The Walking Dead showrunner defends cliffhanger
[SPOILER ALERT: Read on only if you have already watched Sunday’s The Walking Dead season finale, “Last Day on Earth.”]
The Walking Dead ended its sixth season in brutal fashion for both the characters and the viewers. Brutal for the characters because they had to watch one of their own get pulverized with a barbed wire-covered baseball bat, and brutal for the viewers because they were left hanging for more than six months without knowing who was on the receiving end of those deadly blows.
Showrunner Scott M. Gimple took part in a conference call with reporters to discuss the controversial finale and why he ended it with a big question mark. Here are some highlights:
On the reasoning behind the cliffhanger and not revealing who died:
“The reasoning behind this was… In many ways what we saw last night was the end of the story of [episode] 16. Where Rick winds up is completely different from where he started in 1 and where he started in 9. I know obviously what it is in 701. And presenting what occurs, to show what happened in full-force, is the beginning of the next story.”
On if he has concern on testing viewers’ patience and teasing the fans with too many cliffhangers:
“I think if you approach it from a place of skepticism or with the idea that there is some sort of negative motivation behind it or cynical motivation behind it — if you come at it that way it’s difficult to convince you otherwise. I do think we’ve done enough on the show and we’ve delivered a story that people have enjoyed and I guess asking people to give us the benefit of the doubt that it is all part of a plan and is all part of a story. And I truly hope that people see 701 and they feel that it justifies the way we decided to tell the story. That is the way that it is in our minds. I know what 701 is and I feel that it delivers on what 616 sets up.”
On lingering frustration over the “Is Glenn dead?” thing and whether he has regrets over removing Steven Yeun’s name from the credits:
“I know that in my heart it was about protecting the audience’s experience. There is a great deal of meta that goes on around the show and really, its interesting — if I left the name in, I think there might have been criticism in another direction of being sloppy or to protecting the audience’s experience. Taking it out, I can see that people that choose to look at it cynically, it’s like that we were trying to trick in some way, but really I wanted the audience to go through an emotional experience and I didn’t want things like the credits to get in the way of that.
“I can see that if it’s looked upon cynically that I’m doing something specifically to play with them but, I just think it’s an incredibly smart audience, it’s an incredibly plugged-in audience and every cue is looked at and I thought it would be safe for their experience to keep the name out.
“We do care about our audience a great deal. We don’t enjoy the pain they go through but it is part of the greater story that they themselves are going through themselves.”
On plans to continue to keep the mystery death a secret:
“We are doing our best in all those areas. It is very, very difficult nowadays.… That said, we are working very hard to put things in place hopefully to protect it. I sure hope it doesn’t leak in any way.”
On preparing for fan blowback:
“We were definitely anticipating some. I think if you have something in a story that can be criticized in some direction, it will be criticized. There is a vast audience and people in some ways now feel almost like it’s their duty to let their opinions be known, and that’s great. That’s part of the world now.… I know the greater story we are telling and why this fits in, where this fits in. The hard thing about it is you can’t say why. You can’t say exactly why you do some of the turns that you take, because you’ll wind up telling details of the story.
“We know why we do what we do and we know that our intensions are good. We know that we care about our audience.… It makes the challenge for us to win those angry people back with a great story that much more important, that much harder, but that’s the business we’re in.… I do want to do right by this audience. I hope to win back or assuage some of the angst.”
On if people can follow clues to figure out who died:
“I believe there is no way. There are a couple of things in there that might help people possibly limit the amount of people who are vulnerable. But I will recommend people not to go down that route. I truly don’t think there’s a way to puzzle it all out definitively.”
On whether we will learn more about Negan’s backstory:
“There’s something very honest about Negan. With the Governor, he was putting on an act.… With Negan, what you see is what you get. He’s not putting on any airs. He’s not hiding parts of himself.… I think with Negan, it’s about positive reinforcement. He’s approached the world in a certain way and the world has rewarded him again and again. We will see stories from his perspective. But I do think that the guy you see is the guy he is. There won’t be this sort of reveal behind the mask.”
On what the tone and themes of season 7 will be:
“I’ll tell you this. The world opened up this half season…. In the next half season, the world is going to open up even more. We are going to have a wide variety of locale, of tone, of character. I’m very excited for all the different stories that will be told. And there will be a lot different stories told.…. There’s going to be probably the biggest variety of stories we’ve had yet.… I can say without spoiling anything that things are going to start off very, very, very, dark, because everybody’s where we’re starting. But that isn’t going to be the whole season. It’s not going to be darkness upon darkness upon darkness.
On if we will see Heath again since Corey Hawkins has been cast in the new 24 reboot:
“I’ll say this: We will absolutely see Heath again. At this point, we’ve had to Choose Your Own Adventure it a little bit where we’re hoping to have him in a certain episode for a certain thing that will lead to another thing. We have a lot of contingency plans.”
On if he has talked with the Games of Thrones showrunners about how to handle fan feedback:
“I would love to sit down with those guys. I would buy them many beers. We could commiserate. We could compare notes.… If you want to put the audience through an experience that mirrors the characters’ experience, which is not always pleasant, that’s challenging. Because in some ways it runs counter to what entertainment is.
“I do believe that people want to feel and they do want to have something that makes them think and imagine and wonder and even be angry sometimes at what the world does to the characters, or even how much information they get and how quickly they get it.”
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On if he is afraid to kill characters that have been around for longer:
“It’s something we’ve lived with since the beginning. It’s about those deaths meaning something to the story, to the other characters. I know that what’s coming up is going to change everything with the story, whether it’s a fairly new or a fairly OG character. There is a long-running plan to this show and characters will met their end, and also some characters will not meet their end for a while.”
On whether the Negan-Carl relationship from the comic will make it on screen:
“Oh, yes. 1,000 times yes.… It may be very, very brief, but we will absolutely see them have a pretty intense moment. There will be a bit of remixing. There may be another character involved that takes some of it.… That relationship will be absolutely shown, whether it’s with Carol or not, I cannot say. But I absolutely want to explore Negan having that strange respect for someone, which I think was the hallmark of that relationship, and tell versions of that story.”