'Walking Dead' Boss Addresses the State of the Zombie Apocalypse

The Walking Dead: World Beyond
Courtesy of AMC

In one corner of the Walking Dead universe, Fear the Walking Dead lead Morgan Jones (Lennie James) fights to claim a new identity and reclaim his old friends. In another, a young quartet of kids who only loosely know the dangers of the undead are on a cross-country trek, accompanied by a pair of guardians. That's the limited two-season engagement known as The Walking Dead: World Beyond, of course — but for franchise chief content officer Scott M. Gimple, there are worlds beyond even these.

The flagship Walking Dead showrunner from season four through season eight, Gimple has since ascended to the role of veritable zombie apocalypse overseer, with an eye on every aspect of the flesh-hungry jewel in AMC's crown. That means not only the original Walking Dead, on its way toward an exit with only 30 episodes still on the clock, but also more than just the currently airing season six of Fear and the recently launched (albeit delayed due to COVID-19) World Beyond, which Gimple co-created with longtime friend and colleague Matt Negrete.

For Gimple, trudging forward through the world of the walkers means looking well beyond what's on the air or otherwise already out there: announced spinoffs such as Tales of the Walking Dead, an anthology series that may feature familiar faces from other iterations of the series; the untitled series with Norman Reedus and Melissa McBride as Daryl Dixon and Carol Peletier; the planned feature film series in which Andrew Lincoln will reprise his role as Rick Grimes, though given current events, the theatrical component may be a bit in question; and even more still lurking underground, like corpses stirring in their coffins 6 feet under.

Ahead, a conversation with Gimple about all of these aspects of the Walking Dead universe and more — including his work as a comic book creator in the form of the Skybound series DIE! DIE! DIE!, a violent action-adventure comic he co-authors with Walking Dead creator Robert Kirkman.

Let's start with The Walking Dead: World Beyond, which was slated to arrive last spring, but was pushed because of the pandemic. How challenging was it to be so close to liftoff, only to have to wait another six or so months?

The last time it was going to air, I was just thrilled to offer people distraction in the middle of all this. I believe in what we did, I believe it takes you away into another place. And it shows you these different characters in this different situation. And to give people some distraction in the middle of all this was … I was bummed we couldn't be a part of that. That we couldn't help that way. And now all the way in October, it's like, well, wow. We still can very much be a part of that. We, back then, didn't really connect how long this would all be. So I'm very happy to provide something for folks in the middle of all this. Something to take them away hopefully a little bit.

What's the origin story for World Beyond, best as you can recall? What were the first germs of the story idea?

A big part of it came from the mythology that I was speculatively putting together back in season six and seven of The Walking Dead. That was start coming into my mind because it was the possibility of Andy Lincoln going away [from the main series], which was very much in my head. And the way I've always approached the story, even as a writer-producer, before I was a showrunner, when I did not even have the last say on where things were going, I still was trying to come up and plant seeds toward other ways the story could go. And other things you build up in your mind and maybe they come to pass the way that you think they're going to come to pass, or maybe they don't, but you just bank those ideas or you move them in other directions. There's all sorts of things in The Walking Dead that went that way.

But as the Three Circles mythology got more and more built up and it fleshed out, it's a very big mythology and it became apparent that, even with the way that Rick Grimes is tied up in all of it, there was another avenue to explore. There's actually a few other avenues to explore. And as the ideas of the characters were coming together for World Beyond, it seemed very interesting to marry them. But the characters from World Beyond were coming first and the general situation that they were in, but the general situation they were in really did seem in line with some aspects of the Three Circles mythology.

And one other thing I'd say is that Three Circles mythology is not the only new mythology to The Walking Dead. We hope to have many more and we're working on others that, whether they span one show or two shows, or whether they get into the movies or whatever, this is the first of many big mythologies we're hoping to do.

Speaking of those other avenues as well as movies, you have been open about wanting to be experimental with form in how you approach Walking Dead, such as the theatrical Rick Grimes movies, if we're still able to get to theaters …

As long as we still have those.

 … but there being different ways to tell Walking Dead stories. You have the anthology series in Tales, you have a closed-ended series in World Beyond, and you now know you're barreling toward a conclusion in the flgaship Walking Dead. How has it changed the calculus, thinking of some of these Walking Dead stories in finite terms, as opposed to the "zombie movie that never ends" quality from earlier in the series?

