'Walking Dead' Boss Defends the Group's "Tragic" Loss, Previews What's Ahead

Showrunner Scott M. Gimple talks with THR about the shocking events in the midseason finale and where the series picks up when it returns in February
 Gene Page/AMC

AMC's The Walking Dead suffered a heartbreaking loss during Sunday's midseason finale.

After more than three seasons with the series, Emily Kinney's Beth Greene was shockingly killed off following a tense confrontation with her captor, Dawn (Christine Woods). Immediately following the gunshot that killed Beth, a stunned Daryl (Norman Reedus) quickly shot and killed Dawn, freeing the people of Grady Memorial from her dictatorship.

Shortly thereafter, the group is again reunited when Maggie (Lauren Cohan), Glenn (Steven Yeun), Abraham (Michael Cudlitz), Eugene (Josh McDermitt), Tara (Alanna Masterson) and Rosita (Christian Serratos) arrive at the hospital, expecting to find Beth and Carol (Melissa McBride) alive and well. Only Maggie — who hasn't really mourned or searched for Beth all season long — falls to her knees in grief when she spots Daryl carrying Beth's bloody corpse out of the facility.

Elsewhere, Morgan (Lennie James) returned to find Abraham's map for Rick (Andrew Lincoln) with a message to head to D.C. in another amazing end tag and Father Gabriel's (Seth Gilliam) boneheaded move cost the group the church, leaving everyone without a safe place to mourn. (Read THR's full breakdown of the episode here.)

The Hollywood Reporter caught up with showrunner Scott M. Gimple to discuss the episode and preview what's to come when the remaining eight episodes of season five return in February.

See more 'The Walking Dead's' Most Shocking Deaths

Why was it Beth's time to die?

I was definitely planning this since season four in some ways; in broad strokes. We honed up exactly what it was this season. We had to be planning it since season four because the white cross car was in episode 413. Many aspects of the Grady Memorial story we had more or less hashed out since then.

Emily has been outspoken that she felt like there was more of Beth's story to tell.

There absolutely was a lot more of the character to explore. Losing this character is incredibly tragic, awful and painful. Not working with Emily is massively rough. I loved working with Emily. Why was it this character's time to go? We wanted to tell a story about a character that found out that she was strong all along. What ever that was thrown at her brought out that strength. In the end, someone who wanted to appear strong — a compromised person [Dawn], wound up taking her out, which is just a tragic story. It's not a fun story or a story we took lightly. Beth didn't die because she was weak; Beth died because she was strong and that's painful, and it's not fun and it's not to be taken lightly — and we don't. A lot of things happen on this show that are tragic. How do these characters go on after that? What would motivate them to go on after that?

Emily has said she would have liked to have seen a story about growing up in the apocalypse — but that seems to be Carl's arc. Is that part of why it was her time to go?

I think she's absolutely right. I would have loved telling more stories about Beth, Bob (Lawrence Gilliard Jr.) and [Maggie and Beth's father] Hershel (Scott Wilson). This show takes things away — from us as storytellers and from the audience; that's the deal that we make when we go into this because these characters lose something and we need to feel what they feel — we need to feel those losses — and we do on all sides of that.

Read more 'Walking Dead's' Latest Fatality: "She Is a Hero in Her Own Way"

How will Beth's death change Maggie? She hasn't had any time to mourn Hershel and didn't seem to look — or mourn — for Beth until this episode.

Maggie's reaction to Beth, in general, is very much explored by how devastating this was to her. It unlocks her. It's interesting when people say Maggie didn't look for Beth just because the last we saw of Beth, a master tracker followed a car that she was driven away in as far as he could go and had no sign of her. So Maggie would be asking to go have gone back to Terminus, back down the precarious route they took to Terminus to go to a place where Daryl, who had given everything he had and had skills in tracking, had lost her vehicle. That would have been a little much for Maggie to ask everyone of everyone — or for her to believe that she could find her when Daryl couldn't and when Daryl himself had given up. 

What about for Maggie going forward? Will Beth's death fundamentally change Maggie?

This is something that Maggie is going to have to deal with and something that might just break her.

There had been a lot of speculation that Beth could have been a love interest for Daryl. Was that something you'd ever considered?

I wouldn't want to define it one way or the other as to what we might have done. Those two characters reached an incredible level of intimacy and really helped each other in incredibly significant ways. Daryl is going to be destroyed that this has happened. To have seen his reaction — in anger and aguish — says a lot.

Did Dawn mean to kill Beth? How will Daryl respond to killing her — and losing Beth?

What I believe happened is that the gun was in Dawn's hand and it was not purposeful to kill Beth. As far as killing Dawn goes, there's nothing in Daryl that could have stopped himself from doing that. And if he hadn't done it, I believe Rick would have done it. This is an event that shapes who Daryl will be moving forward.

Beth did everything in her power to save Carol. Will Carol any sort of survivor's remorse?

Survivor's remorse — or guilt — is something in the story moving forward. It's not the main part, but it's an element. I don't want to get too specific with it.

See more 'Walking Dead' Comes to Life: From Comics to the Small Screen

What about Noah, does this make him more of a force to be reckoned with considering Beth saved his life?

I think he feels he owes Beth, so yes.

Rick's plan was to go in guns blazing and Tyreese (Chad L. Coleman) and Daryl voted for a peaceful hostage trade. Will Beth's death remove the peaceful approach toward living in this world for Rick?

It will cement him more toward that.

Morgan has found Abraham's map with a note for Rick to go to D.C. Will he start heading for D.C. or will he cross paths with the group before he goes so far out of his way?

He has that map and it means something. He has this massive breadcrumb. Now, Rick and his group aren't necessarily on their way to D.C. but it's something. Morgan knows Rick Grimes could be alive and could be somewhere nearby and perhaps on that path. It's something. Morgan sat there and he prayed [in the church] and then he laughed at the idea of praying and then he found that map. So perhaps it's divine intervention.

Read more 'Walking Dead': Lennie James Talks Returning to the Zombie Drama

What would a potential Morgan-Rick reunion look like?

These two guys are in very different places — each of them — from where we saw them last. Rick looks a little bit like where Morgan was when we last saw Morgan [in his own booby-trapped community] and Morgan looks a little bit like where Rick was when we last saw them together. So the script, potentially, has been flipped.

Father Gabriel's move cost the group the church. Where does he go from here?

He is just taking his first steps into this world realizing what it really is and his part in it. He's not going to have an easy go of it. He's just discovering what it's all about and who he is.

Three series regulars have been killed off so far this season. How deadly can we expect the back half of the season to be in terms of the regulars?

In the next half-season, this group is going to be grounded to the earth emotionally, substantially but not literally (laughs). They're going to find themselves in wildly different set of circumstances. They are going to go through it emotionally and it's going to get harder for them before it becomes weirder for them.

Weirder?

Yes. I didn't want to say better! I wanted to say weirder.

Robert Kirkman said on Talking Dead that you'd be introducing a prominent gay character from the comics in the back-half of the season. Does that indicate Aaron — and signal the group's arrival at Alexandria?

There is more than one gay character in The Walking Dead comic so it could be the one you're thinking or it could be a different one from the books.

The theme of the first half of this season explored if the group was "too far gone." Is there a larger theme or is it the second piece of that?

It very much is the second piece: it's the answer to that question.

The Walking Dead returns for the second half of its fifth season Feb. 8 on AMC.

Email: Lesley.Goldberg@THR.com
Twitter: @Snoodit

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