'Walking Dead's' Scott Gimple on His Fears as Showrunner, 'Remix' Approach to Season 4
The longtime fan (and reader) of the comic series opens up to THR about replacing Glen Mazzara and learning from his predecessors. "I'm trying to take a greatest-hits approach and take the best of both those runs and run with it. As far as my own personal stamp, it's more of what we do here already with character-driven stories."
AMC's The Walking Dead will return in October for its fourth season with its third showrunner in the past three years when Scott Gimple takes the reins from Glen Mazzara. Under the latter's oversight, the zombie drama continued its impressive history of breaking its own records as TV's No. 1 scripted series among the key adults 18-49 demographic with a breakneck pace and willingness to kill off central characters.
Gimple, who with Walking Dead takes on his first showrunning assignment, comes from the comic book world and has been with the series since season two, working with both Frank Darabont, the first showrunner who developed the series and brought it to TV, and Mazzara. The typically press shy writer-producer, whose credits also include FlashForward and some of Walking Dead's most critically heralded episodes, says his approach will be more character-driven stories and a "remix" of Robert Kirkman's source material, which he's been reading for the past 10 years.
The Hollywood Reporter caught up with Gimple to discuss his fears, his approach to killing off characters (RIP, Lori, Andrea, Merle, T-Dog…) and whether or not Rick (Andrew Lincoln) will lose his hand this season in what comic readers know to be a watershed moment from the comics.
The Hollywood Reporter: What was your thought process after you were initially offered the showrunner job?
Scott Gimple: I have a healthy amount of fear in my life, making my wife lasagna and any of those things. I was freaked out the first script I did here [during season two]. So when they offered me the showrunner job, I certainly had a little bit of healthy fear. But the No. 1 thing is I love this show, I love this cast, I love this crew. Working with everybody here was amazing. So whatever trepidation I had, the answer could only be yes. My concerns are, with anything, wanting to do a good job, and I felt I could. I felt I could make my wife that lasagna. I think unless you're a little bit nervous about it, in my mind, it shows you care and you're determined to do something great.
THR: You're the third showrunner in four seasons. Do you have any concerns that this could be a short-term gig?
Gimple: Not at all. I don't have any concerns about that. Working with AMC has been great. The only thing I get freaked out about is that I get a great deal of support from everybody. They want this show to succeed; they want me to succeed. And really, doing right by them and the fans, that's it.
THR: How did you prepare?
Gimple: The first way I prepared was many years ago, being a reader of the comics. I actually come from comics, and I'm big on comics. I was reading Walking Dead from the beginning. Then just being on the show, I was really lucky to work on episodes like "Pretty Much Dead Already" and "Clear." I worked a lot on episodes that I didn't write. I produced when I was out in Georgia, and that's an incredible education in and of itself. On other shows, like FlashForward -- that I worked on with David Goyer -- and from the start, it was just throwing the whole producing angle at me very quickly, and I started doing a great deal.
THR: What's been your best day as showrunner so far?
Gimple: The week leaving to do the first episode of the season was wild. We were finishing up the writing side and moving into production, so saying goodbye to all the writers for a couple weeks and seeing all the stuff that they're getting started on. Then going to Georgia, being with the crew, being with [EP and VFX master] Greg Nicotero -- who directed the first episode -- and jumping right into it. There is something amazing about shifting from the written page to standing on-set with an amazing crew and cast. That first week of shifting into production was pretty wild -- as both one of the main dudes here but also as a fan. It was just amazing.
THR: What about the flipside: What's been the hardest part of being showrunner so far? Is there one thing you've struggled with?
Gimple: Being on the other side of it. On every show I've been on, it's just managing all the different responsibilities and time management. The Walking Dead is a really well-oiled machine, and I have a great number of people who do a great number of things very well.
THR: You worked with both Darabont and Mazzara. What did you learn from them that you've brought to running the show?
Gimple: Both have made unbelievable contributions and done great stuff for the show. Frank and Glen are both unbelievably passionate guys. Both are fans of the genre, and I've absolutely picked up things from seeing them work. They both know how to scare people pretty well, and I want to scare people as well as they did.
THR: This is your first time as showrunner. What advice have you received from others in the business?
Gimple: I've gotten great advice from some of the showrunners in the industry. I've talked to David Goyer, whom I'm friends with, quite a bit. It really is about time management and honoring the material and delivering for the fans and working very hard on not taking your eyes off the ball at all.
THR: What were your conversations with the cast like?
Gimple: It was about the show. It was about considering all the great things we were doing right. It's a very fine line with talking with the cast because I really do want to keep them in the loop thematically as to where we're going without being totally spoilery. I'm very spoiler-phobic in every way, and I don't want the cast to know everything that's going to be happening. But we did have very intensive conversations about where their characters were going thematically. They did a lot of talking to me that was just very supportive. A lot of people have been saying -- and it's been very humbling -- that they want to see me succeed. It's kind of like Doctor Who. I'd like to be a Tom Baker [the fourth and longest-running Doctor on the series]. Andy was massively supportive. He really dug a lot of the work I had done. "Clear" was one of his favorite episodes, and he was looking forward to more of that. All the castmembers have said something to the effect of, "Tell me what you need me to do, and I'll do it."
