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Scott Gimple Talks The Walking Dead Universe - Exclusive Interview

If someone asked you to name the biggest horror show franchise in television history, the first thing to pop in your head would most likely be The Walking Dead

Not long after it debuted in 2010, it quickly became a horror phenomenon. Zombies became a part of mainstream television and its ratings gradually increased every season. Within two years, it was the show everyone was talking about, so much in fact, that by the time season two debuted, AMC even added a companion post-show called Talking Dead — a talk show hosted by Chris Hardwick that brought on cast members as well as celebrity fans to dissect each episode after it aired on Sundays. October eventually became synonymous with The Walking Dead as each season would traditionally premiere that month every year, always drawing in hordes of viewers. By season three, it was already a viewership ratings juggernaut as it shattered records and doubled the numbers seen during season one. And by 2014, it hit a milestone and was dubbed "the most watched cable show of all time" as it drew in a whopping 17.29 million viewers for the fifth season's premiere.

Since then, the walker empire has grown and introduced even more content into what's now known as The Walking Dead universe, which consists of Fear the Walking Dead and the latest additional to the undead family, World Beyond. Not only that, but the brand has also spawned everything from merchandise to several successful video games and there's even a trilogy of movies in the works starring Andrew Lincoln, who plays the most famous Walking Dead character of all, Rick Grimes. As if that wasn't already more than enough, it was also recently announced that fan favorites Daryl Dixon (Norman Reedus) and Carol Peletier (Melissa McBride) are getting their own spinoffs that will take place after the flagship series comes to an end with its 11th and final season, set to premiere in 2021. Say what you will about the series' dwindling ratings, but these walkers clearly still have legs and they won't be dying off any time soon. 

One man who has been associated with the enduring brand for nearly a decade now is Scott Gimple, who started out as a co-producer and writer during season two. By season four, he was commanding the ship as showrunner and he would carry that title for five years. It was during his tenure that The Walking Dead saw its record-breaking spikes in viewership. He also wrote many pivotal episodes, including the spectacle that was the much-talked-about season seven premiere, "The Day Will Come When You Won't Be," the one that featured the brutal deaths of Abraham (Michael Cudlitz) and Glenn (Steven Yeun). In 2018, Gimple was promoted to executive producer and head of content, making him the overseer of all things associated with the ever-expanding Walking Dead universe — and one of the busiest men in Hollywood.

During an exclusive interview with Looper, Gimple lifted the shroud of mystery just a tad, and opened up about some of the stressful creative decisions that come with his job. Running one of the biggest horror franchises in television history is both a juggling act and a daunting task, and Gimple let us in on what his day-to-day looks like — and the relationships he has with his staff of trusted showrunners and writers. He also candidly discussed the tight-knit familial nature of the cast and crew, which character deaths messed with his head the most, and dropped hints about whether the seemingly asexual Daryl Dixon will ever find love. Oh, and he even shared an amusing half-joking spinoff idea that would feature... Dog and Skidmark? Read on to find out.

Being in charge of The Walking Dead universe is a 'hell of a juggling act.'

It's October, it's Halloween time. Normally, we celebrate this time of year with a brand-new season of The Walking Dead — except this year, we're not. For you, I think this is the first time in seven years where you don't have to promote a new season of the flagship series. Has that been a weird adjustment for you?

It's been such a weird year in general, even October doesn't feel like October, you know what I mean? Maybe it's for the reasons you're saying, maybe it's just the way the world is, of course, right now. There's so much strangeness going on, but we're ramping up again. We're getting started again, which we never did at this time of year, we were ending at this time of year. So I don't know, there's been a lot of distraction from the amount of work on all those shows.

When you first came on board as showrunner in 2013, it was just one show. Then we eventually got Fear the Walking Dead and now there's World Beyond. And there's also the long-awaited Rick Grimes movies. You're a conductor of this massive orchestra, there's so many more moving parts now, more storylines to look after, continuity, more characters. Now that you're Head of Content for the whole franchise, has is it become more of a challenge for you to juggle all these properties?

It is, it absolutely is. I was showrunner on Walking Dead for five years and that's what I did. I'm not showrunner now, so that helps to be able to do this juggling act. But I work on each one of the shows in various ways from creative but also from business aspects, and then there's all the development of new shows. It's a hell of a juggling act. Luckily, the showrunners themselves are a huge source of support and then there's all of the other people I'm working with. But yeah, it's crazy, and so many things shift. And then this year, everything shifted. The juggling act was like, you were juggling those pins and then they threw in a couple of chainsaws just to make it interesting. It's an incredible juggling act but I will say in my position, it's extremely helpful to be dancing between all these things because you can see the connective tissue and you can see those stories. Whether they go in and out of every show or some of the shows, whether it has to do with the movies or things we're doing in the future, it is cool to be in the middle of it all.

