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The Walking Dead season 8 finale was stuffed with big action and even bigger personal moments — as Rick sliced Negan’s neck before changing his mind and saving his arch-enemy to honor his son’s dying wish and building that new future that Carl so desperately wanted.
But we still have questions. Questions like: Has Rick now really changed? When exactly did Eugene turn good again? Are Maggie and Daryl planning a civil war? Was a huge hint just dropped about season 9 and the next big adversary? And what was cut out of the season finale at the last minute?
We asked all of that and more to outgoing showrunner Scott M. Gimple, who will be moving into full franchise overseer mode now while Angela Kang takes over showrunning duties, and he provided the answers — including his biggest regret of season 8. (Also make sure to read from Gimple how four TWD characters ended up crossing over to Fear the Walking Dead, and get intel from star Andrew Lincoln on those finale flashbacks.)
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: So when Rick is telling Negan all about Carl’s amazing vision for the future, that’s all just a ruse to slit his throat, right?
SCOTT M. GIMPLE: It is a ploy, as we saw him have a similar ploy with Morgan in the bar. That said, he said that out loud and heard the words that he said. He was making a play and it was in the name of his son, and is there some piece of Carl or Rick within himself that when you put air to those words, that it affects him, and there is a subliminal purpose to that?
So what then causes him to change his mind? Is it saying the words out loud? Is it slicing Negan’s neck and realizing, I don’t have the satisfaction I thought I had? Is it Negan’s words after that? Is it turning around and seeing everybody behind him watching. Is it all of these things?
In my mind, it’s saying those words out loud, it’s hearing those words, it’s going through with the play and seeing what he did. And really being faced with a choice and choosing what his son wanted. Did Carl’s words come back to haunt him? I think he just went too far by invoking those words and doing what he did. He cornered himself. He was using his son’s last wishes to get his revenge. He couldn’t go through with it, but is there something inside him that knew that? And really, was there any way to stop Negan without incapacitating him severely?
And even going further, you can even go a little darker to subliminal wishes: Did he do it and say “fix him” and then be like, “Wellllll, if it doesn’t work out, I gave it a shot.” There’s a lot going on there. But I think emotionally he went too far, but maybe something inside him knew he had to do that to get to where he needed to be.
Does this lead to a profoundly different Rick Grimes in season 9 now having made that ultimate decision?
I think it’s going to lead to a profoundly different world. These are the acts that needed to be done to launch their nascent society into something else, and to evolve the show. It’s one act but it’s a huge, huge thing.
Is Morgan’s cell still intact after the Alexandria bombing?
[Laughs] I believe it is, yes. I believe it is.
That certainly could come in handy moving forward.
Maybe, maybe not. This sort of thing was thought of when we were carrying around the idea of that cell.
Is that massive herd we saw and Rick referenced near the end of the episode an intentional hint of the comic book villains the Whisperers and what may be coming in season 9?
If it was, it was subliminal. It very much had to do with the world they live in now.
When did Eugene make the decision to sabotage the bullets, which ultimately turned the tide in the war? He’s gone back and forth a bit for a while, but when did he ultimately pick his side?
See, I feel he didn’t go back and forth as much as he was just conflicted. He was all-in on being a Savior and being Negan’s lieutenant, but he couldn’t sleep, he was needing to drink to go to sleep, he was haunted by things, which is not who he is. He’s very much, “Well, I did this to survive.” But it was weighing upon him. And his experience with Rosita definitely turned the key for him as far as what he was ultimately going to do in the end.
So it was the puke?
[Laughs] Actually, it’s just because he felt really badly about the puke. That’s where he crossed the line — assaulting someone with his own vomit just was too much. Really, it was Abraham and it was Rosita that forever infected him with humanity and however much he tried not to be a part of the human race, he’s in it.
Clearly, you all have set something up here with Maggie, Daryl, and maybe Jesus where they’re not happy Negan is still alive and they plan to do something about it. Is what you’re setting up here a form of potential civil war in season 9?
That’s absolutely a betrayal of Maggie’s point of view in the book. She’s understandably not down with what Rick did and Daryl too had just been through too much. He also had a different opinion than Rick. And Jesus’ loyalty remains with Maggie. Jesus is not Morgan. He didn’t want to kill survivor Saviors. He was not down with that. But would he kill Negan? I think he would. Is it civil war or is it them wanting to take care of the issues they still see as out there? Are they looking to go against Rick directly or is it something else? The important thing is that what was truly important to Rick, they had a different take on, and they’re obviously thinking of ways to remedy that.
But when Maggie talks about building up their defenses and their strength and biding their time, who is she building them up against? At this point, is she worried about the Saviors turning bad again or is it to be more powerful than Alexandria to shift some of the power dynamic between the communities?
Listen, I don’t want to spill any beans.
Well, at that point in time, what is her intent with that comment?
At the very least, I think she’s talking about the Hilltop, and we gotta take care of our business. We gotta put our house in order. And once those things happen, we’re going to address issues we feel need addressing. I think the interesting thing about that is she’s being a leader. She’s not putting her own agenda above the safety and opportunity for the place to flourish. She wants to take care of her community and that’s her being a leader. But there’s something on her to-do list after.
You all often have to cut stuff for time. What are some of the things that didn’t make it into the finale that you had to drop at the last minute?
There were a few things. There was some really cool stuff with Negan at the Sanctuary sort of addressing the troops and seeing some of his own conflicts about what they’re facing. There was a lovely exchange between Rick, Michonne, and Maggie that was about the future. There was some great stuff [we had to cut] but I would say not only for time but also for flow. I’d like to show some of those scenes on, like, a DVD, but for the flow of the story, it just benefited from [cutting] it.
And also, by the way, for Fear the Walking Dead, we had to trim some stuff there that I loved. It’s just the nature of telling stories. It can be really heartbreaking sometimes but I think the flow of stories is important and it’s a worthy challenge in commercial television to have to deal with that. Keeping a tight experience for the audience is also good.
So is the outline and plan for season 9 something you and new showrunner Angela Kang formed together?
Yes. We sat down and worked on the broad strokes. To tell you the truth, there was a lot about season 9 that we had worked out even before season 8, and then we sat down and worked on it even more — sort of crafting the overall arc and some specific things. And then she went off with the writers to further finesse and make it great. And then we continue to talk about the stories as they unfold.
You oversee the entire franchise now and I know co-wrote the Fear premiere. Will you keep writing any Walking Dead episodes in your new role?
I hope to, yeah. It’s a very busy new role and I know I’m going to be doing a little bit of writing in some manner in season 9, though I don’t know if it will be full scripts or stories or whatever. But yeah, I love it. I really hope to because I miss it. Even last year, season 8, I think that was the least I had written on the show, directly, during the seven years I’ve worked on the show, just by virtue of all the different things I was handling.
But writing for The Walking Dead is one of the great joys I have had. I hope to be able to continue a little bit sometimes, maybe more other times. But there is all sorts of cool stuff that hopefully I’ll be writing as well. And also, Fear. I really enjoy writing with [Fear showrunners Andrew Chambliss and Ian Goldberg]. I mean, I work with Angela and I work with Andrew and Ian pretty intermittently all the time, but writing a script is a whole other beast and is something that I find very, very enjoyable and I love. One of my big regrets of season 8 is that I didn’t actually write scripts more because I love doing it.
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