the shoulder, and it heals, and no big deal, and you cover it up with a jacket, and we don’t see it anyway. You shoot someone in the face, that’s going to permanently affect your logistics going forward.
What happened with Carl is so transformative to his character. For years into the comic book, even the storyline that we’re in now in the comic book, in many ways, the basis of it is Carl and how he feels about who he is and even how he looks. I don’t want to be spoiling things, but that led to a relationship that very much has an enormous impact on the story in the book.
You know, [Andrew Lincoln] came to Greg and I separately and then together asking about if he could start having scars. And scars cost a little bit of time, and this is a show that we need every second and then some, but Andy was right. These characters are going to start carrying their scars, and that time to put those on his face every morning is worth it because that’s who his character is, and the same thing with Carl.
And I just want to say this as publicly as possible how great [Chandler Riggs, who plays Carl] is with all of it. I mean, it’s a drag to have one of your eyes covered up all the time. It’s a drag. It’s far less of a drag than losing your eye, of course, but the way that Chandler is doing it and dealing with it is incredible. So we’re very lucky to have him.
And I heard you wouldn’t let him get his hair cut knowing this was coming to help sort of deal with that situation.
Well, this may or may not be true.
Look, Scott, I’m so sick of calling this lead Wolf guy “lead Wolf guy” because I didn’t know what to call him. Now that he’s dead, did that dude have a name or what?
To tell you the truth, there were a few names for him. There’s a big backstory I wrote for him.
Okay, tell me everything right now.
It’s actually a pretty ambient backstory that, you never know, we might wind up having some sort of chance to tell some day. I’d say at one point his name was Owen, which was slightly playful because he would spell his name on his forehead that way. I absolutely settled on a very precise backstory, but I never really settled on a name because I never had to.
Well, Owen is better than nothing, so we’ll go with that. Switching gears, I know you want me to stop hating Father Gabriel now because he’s stepping up to protect Judith and then getting into the fight, but apparently I am less forgiving than the characters on this show because I still kind of hate him.
Well, man, I don’t want to tell you how to feel. Obviously, I’m not the boss of you. Personally, for me, the egregious things that Gabriel has done has been out of weakness and self-loathing, and that doesn’t necessarily excuse him for the things he’s done. Doesn’t at all. But he’s here, and he is learning, and he does respect Rick a great deal, and he’s trying to change into a person who’s more like Rick. Whether that makes him likable or not, it’s absolutely the audience’s decision. But he’s here, he’s trying, and he’s not just folding up his tent and dying. He’s trying to find some redemption, and aren’t we all? Aren’t we all, Dalton?
Speak for yourself. Alright, so what can you say about what is coming up next?
I would say the best phrase for episode 609 to 610 is: now for something completely different. This is like holding onto your couches because it’s such a contrast to what everyone just saw — in tone primarily, but the feelings people come away with from episode 10 I would think are utterly and completely different than 9. I’ll also say some time will have passed between the two episodes.