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'Walking Dead' Showrunner Talks Bloody Midseason Finale (Exclusive)

The showrunner breaks down season four's deadly midseason finale and previews what's to come when the AMC zombie drama returns in February: "They are moving into very uncharted emotional waters," he tells THR in our weekly postmortem.

Walking Dead Midseason Group - H 2013
AMC
"The Walking Dead"

[Warning: This story contains major spoilers from Sunday's "Too Far Gone" episode of The Walking Dead and the comic series it's based on.]

After all of season three and the first half of season four, Rick and the Governor finally came face-to-face in a bloody battle for the prison during Sunday's season four midseason finale.

In the episode, "Brian" (aka the Governor), takes Hershel (Scott Wilson) and Michonne (Danai Gurira) hostage and tells his group that Rick's (Andrew Lincoln) community were the ones responsible for torching Woodbury, killing his daughter and taking his eye. In a scene ripped straight from Robert Kirkman's comics, the Governor (David Morrissey) leads his group on an attack of the prison after attempts to coexist fail. Following Rick's dire plea for peace, the Governor accuses him of being a liar after the former sheriff tells him that people can change. It's a nod to the journey that both Rick and the Governor have gone on this season and one that doesn't sit well with the eye-patched baddie who savagely kills Hershel with Michonne's sword.

STORY: 'Walking Dead' Recap: Who -- and How Many -- Died in the Battle for the Prison?

But the attack doesn't end there. Lilly (Audrey Marie Anderson) -- who kills the Governor in the comics -- brings Megan's (Meyrick Murphy) dead body to Brian and sees him off Hershel. After Rick and the Governor come to blows, Michonne stabs the brutal dictator, getting a helping hand at the end of the episode from Lilly and finally bringing down The Governor.

The Hollywood Reporter caught up with showrunner Scott M. Gimple to talk about the original plan for the Governor, why Hershel's time was up and what to expect when season four returns Feb. 9. Check out our postmortem with Morrissey here, and chat with Wilson here. Plus check out what Kirkman had to say about the episode and the remainder of season four here.

Was it always the plan to have the Governor die in season four? David Morrissey told us even he didn't know if he was coming back this year until he read the finale script. Why prolong his story to now instead of ending it last season?

This season was my approach from the start and the structure that I had in mind. It did have the Governor's fate sealed in this episode.

Was there any discussion about killing this character at the end of season three?

We threw the ball around on all possibilities last year and threw them around this year; it's part of the writers' room experience. I don't think that there was big push last year for the Governor story to end, and I certainly agree that there was more story I wanted to tell with the Governor. I do believe that this episode -- and both the story from the first five episodes and the Governor's two episodes after that -- was those stories crashing together. Those were also the endings to those individual stories. This episode was very much an ending for those two episodes -- "Live Bait" and "Dead Weight" -- for the Governor's story, not simply because he died but what he was trying to do at the prison and how everything went down. How he finally was defined to be a person who did what he did.

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This season has been criticized for telling the same story as season three. Why not start the season with this conflict and avoid what's been labeled as a repetitive story?

I hadn't heard the repetitive charge so much. We wanted to fulfill those two Governor stories, plus this last episode was very much about a man struggling with who he was going to be and finally being defined as who he was going to be by his actions. Rick was someone who was trying desperately to become another person as well, and when he extends that offer to the Governor -- which takes everything for him to do -- to essentially join him at the prison, that was the end of that story. Both those storylines featured all the characters fulfilling their stories and that took eight episodes.

It seemed as if nearly all of the Woodbury survivors were killed off this season. Was this course correcting from season three?

It wasn't so much course correcting as just part of the story this year and part of the intensity of the first five episodes and this last episode. A lot of those people survive -- we see them pull away on the bus -- so not everybody from Woodbury was killed. There was a significant portion of folks who did make it. The story didn't allow us to really dig into so many of the Woodbury people, but I wanted to dig in with as many characters as possible and tell all their stories. In this episode, we closed out a lot of those stories.

STORY: 'Walking Dead' Boss Talks Season 4: It's a 'Very Different' Conflict

When you were planning the assault on the prison, did you always know you'd have a big comic book scene planned for it with the tank and the Governor's famous "Kill them all" line?

Oh yeah. The tank was something amazing from the comic that I wanted to see and knew others wanted to see. It meant a lot when I read it in the comic. That goes back to the first time we talked about -- taking this iconic moment from the comic and using it in the framework of the story we're telling. When the Governor drives that tank in, it's different than it was in the comic; it's very much closing up this guy's story. When he goes into the prison in this episode, it's an incredibly a self-destructive act. He's lost Megan, Lilly has seen him kill Hershel. Why does he drive that tank into the prison? Rick says, "Without the fences, the place is worthless." But the Governor has lost everything; so when he says that iconic line from comic -- "Kill them all!" -- he's just a force of destruction at that point. Everything he wanted the prison to be is over. And that very much fit into the story we were telling.