You have all these showrunners like Angela Kang, Matthew Negrete, Andrew Chambliss, and Ian Goldberg. What's your weekly routine with them? Do you check in with them and the writer's room on a regular basis? I'm just wondering how often you guys bounce ideas off of each other about the scripts for each episode and the future of the franchise as a whole?

I'm in the writer's room once in a while, but it's mostly dealing directly with the showrunners. We have our meetings every week and then the things that pop up in between. It's the regular check-in throughout, it's just at the start of the season, you're talking about the creative that's going to happen. And then you're talking about the execution of the creative and then there's a lot of business and producing stuff to handle, just the "making it real" part of it. And each show has different needs as far as the calibration of those two things.

A glimpse into the writer's room

I would imagine there are occasions when the writers have story ideas that you're not fond of, or maybe there are occasional constructive arguments in the writer's room. What happens when those moments come up where there might be a disagreement about whether to kill off a character or not, or where to go with a certain story? Is there a diplomatic process when it comes to ironing out those kinks when they arise?

Having been in the middle of it as a showrunner, 90% of the time, it's me at most road testing their vision and just helping to support it. If there's an issue, I still try to err on the side of the showrunner nine times out of ten just because I've been there, I know the deal. And really, it's working together to make it all fold into each other, or it's me straight up pitching any one of these showrunners ideas. If not that, something else, you know? I do want to guide the universe and everything, but I want to support these showrunners again, having done it. And also, it's really important to honor their distinct voices and even as I'm trying to bring people in, in different projects, I'm really trying to support their voice. I really enjoyed being a showrunner and putting forth my vision. Now, it's very much supporting other visions and trying to tie them together. Certainly, my own vision of everything comes into play a lot, but it's much more of a "yes, and" situation than a "no" situation.

We have World Beyond now, and it was announced as a two-season limited series event. It is that still the plan? Has that changed since everything went up in the air recently?

That's absolutely still the plan, but everything is changing all over the place, so you never know. But we're working on it and moving forward. If we need to make more, we will. This is the first one that we've done in such a short way. I mean, granted, a lot of shows do this now, but we had a lot of story and have a lot of story to get to, so we'll see happens.

Can you give us a production update on the upcoming Rick Grimes movie? Is the script ready to go, and you're just waiting for the green light on production? Is it possible that some of these characters from World Beyond might spill over into that movie?

Anything is possible. I think it's probable not to see much crossover in these first movies but again, everything's changing. And this is taking a lot longer now than we expected. I'm just talking from a COVID-19 point of view, this big chunk of time we didn't anticipate. I think Robert Kirkman said it best: We're using this time to really go over it and really road test it and really consider all the different directions we're going in. So we're still in the lab in some ways. We've done a lot of work on it, but we're trying to perfect it at the moment.

World Beyond's Julia Ormond 'is a force of nature.'

World Beyond introduces us to Lieutenant Colonel Elizabeth Kublek, the new villain played by Julia Ormond. In your personal opinion, where does she rank among the rogues' gallery of Walking Dead villains and how is she different from the Governor, Negan, and Alpha? And while we're at it, do you have a personal favorite villain in the Walking Dead universe?

Oh wow, that's a great question. First of all, Elizabeth, I'm not going to totally cop to whether she's a villain or not now, I think that's to be discovered. But I will say going down that line, saying if one were to think of her as a villain, I think she's incredibly different than the villains we've seen before. She's a part of a much greater whole. Negan was the boss, Alpha was the boss, even Gareth at Terminus was the boss. This is very different inasmuch as she is absolutely a boss, but she is part of a much greater whole, and she has duties and responsibilities that she is executing.

I don't know, that makes it very, very different. It's a very modern situation, it's a very contemporary situation, and it's a level of organizational and technological sophistication that we haven't seen on the show before. And that's what makes her a very interesting character. You're like, "What is she doing? Is this her duty? Is this her choice? What is her vision for the world versus the people that she's a part of?" It's a very, very different situation. And Julia Ormond is unbelievable, a force of nature.

I know you've never been big on revealing spoilers, so I was actually really surprised that you announced the Daryl and Carol spinoff — because in a way, that's like one massive spoiler. You're basically telling the fanbase that these two are going to survive the last 24 episodes of The Walking Dead's eleventh and final season. In a way, do you see these movies characters as death proof at this point?

Well, anything is possible, and the attention of people nowadays is a very big deal, so you never know. But that said, I've been over the years criticized for being so spoiler-phobic and so careful about what I'm saying, and this was a bracing departure for that, for me. But I will say that there's a huge part of the fans that get annoyed at the cards being so close to the vest. So it's a tricky thing. I'll say anything's possible, but we did make that announcement and I don't think we're going to be following a couple of walkers on that show. I think that would be weird.

