The Walking Dead showrunner answers season 8 premiere burning questions
Scott M. Gimple addresses Rick's last words, Easter eggs, Weird Al, and what's next
SPOILER ALERT: Read on only if you have already watched the “Mercy” season 8 premiere of The Walking Dead.
Annnnnnnnd, we’re off. Season 8 of The Walking Dead started with a bang — several of them, actually — as the Alexandria, Hilltop, and Kingdom alliance used explosives and gunshots to draw zombies towards the Sanctuary. While the resistance brought both the fight and the biters to Negan’s doorstep, we also saw a future Rick with a cane as well as yet another Rick with bloodshot eyes proclaiming, “My mercy prevails over my wrath.”
What do those words mean? How much more Old Man Rick are we going to see moving forward? What about those episode 100 Easter eggs throughout the episode? And, most importantly, how did a Weird Al Yankovic song make it onto The Walking Dead? We asked showrunner Scott M. Gimple all that and more. (Read through both pages for the entire interview, and also make sure to check out our Q&As with star Andrew Lincoln and director Greg Nicotero.)
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: We begin and end with this big speech from Rick. Was the intention always to play with time a bit and bookend the episode that way with that speech?
SCOTT M. GIMPLE: I remember playing a little bit with the edit on just a few things, but I believe I scripted it that way. It really was about the affirmation, the charge of positivity. Each of the groups finds themselves in difficult circumstances one way or another at the end of the story. There still is this charge of positivity, of excitement, of even weirdly joy at just being able to take up arms against Negan, so I think it was really important for the story and for the audience to have that. Those things kind of looked shaky for everybody at the end. They’re facing some pretty big challenges. The idea is the fact that they’re facing those challenges means that they aren’t static, and that’s a point of cheer for them and of happiness. Because even though things could go wrong, it’s better than just sitting on their hands.
What about the other bookends you have, like these close-ups we see throughout of Rick’s red bloodshot eyes. When are those taking place?
Oh, goodness. You almost got me! I almost answered that! There will be no candor there. We will see. It is part of the cumulative story of everything this season, as is the other stuff.
You end up having Rick do a callback to that guy from earlier and quoting from Islam with “My mercy prevails over my wrath.” What does having Rick say that at the end signify?
Oh God, no! I can’t say that because that’s the story. Therein lies the tale.
But the question obviously the viewer is going to ask after seeing that is: Does that signify that Rick is ultimately going to offer mercy to Negan as opposed to wrath? I mean, you are asking the audience to ask that question, right?
Well, I certainly went into it thinking that the audience might ask that question. I will say that especially at the start of a season, you do want the audience asking questions. You do want them thinking about what comes next. I really think there shouldn’t be an answer until that part of the story that answers it, but I admire your pluck.
Well, it’s interesting that you’re putting the tease in there. You’re allowing us, by putting that in there, to ask that question and to map out the possibilities.
I want you to. We want you to. All of us want you to, because in examining that question, not only might you find answers to the story, sure, but you might be thinking about questions about your own life, or the world, or anything. We’re trying to engage you that way. I know that my favorite stuff engaged me that way. I know I’m still thinking about the ending to Time Bandits and trying to figure it out.
Don’t touch it, Scott. It’s evil.
Okay, we saw the Old Man Rick stuff — very clearly mirroring some things we see in the comics after the time jump, especially with the harvest festival and everything. Is that a real future we are looking at, or more of a dream sequence situation like with the Glenn and Abraham feast scene? How much can you and will you say about that?
I can’t say one way or the other. I already told you this and you already printed this, but we will get answers on it. We will get definitive answers and there will be a point where it is one thing or the other. There’s a very important point to the story of it.
When you say we’re going to get answers, does that mean it is an ongoing thing?
I will say that. We return to this and get further context towards it and the entirety of the story.
Does that mean we’re going to see it throughout? Are we going to return to it once, or is it going to be a situation where each episode we’re going to be seeing a little bit more of this?
It’s not going to be each episode. I don’t want to break down the structure of the story, but I will say it is used as much as it should be.
“It is used as much as it should be.” That’s the most Scott Gimple quote I’ve ever heard you say.
I really have a reputation for obfuscation.
