SPOILER ALERT: Read on only if you have already watched Sunday’s “What Comes After” episode of The Walking Dead.

Rick Grimes is gone… but not gone. The lead character for nine seasons of The Walking Dead made it through his final episode alive — barely — after blowing up a bridge full of zombies to protect his friends and family, and then being found by Jadis/Anne, who saved him by getting her former-foe-turned-friend on that mysterious helicopter taking him to God knows where.

And Rick’s story is not over. EW can report that Andrew Lincoln will be back in the role for a series of Walking Dead movies for AMC. We spoke to Walking Dead chief content officer Scott M. Gimple to get all the scoop. When and where will these movies happen? How many are planned? Are there other non-Rick movies in the works? What happens to Jadis now? We asked Gimple — who also reveals when the original Rick exit was supposed to take place — all that and more.

Seeing as how Gimple also co-wrote Lincoln’s final episode with Matthew Negrete, we also got some behind-the-scenes scoop on those big return scenes by Jon Bernthal, Sonequa Martin-Green, and the late Scott Wilson. Read through both pages for all the intel, and make sure to also check out our chat with Andrew Lincoln, where the star explains how and when the plan came together for the films, and our interview showrunner Angela Kang, who talks all about the scene from Andrew Lincoln’s finale you didn’t see.

Credit: Jackson Lee Davis/AMC

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: When did you start mapping out the creative vision for when and how we were going to say goodbye to Rick Grimes on this show. How long a process has this been and how did it come together?
SCOTT M. GIMPLE: Years and years ago, Andy and I had some talks that were hardly formal or binding or anything, but just about how we’re very lucky to have such an amazing audience, and it going on and on and on. And so in the back of my head, I started mapping some things out, and they became more real in story even before Andy’s ultimate decision, but I already started putting things in the story and started developing a story that either would feature Andy, which I thought it would, or possibly could be something else inside that garden of forking paths.

But as we got closer and closer, those things that I put into the story looked like they were going to come to fruition, and last year things got really real, and I started talking with everybody a little more clearly, especially [new showrunner Angela Kang]. When I was moving her up into the showrunning position, there was a whole briefing of all the stuff we had to handle, and all the stuff that I’d stitched in the story to get there.

I remember Andy telling me that at one point he was thinking, “Okay, I’m going to go out in season 8,” and then he said, “Well, let’s wait until season 9.” I’m not sure how far you were at that point. Did you get to a point, if he had left earlier, what that goodbye would’ve looked like? Was that going to be in the middle of the “All Out War” arc?
Oh, yeah. There was an absolute plan, and I knew which episode it was, and had a very good idea, as did the writers at that point. But on this show, it’s a constant exercise in that sort of choose your own adventure storytelling, of knowing the directions you’re going to go in, and listing them all. And that’s always worked very well in as much as even back before I was showrunning, having a few different directions, because invariably you’ll go back to those other directions you didn’t use and potentially apply them to another story. And it’s also that remixing of Robert Kirkman’s stuff. He gives you the opportunity to reorder some of the comic story, which I think has worked well.

So how was it originally going to happen?
Oh, no! I’m not going to say that! I never share that. It’s like a sacred sort of alternate reality, the Earth Two that’s in our heads. To tell you the truth, there’s aspects of it that we might mine in other ways.

Ugh. Fine. Can you at least tell me when it would have happened?
I can say nothing was every formal, obviously, but in some ways, in a very, very nascent way it was looking like episode 14 last year.

Before we get into the plan with the movies, I want to ask you about Rick’s goodbye episode because you co-wrote it with Matthew Negrete and you have these three returning characters. Obviously Shane, Hershel, and Sasha come back, and I was really curious about what that was like for you and Matt writing that. Did you have to write parts of this episode around who’s schedules lined up that you could get to come back? How did that whole process work in of writing around the story once you saw who you could get?
There were some schedules and such that precluded one of the actors that we were looking at, and we had written to them, and so there was some rewriting and there was a new scene done, which actually was wonderful. But there was a little bit of shuffling. I will say what’s funny is the person that we didn’t think we were going to get, just because of schedule stuff, was John [Bernthal]. But again, you go with the possibilities you’re looking at. You go forward with them with all your heart, and then if it doesn’t work out, you apply that same sort of passion in another direction. It really worked out wonderfully, and we’re so lucky that it worked out the way it did.

Credit: Jackson Lee Davis/AMC

So why another time jump? Why here? Why now?
I don’t know, that’s fascinating. For fans of the comic, the end of episode 905, they’re like, “Oh, this is ‘The New Beginning’,” meaning the storyline in the comic. I mean, we see Magna, and Yumiko, and their group, and that was the beginning of “The New Beginning” storyline in the comics.

