2:45pm PT by Lesley Goldberg
'Walking Dead' Bosses on "Transitional" Second Half, Larger (and Dangerous) World Ahead
AMC's The Walking Dead is on the cusp of expanding its world more than it ever has before.
The zombie drama based on Robert Kirkman's comic series returns for the second half of its sixth season on Sunday with a massive episode that feels more like a season finale than a midseason premiere. The reasoning behind that, producers say, is that the episode — which takes its "No Way Out" title from a key arc in the comics — serves as a jumping off point to set up the larger world ahead.
While the theme for the first half of season six, to hear showrunner Scott M. Gimple tell it, was "with great power comes a responsibility for the future and for the [Alexandria] community," the remaining eight episodes will serve to answer that very question.
The series has already introduced a handful of Negan's (newly cast Jeffrey Dean Morgan) group — known as the Saviors — and that hints that the Alexandrians, if they can survive the walker invasion in the midseason premiere, are poised to square off against the dastardly villain and his community.
"Rick's group has an extremely deep knowledge base and skill set on how to survive that a lot of people [at Alexandria] don't have," Gimple tells The Hollywood Reporter. "The second half, we answer the questions: 'What do they do with that power? What is their responsibility? How can they create a future? What does that look like?' You see the billboards and ads about this this larger world … they are going to find that the world wasn't exactly what they thought it was in every way — in very practical ways and even in philosophical ways — and how are they going to handle that."
For his part, Kirkman described the second half of the season as a "transitional period for The Walking Dead." The comic book creator and series exec producer told THR that there will be a lot of "new elements" added to go with "a lot of big changes" that are going to be happening.
"It will really set the stage for what's going to come and the many seasons that will hopefully come after this," Kirkman said, calling Sunday's midseason premiere "a very big turning point in the series."
While Sunday's episode could rip multiple scenes from the comic series — Jessie and her sons all die in their bid to escape Alexandria during the walker invasion — Kirkman said he hoped viewers would share his opinion that The Walking Dead really is a "very hopeful and optimistic" series.
I think at times, people would find [that] hard to believe, but after the midseason premiere, that's a little more clear," he said. "I think more people will see the optimism that actually does exist at the core of the show."
While producers stopped short of confirming Negan's arrival in the season six finale as has been speculated for months, the second half will explore the unknowns that exist outside Alexandria's walls.
"We're always trying to show that there's a larger world out there," exec producer Greg Nicotero tells THR. "It's not just about what's inside the walls of Alexandria. What we've done in the first half of the season is show, yes, it's a larger world and there are a lot of threats out there — we had the Wolves and the walkers — and there are a lot of unknowns out there."
Nicotero, who directed the midseason premiere as well as the season six finale, called the second half of the season the "most exciting, dramatic change in the show."
"We're now coming upon a group of people who are formidable [Negan and the Saviors] and somebody that Rick is not going to be able to take care of as easily as he did with the people at Grady Memorial, Terminus or the Governor's group. This is a whole other animal and we're taking the show in a whole other direction. The finale is the 15th episode I've directed and every episode is a different set of challenges. I love [the midseason premiere] but the finale is the best work I've done on the show."
The Walking Dead airs Sundays at 9 p.m. on AMC. Stay tuned to THR's The Live Feed after the episode for an insane amount of coverage and multiple interviews.