The war with the Saviors is dunzo, but will Rick Grimes face a civil war after his decision to spare Negan’s life in Sunday’s Walking Dead season finale? Will season nine begin with a significant time jump, as the comic book did after the end of the war with the Saviors? And how will Jadis — er, Anne — and her helicopter factor into the survivors’ ambitious rebuild in the season ahead?
Vulture chatted post-finale with outgoing TWD showrunner Scott Gimple — who was promoted to oversee the entire TWD/Fear the Walking Dead universe at AMC — about all those things and more, including why Lennie James’s Morgan was the only choice to bridge the two shows, why they created a Fear the Walking Dead character just for Garret Dillahunt, and the possibilities of more spinoffs, including a movie.
Was it a relief to not have to make one of those dreaded phone calls to a cast member for the season finale?
Yes, yes, it was. Even though it was called “Wrath,” the finale was about mercy. It was to show that things were changing. I mean, there’s a line in the episode where Rick just says, “Things are changing.” So it was a very different story, and completely intended to be that way.
Eugene seemed like a candidate to be in that Talking Dead “In Memorium” montage, especially after he double-crossed Negan.
Yeah, yeah. He struggled against becoming a human being. He tried not to, but he was infected by his humanity — by Abraham, by Rosita, by even Gabriel. He had to do it.
There has been a lot of talk about The Walking Dead becoming a completely different show for season nine. What are the specific ways it will be different? Will there be a time jump, will they rebuild Alexandria, or will there be a completely different home for Rick’s people?
You know, Angela Kang is our new showrunner, and I just don’t want her to kill me. I can say just, generally, that the show will evolve. The stories are evolving. The things that they’re facing are evolving. The stakes are even higher because of what they’re all trying to do, and how they come into conflict with big things. Yes, there’s some unfinished business from this season, but that isn’t the big, big drive. I’m just very excited to break some new ground, to see them tackle very, very different issues, problems, and conflicts than we’ve seen in the last eight years. It is just going to be a very, very different show.
The show has been about these characters learning how to survive and how to deal with the humanity, or lack thereof, that the apocalypse brings out in people. Are they now ready to go beyond that, to think in terms of rebuilding society?
Yes, that kind of ambition is a big part of the show moving forward. It’s a much bigger thing that they’re all aspiring to. I suppose that’s where they should be; it’s where the comic went because they learned how to survive. How do they take that further? What do they do with that superpower, and what are their responsibilities? These are things that we’re gonna be exploring in season nine.
They also have Georgie’s how-to book, and perhaps the help of Jadis and that helicopter, right?
Well, that is … there is definitely something going on there, obviously. Something big to the story, and that’s something we’re gonna have to get into as well.
What’s the feeling of the cast and the crew heading into season nine? The war with Negan was such a big story line. Is there excitement about going in a new direction?
Oh, absolutely. There’s a great deal of ambition to the story that Angela wants to tell, but I think that’s very exciting for people, just feeling the difference. The war was a long, long story. It was like doing a 33-hour movie. It’s exciting to get into new stuff, to break new ground and discover new things. Yeah, I think people are charged up.
There were a lot of surprises in the finale, the moment that drew the most gasps is that private meeting between Maggie and Jesus, with Daryl stepping out of the shadows to join them. Are they forming an alliance against Rick and Michonne, or just planning to make sure Negan is killed?
Maggie said Rick was wrong, but I think her issue … I think it’s about Negan. Without going into it too much, her reaction to Rick letting Negan live was gigantic. She didn’t get to make the choice about Negan, and I don’t think Maggie is the type of person to just shrug, but I think she put her leadership at the Hilltop first. She was talking about the health and welfare of her community first, but she said this is also on my to-do list. This is not settled.
And Daryl has a pretty intimate relationship with Negan. He has seen all sides of him. As far as Jesus goes, Jesus would not kill surviving Saviors, and he’s not really about killing people to start with, but he’s not Morgan. This isn’t like an utter code of his; he’ll do what he has to do, with a fairness about it. But does that really apply to Negan? Does Negan deserve that sort of mercy? I think even with Jesus it’s a different story, and I think he really has Maggie’s back. In many ways, in that moment, he’s feeling out Maggie’s feelings about the situation.
Speaking of Morgan, had you always planned that the Fear the Walking Dead crossover would center on Morgan, or were any other characters considered?
We knew where Morgan would be at the end of season eight, and we had known that for a while. When I started working very, very nascently on Fear, I was like, “Ooh, this could really work well together.” In many ways, much is driven by where Morgan was emotionally in The Walking Dead … these things stuck together really well, and we decided to lean into it with Fear.
The Fear premiere provides a brief peek at how badly things have gone, and it’s got that great meeting of Morgan with the always-intriguing Garret Dillahunt as John Dorie. Is it true that you created the Dorie role specifically for Dillahunt, who had pitched himself as a Negan candidate before Jeffrey Dean Morgan was cast?
In retrospect, I see that that’s pretty much what happened. It was lodged in my brain, and I was thinking of the sort of characters that would lead Morgan into the world of Fear. When Andrew Chambliss and Ian Goldberg came in [as the new FTWD showrunners], I started talking to them about what I had in my mind. You know, it was always Garret, Garret was sticking in my brain throughout the pretty quick birth of John Dorie because he was someone I absolutely wanted to work with. Though, especially in TV, I try not to get my hopes up too much. I try not to cement myself into the idea that it’s going to be this person or that person, because there’s a lot of TV being made and great people get snatched up immediately. I think I was trying to protect my heart.
You are now the “chief content officer” for all things in the Walking Dead universe at AMC. We have the two series, which seem to be roughly on the same timeline. Are more spinoffs coming? Will the apocalypse go international? Or maybe Dwight goes off to find Sherry and finds another region of survivors in the United States?
Oh, don’t be pitching me now. But yes, we’re working on that stuff. Right now, I’m working on Fear. I’m working on Walking Dead. I’m working on that new stuff, and there are all sorts of interesting possibilities that I dare not even address specifically. But the most important thing is that when we’re moving forward, whatever we do is different. That we see the world of The Walking Dead in a new way. We’re trying to achieve a variety, and to show every pocket that we can. There are all sorts of cool things ahead. The focus right now is on The Walking Dead season nine, which is going to be a new corner of the apocalypse in a lot of ways. It’s my goal to have it all under the same universe, the same umbrella, but to really be distinctive from one another.
Does that also include a Walking Dead movie?
Hmm, I mean, that kind of variety, that’s we’re talking about. All the differences of the ways we tell the story, yeah, what we can feature and all that. There’s a whole universe of possibilities.
This interview has been edited and condensed.