'Walking Dead' Boss on the Group's Latest Loss: It's "Testing Their Will to Live"

Showrunner Scott M. Gimple talks with THR about the shocking events of the midseason premiere.
Gene Page/AMC

[Warning: This story contains spoilers from episode 509, "What Happened and What's Going On," of AMC's The Walking Dead and the comic series it's based on.]

AMC's The Walking Dead returned from its winter break with another devastating loss for the group.

The zombie drama, based on the comics created by Robert Kirkman, picked up with Rick (Andrew Lincoln) and company back out on the road after losing Beth in a peaceful turned deadly confrontation with Dawn (Christine Woods) at Grady Memorial. In a bid to make good on Beth's (Emily Kinney) last wish, the group journeys to reunite Noah (Tyler James Williams) with his family in Virginia. There, they hope to find a gated community with enough housing to set up a more stable — and safer — place to call home.

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

Unfortunately, what they find is less than habitable as the housing community had already been overtaken by the undead, leaving homes burned and bodies strewn about the street. Noah, still mourning Beth's tragic death, falls to his knees in grief that his mother and twin younger brothers are all likely dead.

Stunned, Noah sprints to his home to see for himself as Tyreese (Chad L. Coleman), who attempted to console the group's newest addition, follows closely behind. As Noah covers his mother's body with a sheet, Tyreese is frozen with grief — likely recalling Lizzie and Mika's deaths — when he sees one of Noah's younger brothers dead in a bed and fails to notice the boy's twin turned walker and winds up being bitten in the arm. When Noah attempts to get help, Tyreese begins to fade away and sees visions of others who have been killed off: villains the Governor (David Morrissey) and Martin (Chris Coy); and friends Beth as well as young sisters Lizzie (Brighton Sharbino) and Mika (Kyla Kenedy), whose death rattled the good guy to the core.

The Hollywood Reporter caught up with showrunner Scott M. Gimple to break down the events of season five's midseason bow, including how the loss of Tyreese right after Beth's death will impact everyone, especially his sister, Sasha, and those mysterious radio transmissions he heard during his visions.

What made the time right to kill off Tyreese?

There is never a right time; this was the time the story seemed to dictate. Not just for this episode but for the story moving forward. The cumulative effect of the last eight episodes and then this ninth episode, moving into next few, it's all a cumulative effect of who these people are and the circumstances they eventually find themselves in. It's weird to say, "This was the time" because it's such a painful thing. It just seemed to be what the story dictated.

We didn't get to see as much of the relationship between Rick and Tyreese as in the comics. What made you decide to go in a different direction?

So much of Tyreese — from even before I was in this position on the show — was so different. His introduction — in the book, he had a daughter, his daughter had a boyfriend, and things got very sad with her. His relationship with Rick was, in some ways, a bit more combative as well. In fact, in some ways, it was semiclose but it was pretty combative, which we certainly did do a version of on the show. I would say Tyreese in the book, there were echoes of him on the show but in some ways, they were different characters. If you look at the whole of him, there's a lot that is the same same but there is a great deal that is very different.

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

How will losing Tyreese impact Sasha? It's like a one-two gut punch for her since she is still mourning Bob (Lawrence Gilliard Jr.).

Exactly. It's devastating. Considering the conversation Sasha and Tyreese were having in episodes eight and seven about their different perspectives, this is going to indelibly affect Sasha. It's a very big part of her story.

How will Tyreese's death impact the rest of the group?

That one-two punch of losing Beth and Tyreese will absolutely affect them. I mean just Beth alone destroyed this group. While they're in a bad physical situation, they're in a bad mental situation that's making them question what the point of everything is. That is grinding them down to the ground. It's not making them better people; it's not making them people who necessarily are thinking about the future anymore. These two deaths are utterly defining to this group and are testing their will to live. Not formally, of course. It is affecting them in different ways. But it is crushing down on all of them.

Tyreese sees visions of the Governor, Martin, Lizzie and Mika. Did you get everyone you wanted to return? Was there anyone you wanted back who didn't work out?

I would have loved to have filled that room. That was the lineup that I was hoping for. Luckily, we did get everybody.

I was holding out hope to see Laurie Holden's Andrea return. Was that something you considered?

Not necessarily for this one because Andrea and Tyreese, they certainly knew each other but Tyreese looked upon the Governor positively initially that he'd do whatever he had to do. This was the guy who almost destroyed them. Martin was somebody that he had an intense cross with. Beth was someone whose death impacted him deeply even though the two of them weren't necessarily the closest — but he was there for it. He knew what she represented to the group. And Lizzie and Mika were so deeply attached to him. I think beyond that, that really was the lineup I wanted. I think the more people I stacked in there would have had a diminishing return.

See more 'Walking Dead' Season 5 Premiere: From the Woods to the Red Carpet

Michonne (Danai Gurira) warned that the group can't stay out on the road for too long. How will the road and the group's latest loss wear on everyone?

This is crushing for them. Right now, they are on the toughest stretch of their survival so far. And they're being ground down and challenged by fate. It's [a case of] How much do you want this? How much do you really want to live? How much do you really want to survive?

We didn't get to see much of Maggie (Lauren Cohan) dealing with Beth's death. Will that be addressed in a larger way?

It will indeed; quite soon.

Morgan (Lennie James) is still out there and also seems to be headed for Washington, D.C. — where Rick and company are going. Is the Morgan story something that you'll continue to parcel out in these end credits here and there, or is that part of a larger story?

His story is going to be told. There will be a story that's fulfilled.

Robert Kirkman has noted the series will never go back to the onset of the outbreak. But Tyreese, during his visions as he's fading away, hears a radio transmission that sounded like the onset of the zombie outbreak.

I think what's going on in that broadcast is very different from what's going on in the world. There isn't any talk of the undead. There isn't any talk of walkers or anything like that. That's something horrible going on — on the other side of the world. It's an echo of the sort of things that Tyreese heard with his father listening to the radio as a child. But who knows, maybe it is [the onset of the outbreak] and I got to be incredibly lucky because I do not know anything about the spinoff. But I think Robert might have thrown a flag on that; I mean Robert would have told me.

Read more 'Walking Dead': Is Alexandria on the Horizon?

And the voice of the radio broadcaster was Andrew Lincoln, right?

Yes! I wanted Andy to do it in his beautiful accent.

What did you think of The Walking Dead's midseason return? Will you miss Tyreese? Sound off in the comments section, below. Stay tuned to THR's The Live Feed for an upcoming interview with Sonequa Martin-Green on how Sasha will cope with the loss of her brother as well as a chat with the victim himself, Chad L. Coleman.

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

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