THR: How does your approach to showrunning differ from your predecessors?
Gimple: It's my third year now, and I've been able to benefit from the lessons we've learned, and I'm just trying to apply them. Whether it comes to writing, edits, talking with the crew, working on big sequences, I've been lucky to see people do it, both the triumphs and pitfalls. The biggest thing that I know is that it's all about collaboration, and that goes on with all the people in Georgia and all the people in L.A. I'm constantly on the phone with the rest of my executive producers, picking their brains, asking for their help when I need it, and all of us pulling together to get things done.
THR: Darabont's run was nuanced, while Mazzara's was fast-paced. How do you envision your run being described?
Gimple: I'm trying to take a greatest-hits approach and take the best of both those runs and run with it. As far as my own personal stamp, it's more of what we do here already with character-driven stories and really delving into these characters while having some amazing, horrible scares and exciting sequences but all in service to a greater story that builds. A phrase that I've been caught using a bunch is "cumulative storytelling." It's about having everything stack up so it means something. When The Walking Dead has been its best, all that stuff is happening at once: the emotion, action, horror, scares. I'm very proud that I was able to write an episode where a little zombie girl could walk out of a barn after a horrific zombie execution and have people cry. That's one of the proudest things I've ever done.
THR: As a big fan of the comics, what kind of relationship do you have with Robert Kirkman when it comes to adapting his source material?
Gimple: Kirkman is more about departures from the comics than I have been in the past. His approach is more like, "Oh it's all good, we've seen that in the comic. We can mix it up." I've been more hardcore about keeping true to the exact story of the comic. Kirkman wound up loosening me up a little more about it, as far playing with different things going in different directions. To tell you the truth, at this point with where the story is, anybody who's a big fan of the comic would see that we have to. It's funny, in some ways the things that divert from the comic this year have actually served being closer to the comic in some way. There's going to be some looping around to the comic and remixing. That's how I essentially look at it: It's a remix of the comic.
THR: During Glen's run, the series killed off several major players. What's your approach?
Gimple: The DNA is all in how people have died in the comic; it's always served the story. If it's just serving as a shock, it's a failure. It has to mean something. That doesn't mean it can't be completely out of the blue because that happens sometimes in this world.
THR: What keeps you up at night?
Gimple: I have many fears in this life; I can be a bit of a worrier. Something that was keeping me up at night was one of the actual scenes that we did. It was a moment, and I blame Nicotero for it. I was closing my eyes and seeing it, and it wasn't pleasant. It won't be pleasant. In fact, I would say it was so unpleasant that the last several seconds had to be cut out because it just wouldn't have been nice to anybody. I don't want to spoil it, but it's the execution of an amazing gag. It isn't a giant moment because we had to trim a bit off it. People who are watching will see it if they really lock onto it. It's not a pretty thing. But we're not exactly shoving it in the audiences' faces.
THR: You're making your debut as showrunner at Comic-Con, in Hall H. How are you preparing to take on fan questions?
Gimple: I've been going to Comic-Con since 1994 and I've been in Hall H a lot, but in the chairs that face the stage. I'm really excited for it because I feel very comfortable there. I'm not that nervous, plus I'm going to be there with 12 other people who I really dig. The thing I'm nervous about is that, Norman Reedus (Daryl) will be talking and I'll just be sitting there listening to him and forgetting that I'm supposed to say something [laughs]. I'm approaching it still like a fan. And there are several panels I want to see that I'll have to figure out my lineup game. I'm really curious about the fans' questions because they're usually the best ones. Not to discourage [moderator/Talking Dead host] Chris Hardwick, who I love.
THR: A lot of people were angry at the end of season three when the Governor escaped and Andrea died. How will season four be different?
Gimple: Hopefully all those people will be excited about the stuff that's coming in this new season. Maybe some of the [conflict with Michonne, Rick and the Governor] wasn't entirely skipped over. It's all part of a greater story because the story is continuing. All that stuff is going to affect the future.
THR: There are some big watershed moments from the comics that come with the Governor and Rick -- including the latter losing his hand. How will you approach those moments?
Gimple: Going back to the remix idea, there are going to be big moments from the comic that will be seen in a very different context that fans will recognize but aren't that different in the continuity of the book. There are a lot of things that are different at this stage in the story than they were in the comic. The Governor on the TV show is a different character than the Governor of the comic. You will recognize a bunch of those big moments this season, but you will also see that they aren't exactly the same as they panned out in the comic, and you'll know why because of where the story is now. Daryl Dixon is a huge part of the show and he's not in the comic. The stories that happen involve him heavily and he, as a character, changes those stories. That happens in so many ways through our story. What's cool is we can get in those moments, those themes and those dynamics but they happen in different ways, at different times and sometimes between different characters. It's so cool for me, as a fan, when we do it. And it's a way to take something that the comic fans know and present it in a different way and hopefully with a different emotional context but just as powerful as it was in the comic. So you still get something new, but it serves the story that's just been told.
The Walking Dead returns in October. Stay tuned to THR's The Live Feed for more Walking Dead news from Comic-Con next week.