12:35pm PT by Lesley Goldberg
'Walking Dead': Is Alexandria on the Horizon?
[Warning: This story contains spoilers from The Walking Dead comic series.]
When AMC's The Walking Dead returns for the second half of its fifth season on Sunday, Rick Grimes and his ragtag group of survivors will find themselves in familiar territory: Back on the road and mourning the loss of a friend.
During the midseason finale, Rick (Andrew Lincoln) and company lost Beth (Emily Kinney) during the group's peaceful hostage swap turned deadly battle with Dawn at the hospital where she was being held with Carol (Melissa McBride).
Following the deadly shootout, Rick — with Carol, Noah (Tyler James Williams), Daryl (Norman Reedus) and company — are back out on the road with no shelter (and protection) from the deadly postapocalyptic world.
"They absolutely have to find some place safe," showrunner Scott M. Gimple tells The Hollywood Reporter of what to expect from the back half of season five. "Where we're leaving them off, they're not in a great situation. We have this group of people and they have nowhere to go. They have to find somewhere to go — and for what's been going on with them, someplace that they can stay. Carl [Chandler Riggs] was intimating in the first half that we just keep moving along, but Michonne [Danai Gurira] wasn't terribly down with that idea."
The first stop the survivors seem to be headed for is to (hopefully!) reunite Noah with his family in a gated community outside Richmond, Va., and following through on one of Beth's last wishes. But should that community be gone, the group will go back to square one, as revealed in the opening scene from the midseason bow.
So could Alexandria — the longest-running and current location in Robert Kirkman's comic book series that inspired the AMC drama — be the group's next stop? The evidence may seem to support that. In the comics, the so-called Alexandria Safe-Zone is located about six miles from Washington, D.C., and makes its debut in the 69th issue of the comics — and remains the story's central location through its current, 136th issue. The location boasts a community of houses — and people, including Aaron, a prominent gay character who serves as a recruiter with his boyfriend, Eric, as well as Douglas Monroe, the leader of the Safe-Zone group.
While Gimple stopped short of confirming the group would get to Alexandria during season five, he did say that the series is "nearing that point in the comics where things change."
"Whenever we get to Alexandria, it will probably have stuff that's right out of the comic book and stuff that's different," he said. One of the similarities could be the addition of new series regular Ross Marquand, whose character will debut in one of the remaining eight episodes of season five. While details about which character he's playing are being kept under wraps, all signs point to Marquand taking on the role of Aaron, who crosses paths with Rick's group while they're out on the road to Washington.
"There's a whole bunch of story that I want to hit in a lot of different directions and getting to [Alexandria], there's a ton of stuff that I'm eager to get to," Gimple says. "Stuff that is well beyond Alexandria. Then there's some other things we want to do to provide some underpinnings to those stories — to be able to play them even harder than we saw them originally."
Gimple, a longtime fan of the comics before he boarded the AMC series, will likely give the Alexandria storyline a "remix," as he has done with several other storylines from Kirkman's best-selling series. But one thing die-hard fans of the zombie series should also keep an eye out for is the addition of villain Negan, who makes The Governor (played by David Morrissey on the AMC incarnation) look like a cute puppy by comparison. That character arrives as the biggest threat to the Alexandria community and comes with the "All Out War" arc in the comics — one of its most terrifying runs.
"Negan in general is going to be challenging," says Gimple of the character that has yet to be introduced or cast on AMC's The Walking Dead. "It's such a story turn in the comic. … There's a particular story in that arc that I'm very excited for. But because we know where we're going, we have some opportunities to play around with it and put some things in that will lead up to [Negan and Alexandria] in different ways yet fulfill the story Robert told to the nth degree by utilizing some slightly different approaches. Lineups and timelines and the whole nine yards."
But for the more immediate future, AMC's zombie drama will continue to explore the impact of being without a safe place to call home on its core characters.
"Who they become being out there as long as they have changes the makeup of their humanity, and that's not physically dangerous but it's incredibly dangerous to people's entire being," Gimple says. "Being at high alert and being in this state of total danger 24 hours a day, when they do have a moment to catch their breath, that's going to be challenging in and of itself."
The Walking Dead airs Sundays at 9 p.m. on AMC. What are you looking forward to seeing? Sound off in the comments section below and come back to The Live Feed on Sunday after the episode for more Walking Dead coverage.