Let’s chat about something you can talk more freely about. You put in some nods here to the past for this episode 100, like the recreation of the very first scene ever, now with Carl looking for gas. What can you say about those little Easter eggs?
I mean, they’re pretty blatant, so I wouldn’t even call them Easter eggs. In some ways, I don’t even think you need to look for them. If you’ve watched the show, they’re right in your face and that was purposeful. It wasn’t to be like a scavenger hunt or anything. It was to feel the past of the show resounding through its present and potential future. It was to make things feel relatively full circle. There was a lot of dialogue that I made Mr. Yeun say in season 6 how nobody really dies if you are true to their memory and that they are a part of you and a part of the whole enterprise.
I think I used the word enterprise because way, way back I read in the magazine Entertainment Weekly an article about the filming of “All Good Things,” the finale of Star Trek: The Next Generation. The article begins with Patrick Stewart quoting — I think Robin Skinner, the British psychologist — about how to walk we have to fall to get to that next step, and it’s something about the past and how those we lost are still within us. I printed out that page and I think that idea has very much infected the show. It’s a hand-off of all the work that everyone has done along the way and it’s the thing that’s holding us up. So it was trying to get that idea across in a very visual way that I think the audience would immediately pick up on it. It isn’t like oh, we’re being coy about it here.
NEXT PAGE: Gimple on using Weird Al Yankovic and what’s coming up next
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: You’re a big music guy and put a lot of thought into what songs you use, so why have Weird Al’s “Another One Rides the Bus” as the tune we hear in this future Grimes family scene?
SCOTT M. GIMPLE: Storywise, it had to be a song that I wanted Judith to be into, but I didn’t want her to be into something necessarily typical. I wanted to have it be distinctive. I will say there is a toddler in my life sort of obsessed with that song so that might have played into it a little bit. I try to check myself in those moments where I’m doing that for friends or whatever, but I put it in the script and was sitting there thinking about it.
One of the things I love about Weird Al is that there’s no worry about cool, and cool is the worst thing ever. Cool has infected my beloved comics and science fiction and fantasy and it breaks my heart, and I wanted to make sure we did not start out cool. Also, I wanted it to be rather jarring. I mean, as jarring as what we’re seeing. Funny enough, the more I thought about it, seeing Rick with his giant beard and a limp in this other universe in Alexandria — “Another One Rides the Bus” on The Walking Dead, it’s slightly more jarring than that. So, to me, it was like, oh, well, that wins. That’s exactly right. Initially, I thought it was my own bias and I shouldn’t do this, and then I was like, “Wait, no. It isn’t cool and the audience is going to be like, ‘What the hell is this?’” And I was like, “Oh my God, this is exactly what we want. This is perfect.” I was so thrilled.
I know you are now allowed to drop two — but only two — F-bombs per season. I also remember watching Andrew Lincoln on set giving that countdown to Negan and he dropped one on almost every single take, and I was wondering if you might use one of them up there, but you didn’t. You kept it clean.
Oh, God no. Think about it this way: There are people who have been on this show for years, and they’ve had to dance around that word a little bit. So I would just say there are people on the show who probably have been hungering to use this word for years, who want their De Niro moment, their Al Pacino moment, their Gandolfini moment. So with the amount of competition within this incredible cast, it’s like giving out a golden ticket.
At the end of the episode, we see a dedication to John Bernecker, the stuntman that lost his life this summer. But George Romero got a dedication as well. How did the Romero nod come about?
The debt that the show has to Mr. Romero — everybody sort of thought about it at the same time. Everybody felt the same way at the same time instantly. The show owes a great debt to him and popular culture owes a great debt to him.
So the alliance strikes first, Gabriel is in that trailer — unfortunately might have left his s–ting pants at home. What can you say now about what’s coming up next?
Three unbelievably intense, unrelenting episodes that pushed the actors and the crew, and the producers, everybody. These next three episodes were just one thing after the other after the other. It is very, very intense. It moves very, very quickly. When I was with the mixers, we definitely were hurting our ears quite a bit just with the pounding music, and the intensity, and the walkers, and the gunfire, and the yelling. The next three episodes might be the most intense string of episodes we’ve had.