It's actually super tricky for a couple of people who have been doing 16 episodes a season. Even 10 episodes a season was tricky. And this is tricky, but it's a very cool and different challenge that we've had. And then, no pun intended, but beyond that, already with World Beyond, whether it be certain things that we refer to, whether it be certain characters, whether it even be overall, what's cool about Tales of the Walking Dead is there's so many stories that have nothing to do and will never have anything to do with anything we've seen on any of the shows. But on the other hand, there will be characters from the past, from the shows, there'll be characters from the shows present. There will be, I hope in some ways, extensions of the current stories. That in some ways that we can continue stories. Continue some stories of The Walking Dead, some characters in the Walking Dead, beyond Daryl and Carol. And same for World Beyond.

Getting into the very first thing you brought up, I'm hoping that other formats allow for [different types of stories]. We're also looking at miniseries and how that can work; six-episode series that are just six episodes. And whether those are folded into Tales of the Walking Dead, whether they stand on their own. There's one that we're working on right now that I absolutely love, and one of the Walking Dead writers is working on it, and it's amazing. It is just also a question of just how much we can do at once and what the need is over the next two years.

You will need to make sure one of the Tales of the Walking Dead episodes is Rick Grimes and his friends battling aliens, like the one-off from Kirkman in the comics. If that's not part of the plan, I am going to be very upset.

You never know! (Laughs.) I will say that one thing I'm looking at hard is animation. I mean, [Robert Kirkman, whose comic book Invincible is in production as an animated hourlong drama at Amazon] has a lot of talent around that, so that's one-stop shopping for me. [World Beyond co-creator Matt Negrete] and I actually come from animation. We worked initially together in animation back in the day. And then we also went to college together. … But I mean, Invincible is going to be a really interesting thing to see. Hourlong animation? And the comic is fun, but it's not a comedy and it gets super dark and dramatic, regularly. So I can't wait for that. And Kirkman might lead the way on that too. It may lead us right back to a Walking Dead animated series.

You mentioned your earlier work with Matt, the history you share. What do you think the versions of yourselves who first met in school long ago would think of what you're working on now?

I think we'd think it's pretty crazy. I don't know if we would have predicted the exact same path for ourselves. Matt was much more comedic actually in his writing back in the day. Not completely, but I was a wannabe comedy writer in some ways, but it was always genre. And I mean, to tell you the truth, I'm sure I would look at me now and be like, "Why aren't you writing more comics?" Because that was what I was always going for. I wanted to be a comic writer who tried to get into film and TV, but now I'm a film and TV writer who's trying to get into comic books.

And now you're doing that with DIE! DIE! DIE!, which I'm a little behind on …

The second arc makes the first arc look like The Remains of the Day. The second arc is insane.

The flagship Walking Dead has announced its endgame, which will obviously still take quite a while before it's all said and done. Still, it's a defining series in our culture and certainly in your career. What has it meant to you to approach this process of wrapping up the show?

This came out of conversations with AMC and ultimately they made this call, obviously. And so [The Walking Dead showrunner] Angela Kang and I, thinking about it was … I don't know, it's incredibly heavy. I mean, even though, like you said, we have all these Walking Dead things ahead, and even with so many of the people that we work with, and in fact I'm hoping it's with most of the people in one direction or another with Tales, Daryl and Carol, other stuff. I don't know, it's still incredibly heavy.

I remember reading about long-running shows ending. I remember reading an EW article about the end of Star Trek: The Next Generation. The end of Lost. And even the end of M*A*S*H when I was a kid. And it was always hard for me to wrap my mind around eight years, 10 years, 11 years. And I think the thing that's most weird about it is how quick it all went. It doesn't feel like 10 years. It doesn't feel like 11 years. And so I loved doing it. I'm talking about when I was a showrunner; I loved doing that so much. It was so intense. And it's so inside the story in every way, that I think I never really got to appreciate all of it when I was doing it. In some ways, even I get to appreciate it more in the position I'm in, because I'm not totally slammed with specifically showrunner stuff. And I don't know … it all went by too fast. I mean, that's how I feel. It all went by way, way, way too fast.

I began my career right around the comic books' prison arc, started covering the comics shortly thereafter, and have covered the show for its entire run — and I still feel like a baby! So the fact that we're even talking about the flagship show ending … yes, the passage of time quality is very real.

It's crazy. I mean, there's all these little things happening [in the world right now], some very big and major things happening, that it's like, "Oh, shit, this is what growing up is." And it both makes you feel old because, "Oh my gosh, all that time has passed," and young because this is the first time it's happening. This is the first time I'm recognizing like, "Oh shit, this is growing up." So it makes me feel super nostalgic, and even nostalgic for a lot of stuff I missed. Yeah, it's heavy, just to put a fine, trite point on it.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.