The last time jump was a jump, but it wasn’t a huge amount of time. This jump is that quantum leap forward from the comic, and it’s a whole new world. It was important to, especially after “All Out War,” get some distance from that story, and be in a whole new reality for Rick and the group. But that was an incredibly dramatic overture to “The New Beginning” that we saw in the comic, which is one of the terrific arcs of the comic. And it was so surprising, and so intense, and so new. I loved that. I was so thrilled that Angela, Matt, and the writers came upon that for 905 — to see Rick’s legacy, and even Carl’s legacy in action in that episode. I think it was unexpected. When it was pitched to me, I was like, “Holy crap. That is it. That is so definitely it.” It got me excited. (Interview continues on next page.)

The Walking Dead _ Season 9, Episode 5 - Photo Credit: Jackson Lee Davis/AMC
Credit: Jackson Lee Davis/AMC

So let’s talk about these Rick Grimes movies you all are going to be doing. What can you tell me?
It is really important for the audience to know that we are going to be continuing to tell the story of Rick Grimes in these AMC Studios original films. We don’t want this thing to be like, “Oh, well, he’ll be back on the show any moment now.” We are telling Rick’s story in another medium, and it’s going to be these AMC Studios original films. They’re going to be on AMC, most probably. They’re centered around Rick Grimes. We’re going to tell the story of what happens after that helicopter flight, and these are going to be big, epic entertainments. Each are quality films. That’s what’s been happening in the industry. We’ve seen Netflix make these, basically, studio films for people to watch in their homes, and we’re going to be doing the same sort of thing here.

Any time frame you guys have for filming these and getting these on the air? What is that looking like?
I am extremely hard at work on the first one right now, and most likely filming next year, though I’m freaking out about deadlines right now, so I’m not going to tell you exactly when because it will only make me pass out. But it really is going to be sooner than later. On the flip side, these are not going to be made on television schedules. This is going to be on feature schedules, and they’re going to be big, so they’re going to take a minute to make.

Will they be filmed down in Georgia during The Walking Dead hiatus in filming? Do you plan on using a lot of the same crew?
No, only because we need everybody making The Walking Dead. Walking Dead has a lot of big stuff going on, and we’re going to be continuing to make that show. Also, he’s flying off in a helicopter, away from Virginia, and it’s going to be a new world — aa very new situation with its own history, and very, very different from what we’ve seen before.

Does this mean Jadis is moving over to this movie franchise?
She is on that helicopter, so that would be a yes.

How many of these movies are we talking about?
We are talking about a trilogy for this Rick Grimes story. It doesn’t necessarily mean it’s the only Rick Grimes stories we’re ever going to tell, and also they’re probably not going to be the only movies that we tell. The Rick Grimes story, of course, is the biggest thing that we’re doing right off the bat, but we’re going to be doing a number of different Walking Dead things over the next few years. A universe of stuff. We’re not going to release it all at once. We’re going to be putting things out over the years for maximum effect. We don’t want to overwhelm folks with it.

But we’re going to see all sorts of different Walking Dead projects in all sorts of ways with old standbys, with new voices, which is really important to me. And they’re all going to be very different and distinct from the shows. We have this one show amazing show that is showing the beginning of its civilization, and we have this other show with these folks who are trying to make up for the things that they did. We’re going to be having different entertainments, different narratives within The Walking Dead. Different tone, different characters. We’re also going to see old characters — review some content with old favorites. We get to revisit them and see stories of their past that we might not have shared before.

When you talk about old favorites, are you talking about characters that have gone off the show or maybe didn’t make it along the way? When you say stories of the past, do you mean we could be going back and seeing prequels and sequels?
Well, both actually. We’re going to see the past, we’re going to see old characters. We’re going to move into the future with new characters. We’re doing films, we’re doing specials. We’re going to be looking at new series. And even just different expressions of series — not necessarily 16 episodes. We might be doing some mini-series. We’re looking at different ways to tell stories. It’s very important that these be distinct from the other two shows or they really won’t be worth doing. We want to answer questions that the audience had all along. We want to see just different parts of the world. We really want to expand out the breadth of what The Walking Dead can be.

Credit: Gene Page/AMC

I know things are so up in the air with Lauren Cohan depending on what happens with Whiskey Cavalier, and other things of that nature. Is it a possibility that maybe a Maggie movie could potentially be something that we might see at some point?
That is absolutely a possibility. I will say that Angela and I and others really want to see Maggie back on the show. We have a lot of story for her that we want to tackle and we’ve talked about different ways we can do it. That said, if Whiskey Cavalier lights up the world, we’re still going to do Maggie stuff. We’re just going to figure out different ways to do it. It might be me shooting Lauren in between scenes of Whiskey Cavalier, of Maggie in a post-apocalyptic Prague [where Whiskey Cavalier is filming].

Finally, are you an A or a B?
Oh, dear. Hmm. You know, I would say I’m a B. I would say I’m a B. I’d like to think of myself as an A, but I’m a B.

Also make sure to read our chat with Andrew Lincoln, where the star explains how and when the plan came together for the films, and showrunner Angela Kang’s intel on Rick’s last episode and that time jump shocker. And for more Walking Dead scoop, follow Dalton on @DaltonRoss.

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The Walking Dead

AMC's zombie thriller, based on the classic comic book serial created by Robert Kirkman.

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