The Walking Dead almost killed off Carol

Daryl, Carol, Morgan and Rick — even though the latter ventured off into his own movie — they're the last survivors of the cast that was introduced in that very first season 10 years ago. Have there ever been discussions along the way to kill any of them off? Was it ever on the table to possibly kill Daryl at one point, or even Carol? Because I would imagine there were times you possibly didn't know where to go with them until that one bright idea came up in the writer's room that gave them new purpose.

The most potent one for me was early on, like... jeez, season three. There was some investigation going on about killing Carol. It got pretty far down the line and I was pretty hardcore against that. Because I saw her journey of going from somebody under her ex-husband's thumb to being a warrior. It just looked like the most amazing journey for our character to have and having worked with Melissa McBride up to that point, it was like, "Oh, well, she could do that. She can do anything." Man, I would love to look up some of the old emails or something like that because it was like, what if people thought she was dead, but she lived? At that point, that was a surprise as well, people were dying and dying. It was what the show was getting a lot of noise for at that point. And it seemed even early on switching that up, but really it was more about seeing that character go through that journey because she had started out as so passive and a victim. And to see her become one of the strongest people in the story seemed exciting to me as a writer.

Looking back at other past seasons, are there any other abandoned storylines you can tell us about? Or do you have any regrets? Do you ever look back and think, "Man, I wish we never killed off this character"?

I was showrunner for 80 episodes of the show. We do 16 episodes a year, so there's no way that you could not have some regrets, but I'm also unbelievably astounded by the stuff that we did and that we continue to do. I'm blown away at what [current showrunner] Angela Kang and the writers have cooked up for these six episodes coming up. I'll tell you this, it was amazing for this show that everyone was so in, everybody who was doing the show wanted to do the show, and it is like the greatest summer camp on Earth. And it's amazing for a show that depended so much on death that nobody wanted to go and on top of that, no one was a jerk. There was no one who was like, "Oh yeah, that person has to die." I never believed in anybody dying outside of story reasons.

But that didn't even come up because everybody was in and supportive and wanting to do this. And so I sort of regret all of the deaths, inasmuch as that I loved working with these people. And it was a very tough show inasmuch as it's so warm, so familial, and yet death was such a part of it. And still is such a part of it. So yeah, I have friends to this day that I have killed and it's always in the back of my mind when we're hanging out — granted, on Zoom more often than not. It's like, "Oh, it would have been so much fun to do so much more with them." And I hope to work with a lot of the people that have been on The Walking Dead on different things, because it's just amazing how wonderful this cast was. I know it sounds ridiculous, that isn't how it works in Hollywood. But unfortunately for The Walking Dead, a show that kills people, it's uniformly wonderful people.

Will Daryl Dixon ever find love?

Since you already revealed that Daryl and Carol are getting their own spinoff, can you throw us one more little nugget and let know if "Dog" will be along for the ride?

I can't reveal that. You need to be at the edge of your seat. I will say Dog-wise, though, if only we could do something with Skidmark from Fear the Walking Dead. Just a Milo and Otis adventure for them because I mean — I'm barely even kidding, I wish. You never know.

An animal point of view version of Walking Dead starring Dog and Skidmark? That's interesting. So, next question. I know fans have been clamoring for this for years, but will Darryl finally find love or get laid?

I love how you make that a binary sort of question there. [Laughs]

Well, I joke about it now because it's been so long for the guy. I feel like at this point, little Judith is going to grow up and beat Daryl to getting some action, because he's been so sex-deprived since season one.

Oh my God, oh my lord. What a way to put it!

It's been 10 years! And I know a lot of fans root for Daryl and Carol to hook up. In my personal opinion, I feel like she flirted with him a little bit in season three, but then they developed this brother-sister relationship. So, for me personally, I feel like it would be incestuous at this point. Where you stand on the whole Daryl and Carol romance idea? And does Norman Reedus have a say in this?

Without going too deep into it, I would say Daryl and Carol have one of the most intimate relationships that we've seen on the show. I'll just say that. And then as far as Daryl and love, again, you know me, I'm not about spoilers. But I will say that we will be looking at other dimensions of Daryl's character that we've never seen before on the show coming up very soon. And it's going to be... I can't wait to see those other dimensions of Daryl Dixon.

You mentioned that you regret a lot of the character deaths in the show. What was the harshest character death for you to handle throughout these 10 seasons? Which death hit you the hardest?

Oh gosh. The Glenn one. I would say Glenn — Abraham—I'm not leaving Abraham out of that. That episode was really painful to write, and I think I was going through it from Rick, Maggie and Sasha's perspective, and Rosita's as well — feeling it from their side of things. On a script like that, everything is shut down in life and you're just working on that. And you're just getting inside of that, and that was, from a writing perspective, very difficult to go down that road. And to live inside that episode and then to shoot that episode and feel it. It was traumatic for me especially, I'm close with Steven Yeun and Michael Cudlitz. Even to write that episode correctly, I think you had to feel it, and it was pretty traumatizing. All of the deaths have been very hard, extremely hard. But that one, I kind of lived through it to write it.