Why was the time right to say farewell to Hershel after he dodged death in season two? What went into the decision to kill him off after he'd become a vital member of the community?

From a story standpoint, they lost the prison, they lost their home, civilization and Hershel was the embodiment of a civilized and humanistic approach. This episode and where the story is turning is what happens when all that is taken away, especially for Rick. Hershel was the driving force beyond -- Carl and Judith -- to Rick's change when we join him at the beginning of the season. Everything he tried to achieve had been taken away from him over the first five episodes, and now he's lost the person who walked him through that. It's a very important part of the story that Hershel died; it isn't just shock death. We're going to see now with all these things taken away from Rick if he can come back from this. Moving into the next season and a half, the loss of Hershel will be felt and will be this driving element in Rick's character.

How will Hershel's death change Maggie (Lauren Cohan) and Beth (Emily Kinney)?

Incredibly, of course. It helps define both of them into who they become and it affects them very deeply in this next half-season and beyond. Hershel's death, the loss of the prison, civilization and everything they built up -- this has all been taken away from them, and they are moving into very uncharted emotional waters.

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Rick and Carl (Chandler Riggs) presume baby Judith is dead. There's a lot of blood in that car seat. Is she really dead?

There are a lot of walkers around there as well. It did not look good, and I don't want to say one way or another but what you see tells a story.

How will Rick handle his grief this time? We presume he won't see visions of Lori (Sarah Wayne Callies) or give up his gun again.

This is an unthinkable amount of loss: Hershel, Judith and the prison. Of course it's going to affect him unbelievably, and it's a huge part of the story we're moving into. He's definitely not going to see visions of Lori. This is a different loss and will affect him differently. When he lost Lori, he was at a place surrounded by fences with brick buildings. One could argue that he had time to mourn or deal with it -- or not [deal with it] as he did. He's messed up physically from that fight with the Governor and now he's off in the world, that's where we left him. He's in a very different situation, where there's going to be some very direct demands upon him of survival.

The group was forced out of the prison and is on the road again. Where do they go from here?

I can't say. If you know the comic, there are a lot of differences from the comic that we do and a lot of differences that we have to do. There's going to be a lot of familiar stuff, brand-new stuff and remixed stuff. There are some things where you will totally know them and hopefully be expecting them, and then there will be stuff that's brand-new that you have no idea if it's coming but it will circle around to moments from the comic. It's very much like these eight. Comic fans once again will absolutely see a lot of iconic moments.

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We saw a mysterious cabin and dead military members described as rapists and murderers. That's a big piece to Abraham's story. Will that come back into play?

That cabin in and of itself will not be seen again. That's part of the Governor's story, and that story is over.

Daryl (Norman Reedus) learned of Carol's (Melissa McBride) banishment. What can you say about her next appearance?

She's going to appear sooner or later, but I can't say much. There is a bit of time from when we saw Merle (Michael Rooker) on the roof in Atlanta and when he rejoined the story. It could be a bit but could be a long bit, but she will return at some point. We might have flying cars at that point, but she will return.

Will there be a time jump when season four resumes in February?

Not much! There's a lot that happens after the prison. Everyone seems pretty scattered. There's a lot to tell in the aftermath of what just happened.

We still don't know who was feeding the rats at the prison's fences. Is that something that's still on the table in the back half?

We will absolutely find out more about the rats and the person who seemed to dissect that rabbit that Tyreese (Chad Coleman) found in the tombs before the Governor showed up.

Season three moved at a breakneck pace, but season four was more of a slower, character exploration. Will the back half of season four have the same pacing as the first eight episodes?

The back half of the season has a wildly different structure to it. It's a very different set of stories, and it's very unlike the first half of the season. I can't say without giving stuff up, but it's very different. The same story priorities apply; there's a lot of character exploration but in a very different way. In some ways, the story moves quicker but in a really different manner. As soon as you see the first episode, you'll figure out why and how. Episode 10 [the second one in February] has a super unusual structure that I'm very excited for people to see. It's very different than the first half.

So flashbacks?

Kind of!

What did you think of The Walking Dead's midseason finale? Were you shocked to see Hershel and the Governor written out? Hit the comments with your thoughts. The Walking Dead returns Feb. 9 on AMC. Stay tuned to THR's The Live Feed for more Walking Dead coverage on Monday.

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