The Walking Dead has no timetable for ending
Not many dramas without the words Law & Order in the title make it to season 10. But that’s what The Walking Dead did in 2019. And according to the man leading the franchise, there’s plenty more where that came from.
While some have wondered how long The Walking Dead can continue in light of steep viewership declines and big-name defections such as Andrew Lincoln (who will be moving over to a Walking Dead movie) and Danai Gurira (who will be wrapping up her time on the show this spring), the zombie drama is still the most watched entertainment program on cable TV, and has even experienced a recent creative renaissance. That is why TWD chief content officer Scott M. Gimple sees no end in sight when asked about the longevity of the landmark series (that has also spun-off a successful talk show, two other scripted companion entries, and an upcoming film trilogy as well).
In part 3 of our sit down with Gimple, we talked about what it was like for him to give up day-to-day operations on the mothership show, inquired about continuing the program without its main star, and asked if he knows when and how the series will end. Gimple also shot down one theory about the next big beat in the story and if the impending arrival of the Commonwealth is linked to the three-ring CRM helicopter group that whisked Rick Grimes away. (Read part 1 of our interview about the Rick Grimes movies here, and part 2 about The Walking Dead: World Beyond right here, and come back tomorrow for the latest update on Fear the Walking Dead.)
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: As your duties have expanded and you’re overseeing so much now, do you ever miss being part of the day to day on the original show?
SCOTT M. GIMPLE: Absolutely. Just for that kind of focus, you know? I mean, it’s an impossible job, but it’s a great job. I loved it for the five years I did it. I also have a young family, and I was away from them a great deal, even though I am here working deep into the morning every night. The joke’s on me — this is a pretty busy job too. Showrunning is a speed that is just unlike anything else, but the focus is unlike anything else, and the way that everything feeds into each other, every aspect of it, from the writing to the production to the post production and there’s a part where it’s all happening at once, but you can make these really cool things happen. We’re doing all those things at once. I loved it. I loved it, but I really wanted to try a different challenge and also, yeah, I have a young family, so there was a part of that as well.
How does it work with you and current showrunner Angela Kang now? Do you two outline stories together, or does she come in and pitch you what they’re thinking?
We talked at the beginning of the year about the whole thing. In season 9, it was even deeper, just because we had already done a bunch of work before 9 started. Now we talked at the beginning of the year about overall notions and ideas, and then as things were coming together, pitching and really the week in week out has been more going over scripts and just offering thoughts and notions, and same with cuts. Then there’s a lot of business aspects as well to really attend to really difficult planning for the future and just trying to finesse different crazy places where creative and business crosses, and try to just make everything work together as we keep going.
I’m on that as well quite a bit. It really is more on the advisor side of things where it’s really just helping to make it the best story it is and make the cuts as best as they are. And Angela’s obviously got it. She’s terrific at this. I try to plus things where I can and just help things out moving forward.
I’ve asked you this question before, but I haven’t asked you this question in a while, and certainly not since Robert Kirkman put an end to the comic book. Keeping that in mind, with him ending that story, do you have any sort of timetable yet in terms of how long you all want this show and story to go on?
We’re always in contact with AMC to ensure we’re on the same page about moving forward. There isn’t a timetable. We’re continuing on. People are digging the show, and there’s a lot more story to tell. I’ve said it, Angela’s said it too, that last issue of the comic reads like a pilot. There’s a ton more story to tell. As long as the audience wants it, we would love to tell it. So far, we’re very much on the same page.
I remember talking to Robert years ago about the comic where he said, “I don’t know when it’s going to end, but I know how it ends.” Do you have in your head a vision for how this show will eventually end?
I’ve had visions and I think you always have to have a small variety of ways it could go because there are so many different things that can happen outside the narrative production-wise. Then there’s so much that happens within the narrative that catches fire or a story that is shorter or longer than you anticipated. I’ve always had a few different aspects in mind that serve a greater theme.
As far as the ending of the show though, whenever it might be, I would be talking about it with Angela and really try to fulfill the whole of it. I think with Andy’s departure, we tried to sort of fulfill the whole of Rick’s story on the show, and we had planned that for a good while. It’ll be the same whenever, if ever, the show ends. Maybe we simply don’t have to deal with it because the show goes on and on and on.
You mentioned ending Rick’s story. How nervous or worried were you that the show wouldn’t be accepted without him? Were you concerned about that?
You know, there were people who were concerned about that who were making me concerned about that, but I don’t want to imply that I was certain how it would go. For this, I just felt I was more worried about the way that Rick was leaving. I was hoping that audiences would be intrigued and want to see what all that was about, which I feel is basically what happened. I was pretty nervous about that, but I feel that Rick is a gigantic part of the show and he has a gigantic story, and that story could be told in any number of ways.
As long as we kept telling Rick’s story, we’re doing right by the audience. It could be in any medium. Maybe not any medium, but it could be in the movies and hopefully people would be happy with that. I felt the show had so much to offer, even with losing someone as huge as that, that they would dig it. I know that I was still interested in watching it. I was sure that we would tell that story, and I was hoping that the audience would appreciate that. I was also, in all the things I talked about with Angela, so excited to see them execute that I just felt the audience would feel the same way. Angela has done such a marvelous job in executing it.
But that had to be a bit scary to continue The Walking Dead after losing the face on the center of every Walking Dead poster.
I wasn’t concentrating on the scary part. Other people were trying to get me to concentrate on the scary part, but we were doing it. It was happening. There were so many factors that were like, “Oh well. Andy had to do what he had to do, and we had to make it work.” I’m really happy with the way that we did that. It allows us to tell an entirely different Walking Dead story with the star of The Walking Dead.
To me, so much of it goes back to when I was a kid, and just getting excited for the possibilities of story. Movies would take so long between them… I guess I’m talking about Star Wars and Empire, Jedi, but there was this time that you just had to dream as to what on earth was going to happen. I always look upon that as a positive thing, and it was sort of a necessary thing in this case, and it was built into our process with Walking Dead. Yet, even in episode 6 last season, it’s just boom, we hit the ground running with this reinvention of the show that is very organic because of everything that had happened. It just offers this brand new thing on this show that had been there for nine years. I think a lot of it was very fortuitous the way it happened as far as timing goes.
It’s obviously such a huge departure from the comic, but in what you just said too, it felt very comic book-like in terms of Walking Dead where it has these hard resets every once in a while where you’re like, “Wait, what? What’s going on? Who are these people?”
I think you’re exactly right. I think that was the biggest reset obviously in the history of the show, and it was right around the time that the comic had the biggest reset in the history of the comic. That is the number one thing with Walking Dead that I wanted to do, was even if we’re not serving the exact story from the comic, we’re serving the feeling that that story gave you because that stuff in my mind was unassailable. As long as we could generate those feelings, I felt we were going in the right direction. Episodes 905 to 906 I think really generated that feeling.
As we look ahead on the show, obviously the next sort of big beat is the introduction of the Commonwealth. Getting back to the three rings and the CRM that we were talking about on World Beyond, is the Commonwealth intertwined with that at all, because obviously there’s a lot of speculation that it might be? But then you were saying earlier that the three-ring helicopter group was not taking over every show. What can you say about that?
The Commonwealth is its own thing. There are a lot of changes to the comic story and the show, but it is important to me, and to Angela, to tell the story from the comic. There might be some weird minor ways that it touches, if at all, but it’s a version of the story from the comic.
For more Walking Dead intel, follow Dalton on Twitter @DaltonRoss.
AMC's zombie thriller, based on the classic comic book serial created by Robert Kirkman.