Scott M. Gimple also teases plans for upcoming TWD event series.
Season 5 of Fear the Walking Dead was a rough one for the characters on screen. They started off filled with hopes about providing hope and help to those in desperate need of both, but by the end of the season had been conquered and divided by Ginny’s group — with the last scene showing a shot Morgan lying down alone as hungry-looking zombies descended upon him.
It was a rough one for some fans as well, who complained about the plot and pacing of a season that appeared to have less impact, tension, and drive than those that preceded it. But is that all part of a grander plan? In the fourth and final part of our Walking Dead franchise overview discussion with chief content officer Scott M. Gimple, we spoke about the criticism of season 5, what’s in store for season 6 (including what sounds like a time jump at some point), and news of even more Walking Dead content coming our way. (Also read part 1 of our interview about the Rick Grimes movies here, part 2 about The Walking Dead: World Beyond right here, and part 3 about The Walking Dead having no timetable for ending.)
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: There was some pretty critical takes out there about season 5 of Fear the Walking Dead. When you look back on that season now, what’s your take on it? Is there anything you feel didn’t work as well as you had hoped, or was this just part of this plan and this is a stretch of this plan that you need to go through to get to somewhere else?
SCOTT M. GIMPLE: Right there. You just said it. We’ve been lucky enough on that show to be able to do these long-range plans. Season 5 was about setting up this journey that these characters are on through there to season 6, and I think people are going to see the relationship between those two seasons. I think even getting to the very end of season 5, the last few moments, really informing that whole season about reaching for benevolence and reaching for sweetness and art and just life and how in the circumstances they’re in, it didn’t work, and how we leave a person that put that forward isolated, alone, bleeding in a dead town.
I’m curious how people will watch that season in the future. Season 2 [of The Walking Dead], when we did it, we were assailed in a lot of ways. “Why are they on the farm? Why are doing this? Why are they doing that?” I think in subsequent years, people watching that season had different takes. This season 5 as a piece setting up season 6 into a truly serialized entertainment, I think people might see the relationship and the journey, why the journey went the way it did. I was so happy with the way that everybody did. I think it really did come together in the end in this really tragic way that we couldn’t have gotten to without the journey that we had been on.
It’s funny you mention season 2 of TWD, because I remember the complaints during that, but as soon as the barn doors opened, everyone was like, “Oh, okay. Yeah, right. Well, that was worth it.”
It was cumulative. I think everybody’s opinion is … as long as their opinion is come to honestly, nobody’s opinion is wrong. It’s how they feel about what they consume. But the one aspect that could potentially temper it is just taking the whole of it together. It is asking a lot of the audience to do that though. It’s an interesting thing that we face, and if you look at The Mandalorian, you look at a lot of shows on Hulu, and I think what Disney+ is now going to be doing, they are showing shows week to week. It is interesting, it’s a challenge that I think people will continue to have because the story might not go the way the audience wants it in the short term, but it’s all towards telling this grander story for them in the long term. I hope that anybody who had an issue with it can see this upcoming season and see how that led to this, because it was always the plan, to tell a story of some serious contrasts.
How much do you pay attention or modify or pivot because of critical feedback?
It’s a tricky thing because, again, as long as somebody is coming at their opinion having watched the show, and as long as they have an open mind to start with, anybody’s opinion is valid. One of the reasons I don’t read them is because it’s endless. It’s not, “Okay, I’m going to read this person, this person, but I’m not going to read the other 15 articles, and these people have the mic.” It’s not quite fair, nor do I think it’s storytelling with integrity to just seek out what peoples criticisms are and address those criticisms without looking at the whole of the audience. And does online criticism represent the entirety of the audience? It is the same sort of demographics that are issuing those criticisms that are watching TV, just as far as their interests or their history with the show or any of those things.
And it works both ways. People are saying awesome things about the show. I also don’t think it’s like reading that and be like, “Ah yes, nailed it.” I don’t think that’s fair either. It’s a tricky thing because I don’t want the feeling that we’re ignoring it, but also I don’t think it’s wise if you print them all out and try to address everything. It’s just not telling a story with integrity. I mean would we have told [episodes 905 and 906 of The Walking Dead] the way that we did if we were just full of worries, if we were just trying to make sure that we weren’t taking a risk and ensuring that everybody in every sort of quarter would be happy with it, with the outcome, with Rick going? Which was happening either way, by the way.
So how do you decide in terms of when to creatively pivot or change course?
I truly believe that it is our job as storytellers to take risks, to do the unexpected and not just to shock people. I want to take stories in different directions than that have gone before. In taking those risks, the only thing you’re risking is the audience’s interests or their opinion of you. There’s a lot of people out there who don’t want to do that, who just want to go down the center path and ensure that there’s nothing for the audience to be upset with them about. If you’re truly serving the audience, if you truly care about the audience, if you’re trying to give them something different, you have to take risks.
