The long wait for the Season 5 premiere of "The Walking Dead" is only made more difficult by the fact that Sunday's Season 4 finale was so satisfying and full of promise for an exciting next chapter in the story of Rick Grimes and his zombie apocalypse cohorts. To break down everything we saw in "A," the finale episode, and provide several hints at what might be ahead on "TWD," Yahoo TV talked to showrunner and Executive Producer Scott Gimple for the scoop.
The new season starts shooting in a few weeks, which means you've already been in the writers room for a while, right?
Yes, since January. I basically was off for Christmas week, but working on the show in some capacity, whether it be closing Season 4 or planning for Season 5 pretty much straight through.
But we're guessing you're not complaining about that. You clearly love what you're doing.
Yeah, you said it. I quite love it. The only complaints are usually like, you know, wanting more hours in the day to do it, and wanting to be in two places at the same time. But I feel very lucky to be able to do it. I was trying to figure out what doing something like this is like, you know, what's the metaphor for it. And I think — and believe me, I'm not an outdoorsy person in the least. Anybody on this cast or crew will tell you. But I think it must be like what climbing Mount Everest is like, because it is — it's beautiful. It's amazing. Not a whole lot of people get to do it. It can be very scary. But in the end, it's unbelievably satisfying. It's — you know, it's all of us climbing up a mountain together. And we need each other to get up that mountain. And then we have this beautiful, unbelievable view… and suddenly we're back at base camp again. And the Sherpas are getting ready, and we're going right back up.
Many of us are trying to figure out Terminus. At the end, we were pretty convinced the Terminus people are absolutely cannibals. But then, thinking about what was written on the wall in the creepy candle room at Terminus — "Never again. Never trust. We first, always" — it suggests something traumatic has happened to the people at Terminus, as well.
Yeah, I mean, those candles are lit. If the candles weren't lit and the place was in disrepair, maybe that would be something from the past. But it's obviously some sort of operating memorial, which, of course, just like you said, if these guys are such villains, why does it look like something bad happened to them?
How long into the new season will we kind of find out what their overall plan is?
Extremely, extremely quickly. Yeah. I mean, the storyline, that was always the plan. There are kind of plans… whereas we have a pretty good handle on Season 5, we have a fairly good handle on Season 6, too. It's not a great deal of detail for Season 6, but a lot of general stuff for Season 6 is known. And that was the same deal with Season 4, [having a plan going] for Season 5. So as far as Terminus goes, we wanted to get right to a lot of the answers pretty quickly. But I think savvy audience members would know that, too, because it would be bananas to make people wait seven months and then be like, "Hey, hold on another couple episodes." I don't think I'm being shocking by saying that.
The opening of the finale is so hopeful, getting to see Hershel [Scott Wilson] again… and despite all the traumatic things that happen after that, can you also make the point that the ending of the episode is hopeful in a way, too? Obviously it looks very bad for Rick and his friends, but there's also a feeling that Rick is very confident and committed now. Can we look at it like that?
I love that. I mean, that … in my mind, I would never tell the audience what the point is or anything like that. I know what I hope they might think, but once it's out of my hands and in their hands, they own it. It's theirs. That said, I love what you're saying, because that was what I was pursuing, and what we were pursuing as writers and actors and crew people and producers. There are a lot of weird victories in this episode. And I wanted them to be weird victories.
There's a very sweet victory in the flashbacks, and in fact, that's sadly kind of the biggest defeat of the episode, when Hershel said it could be like this all the time. And obviously that's not true. But the victories of this episode are, you know, Rick biting another man's throat. It's horrific and awful, and yet he can do that without angst, without wringing his hands, without questioning himself. He can the next morning, covered in blood — and you're thinking "Oh, boy. Well, Rick's lost it, he no longer has a heart" — tell Daryl that he's his brother. He can do that and be integrated. And then Carl, who is so worried about whether he's a monster now, that's an incredible victory for him. Because last year, he wasn't worried about whether he was a monster after he shot a kid in the face.
Revealing the rest Michonne's backstory, via her conversation with Carl, was very hopeful, too.
Yes, Michonne shared her past to comfort Carl. A lot of weird victories. And then the last one, from an emotional standpoint, it's just an incredible victory for Rick that he was not ready for leadership… [now], he's ready without fear, with total confidence, to take on a very, very difficult situation. To me, that's a happy ending, and yet [laughing] they're in a railcar and things are not looking good. So, you know, different kinds of victories for this very, very complex and brutal world.
One of the most entertaining things about Season 4 is all the big and little storyline and character details that were dropped throughout the episodes, and then paid off later in the season. What is your process for creating, and then weaving into the episodes, all these Easter eggs that pay off so nicely throughout the season?
I think it starts with the character stories. And then, character stories with certain practical plot realities, things that either we know we want to get to or things we have to get to, to get to other places we want to get to. Mapping those out from the start and just all of us being very aware of those high points and those end points... it gives us an opportunity to serve them along the way, but not necessarily in the most direct way. We want to stack things up emotionally.
One of the things I talk about in the writers room is, what are the moments leading to the moment? What are the things along the way that take the audience on the journey to the big crossing of the threshold. Like the stuff with Lizzie and Mika. I remember while Angela [Kang] was writing Episode 2, I sat down with her, and I was like, "Oh, could you have this thing about Mika telling Lizzie to look at the flowers when she gets really upset about her father's death?" And even talking to Angela about the whole thing about Lizzie having to kill her father with a knife, and stab him in the head, which she couldn't do, because she didn't want him not to become a walker, but we didn't want her to say that out loud. We just wanted to make sure that was part of her personality.
It's all of us jumping into each other's offices and being like, "Oh, yeah, I know you're working on Episode 3, but there's this thing [it leads to] in Episode 15, and we've just got to make sure that we have the journey. So where are they at this point of their journey to get to that point? And how do we serve that, or how can that make something cool even in this moment in the timeline?" It's the height of teamwork and the height of just being on the same page. It's trying to tell it like it's one gigantic movie.
Rick and his fellow railcar hostages were happy to see each other when they reunited in the railroad car, but they didn't hug each other. They weren't particularly excited. Obviously, they have pressing concerns on their minds, but is this also an indication that, after so much time spent apart, it's going to be a little challenging for them to gel again as a group?
I think that's a really good observation. I think they absolutely, for the most part, will be able to gel, I guess in a direct way, fairly easily, especially in the circumstances that they're in, whenever, or if, they can take a breath. But when this all clears, if it clears, the different experiences they had while they were apart… Maggie and Glenn, their experience was incredibly positive. If you look at Rick's, it was sort of in the middle. If they ever see Carol again, she had a very different experience, and they'll be carrying their experiences into the next season. And absolutely there will be a little difficulty in understanding each other's places. Right now, all of them except for a few are very much in the same boat. Or railcar. We'll see what happens if they ever wind up being able to take a breath.
Now that we've seen an entire season with Gimple as showrunner, how do you think he's doing?