'Walking Dead' Boss Defends Glenn Fake-Out, Previews "Different Show" in Season 6 Return

The Walking Dead Steven Yeun and Katelyn Nacon - H 2015
Courtesy of Gene Page/AMC

[Warning: This story contains spoilers from AMC's The Walking Dead and the comic series it is based on.]

To say that the first half of AMC's The Walking Dead has been divisive would be an understatement. Following the critical backlash to Glenn's (Steven Yeun) dumpster dive, the series closed out 2015 with a midseason finale that largely served as a giant cliffhanger.

While Deanna's (Tovah Feldshuh) death will have an impact on Michonne (Danai Gurira) and the Alexandrians, the massive walker attack failed to claim any major victims. The episode, however, ended with a major cliffhanger ripped directly out of Robert Kirkman's comic series when Rick (Andrew Lincoln), Carl (Chandler Riggs), Jessie (Alexandra Breckenridge) and her sons, Ron (Austin Abrams) and Sam (Major Dodson), as well as Michonne and Father Gabriel (Seth Gilliam) are all covered in walker guts and at risk when Sam starts calling for his mother.

Elsewhere, Morgan's (Lennie James) Wolf is on the loose with Denise as a hostage, and a prologue featured Daryl (Norman Reedus), Sasha (Sonequa Martin-Green) and Abraham (Michael Cudlitz) crossing paths with members of Negan's (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) so-called Saviors.

Here, THR talks with showrunner Scott M. Gimple about what to expect from Negan's arrival, lessons from Glenn's near-death experience and if the second half of season six will have the same structure and take place effectively over the same day or two,

What did you learn from the reaction to Glenn's near death in the first half? 

The audience wants to feel things.

Were you surprised by the reaction to Glenn's dumpster scene?

I wasn't entirely surprised. It was exciting to see the audience so keyed into it that it really became a big thing to people. The responses I got direct from fans seemed to be all very positive. But from a journalistic aspect, there was a disconnect ... the two reactions I was getting were very different.

Many critics, including THR's, said that the show has lost credibility by doing this with Glenn …

I saw a lot of line for line repeat sentences between a lot of these people. On that side, people said things like that, but that wasn't the message I was getting from the fans at all. From the comments on those very sites, I don't think the majority of people who watch the show were feeling that way.

Glenn's near death experience has jeopardized the show's credibility and made many of the series' stars untouchable when it comes to character deaths. Can the second half change that?

It's hard for me to answer that question directly in as much as I don't agree with the credibility thing. That's a very interesting way to look at it — that people are telling the audience how to watch the show and what to believe. We've had instances of people in a very emotional state — Tyreese jumping into the middle of a large herd and fighting his way out; a man cut off his own hand and fights his way through a department store full of walkers. These things are part of the world. Glenn had the bad luck of being knocked off that dumpster by Nicholas, ending his own life but [Glenn] had the good luck of Nicholas landing on him. There's a lot of very specific facts about it that I think a lot of people have sort of gotten wrong. But breaking it down shot for shot … I think we're past that point. I don't think this is any sort of new instance that broke the rules of our show at all. I think it's very much in line with everything we've done before. I don't think there's a credibility issue. It seems like there's this growing sort of divide between the people who watch the show and the people who write about the show. There's not a wrong way to watch it; nobody is doing anything wrong. I'm getting a lot different messages that are diametrically opposed.

You previously said the goal of Glenn's arc was for the audience to feel the uncertainty that comes with going beyond the wall. How does this experience change that character, who thus far has never killed another human?

It's strange, I don't know if those things are even entirely connected. It's interesting you bring that up because we do look into that side of Glenn and that is a very interesting fact about Glenn. But I don't know that that's connected to him surviving his ordeal. But coincidentally, that is something we are exploring in the second half.

The first half of this season has been about transformation. Will that continue thematically in the second half? Will the second half follow the same structure?

The second half is very, very different from the first half in tone and the lineup of characters for every episode. It's a very different show in the second half of the season and that was quite a shift. There is quite a shift in the show in the second half of the season very early on. It's a totally different type of storytelling, in my opinion, that we do. I believe this first half of season was structurally just focusing on certain characters and their internal journey a lot of the time. The externals really take over in the second half of the season. It takes a very different vibe and for this part of the story, the plot takes over a little harder — which is different thing than what I've done on the show before.

You've cast Negan and introduced Dwight, giving the latter a backstory. How will Negan's first appearance differ from the comic? How much of Negan's group — aka The Saviors — will viewers see and get to know before Jeffrey Dean Morgan appears?

There are a lot of direct moments from the comic coming up in the second half and panels that we're bringing to life — from very big comic moments to really tiny comic moments. Things that are not gigantic and dramatic but just little moments from the comic that all add up to some big moments. The second half is very cumulative. Within that, there is one of the weirdest episodes we've ever done because it's one of the amazingly enough more light-hearted episodes, which was terrifying on my side.

Rick, Jessie, Michonne, Carl, Ron and Father Gabriel all seem to be at risk when Sam yells for his mother. How deadly will the midseason premiere be?

It's quite deadly, sadly. There is some death going on in that but it's also unbelievably intense. It's one of the most intense episodes we've done. I know we say that a lot — I've said that about the premiere episode this year and we had 30,000 walkers. We might not hit those numbers in episode nine but the intensity by the end of that episode is not gut-wrenching — it's gut-swirling and gut-slamming and frappeing.

The midseason finale hit a lot of the same moments from the comics. Given that this is the battle in the comics where Carl loses his eye and Jessie and her young son are killed by walkers, how will the show handle that — considering, save for some exceptions like Lizzie and Mika, it's shied away from violence against children?

There's violence happening to everyone on this show in the world that they're in. We're getting near seven years now and people from all walks of life have met their doom on the show. You could probably name a bunch more kids than Lizzie and Mika. I don’t say that with any pride or anything, but I'm saying it's happened before again and again because of the world they live in. It's one of most tragic aspects of this world.

What did you think of the first half of The Walking Dead's season six? The zombie drama returns Feb. 14 on AMC.