I know it can be hard, and I know that people can be upset and you don’t want to upset people, you don’t want to make people sad in perpetuity, but you also don’t want to just give them a story where you didn’t try your best to do something special, unusual, something that they might remember the rest of their lives. If we’re not taking risks, we’re not serving the audience, we’re just serving ourselves. We’re just serving, making sure that no one’s upset with us. To really serve the audience, you got to put your neck out there. I’m very proud of these showrunners who have been taking incredible risks, and I’ve been standing right beside them every step of the way with it and sometimes pushing those risks forward very, very much myself.
It’s actually the thing I like most about the franchise. Even when you guys were pulling in the most insane numbers in the history of television on TWD, you were still doing crazy stuff you would never expect such a popular show to be doing. You mentioned that obviously this is all leading to season 6. What can you say at this point about what you all have planned creatively for season 6 on Fear?
I don’t know how much has been shared yet, but I’ll share a little of it unilaterally. Structurally, the show is going to change quite a bit. There’s going to be a great deal more focus within the stories, a little less vignette-y in telling 16 little movies. The guys are out of the gate wonderfully with the first two episodes, and it is a differentiating thing. It’s something that separates that show from the other two shows, telling these 16 little movies, being a bit more anthological. It still is a serialized story, but it’s told through these very focused perspectives.
I think that’s going to be something that the audience really digs. There’s these episodes like Al and Isabelle or June and Dorie that were super focused episodes, that were some of our favorite stories to tell, and we’re leaning into that a little more. That’s something that’s very exciting. Just what these characters are dealing with is very unusual to anything we’ve seen on the shows. Last season, there was a singularity of purpose, which is all these characters landed in this place of needing redemption. These characters are going to be in very different places now, and that’s going to add to the variety of storytelling, the conflict between the characters and the drama that springs forth from that.
I was talking to your showrunners Ian Goldberg and Andrew Chambliss about that — how interesting it was that the end of season 4 was all about everyone finally coming together, and now at the end of season 5 you split everyone apart.
That was after they couldn’t have been more together, and more on the same page — really just going down the same path completely. They’re on a lot of different paths now, and that creates problems and it creates these very intense reunions. It just sort of widens our frame quite a bit, all these different perspectives telling all these different stories.
When you talk about intense reunions, could one of those intense reunions involve Sherry?
It could. It’s a pretty determined character. You never know. You don’t want me to say for sure.
Because I asked if the Commonwealth was part of the CRM, what about this group of Ginny’s that took everyone. Are they related to the CRM?
They are not. That’s an example, like when we talk about the Commonwealth, when we talk about Ginny — that is a rich and interesting story, and it’s big. We can have World Beyond touch upon it and actually sort of be living in it, and yet it still has this very, very different life in the movies because obviously Rick was on one of those helicopters. However big that story is, we don’t want that to be the story of The Walking Dead. I think that stuff is going to be super cool and people are going to dig it, but The Walking Dead is The Walking Dead and Fear the Walking Dead is Fear the Walking Dead. It’s not like they might not touch upon it again, but it’s super important that they have their own stories. We are developing other mythologies like the CRM mythology within this universe, and this is sort of the first mythology, but there’s going to be more.
Do you envision a time jump on Fear to get it more in line with the other shows in terms of timeframe or not?
That is something we’re playing around with for the future, and time is actually going to be played around with on this season of Fear the Walking Dead. Yeah, who knows? I would love to get to be like Crisis on Infinite Earths. That would be super cool, but that’s way down the line.
When you say time is going to be played with on next season of Fear, what do you mean?
We’re going to see a lot of time pass. There is a lot of time that can pass, yeah.
I don’t know how you could have time for anything else while doing all these shows and the movies, but in terms of other forms, formats, video games, whatever — are there are other things percolating in the Walking Dead universe, even if it’s down the line more?
Oh, absolutely. We’re working on a big push of something I was working on originally and then I got much more focused on the shows in my first year on this job and developing World Beyond and getting the movie going. We really do want to come out with different TV formats, meaning shorter things, and then some event series, limited event series. I’m trying to get together a number of different things that we can show at different times during the year, and this focuses on characters we miss and we lost. It focuses on aspects of that new mythology. It focuses on stories that occur in our universe and have nothing to do with anything. Nothing to do with the shows or the movies, that are just these little zombie tales that happen in our world with our rules and our timeline but are just really great zombie stories, really great stories of the end of the world. I’ve been working on that with a variety of people, and that’s actually proving to be super fun and interesting.
What about filling in some backstories for characters and characters maybe that have already died along the way on Walking Dead or other shows?
That’s exactly what we’re doing. I mean, it isn’t the only thing we’re doing. It’s not like everything is like Gotham, but that’s one of the sort of three kind of categories that we’re tackling. It’s awesome. It’s awesome to be able to play with characters that we’ve lost, and it’s awesome to fill in some of the blanks.
For more Walking Dead intel, follow Dalton on Twitter @DaltonRoss.
- The Walking Dead has no timetable for ending
- The Walking Dead movie to go in ‘wild new directions’
- The Walking Dead: World Beyond could feature even more crossovers