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The zombie apocalypse is on hold, but not for long — and indeed, not at all, at least not for the folks in the greater Walking Dead trenches.
The fall of 2020 brought with it several developments in the Walking Dead universe, from new series in the form of The Walking Dead: World Beyond, to the shortened but celebrated sixth season of Fear the Walking Dead, and even a brief return to the flagship Walking Dead in the form of a not-quite season 10 finale. That episode, in which the survivors defeated the camouflaged Whisperers, now serves as a springboard for six additional season 10 episodes, the first of which is set to premiere on February 28, 2021.
In some respects, then, The Walking Dead fandom is back on familiar footing: the waiting period between the end of November and some point in February, typically marked by a lack of zombie action. But what’s now known as The Walking Dead season 10C premieres in February, it may be the first in a long line of new zombie content; a return date has not been set yet for Fear the Walking Dead season six, but the AMC drama is back in production after halting due to the ongoing global pandemic. One can see The Walking Dead season 10C, which itself has completed production, colliding directly into a new crop of Fear the Walking Dead, at least from a hopeful vantage point.
Speaking of hopeful vantage points, there are few with a clearer view of the Walking Dead universe than Scott M. Gimple, chief content officer of the greater franchise, responsible for threading stories not just in the existing series but also ahead in Norman Reedus and Melissa McBride’s Daryl Dixon and Carol Peletier spinoff, the Tales of the Walking Dead anthology series, the announced Rick Grimes series of movies starring Andrew Lincoln (next set to appear as Scrooge in the Old Vic’s A Christmas Carol, in which the legendary auditorium will play host to remote audiences worldwide). And that’s just what’s announced. Ahead, Gimple takes stock of it all: the events of the World Beyond season one finale, the state of the flagship Walking Dead series in the era of COVID-19, updates on the Rick Grimes movie front, and more.
Let’s start with The Walking Dead: World Beyond, which just finished its first season. The end of the season hinges on a final twist: Huck (Annet Mahendru) is working against the group, specifically to bring the secretly brilliant Hope (Alexa Mansour) to the CRM for the betterment of mankind. When was that idea formed?
The very, very beginning. We knew who Huck was and who Hope was, even though Hope didn’t quite know who she was. This was before we even put pen to paper. It’s been very gratifying that people were so shocked by that turn. This happened on The Walking Dead, too: you’re aware of it for so long that [these twists are] coming, and you’re so used to it from a creator’s angle that you forget that we did this because it’s a huge story turn that changes everything. You come to take it for granted because you’ve been living with it for so long. But this one was from the very, very beginning.
With Huck specifically, what drove the idea to have a mole in the group?
It was the purpose of the trip in many ways. They were manipulated into it. In some ways it’s the entirety of the story. You’re unaware of it, which is what we wanted. We wanted the audience unaware of it. There were hints along the way, little ones, but we would torture ourselves over those.
How much is too much? What’s just enough? You need to play fair with the rewatchability factor…
Yeah, it’s tricky as hell. I created a cartoon for Disney a long time ago, and it was a mystery show called Fillmore!, and it was a 70s cop show set in a middle school. We would ring our hands over the mysteries there. What’s too much? On The Walking Dead, it’s always like, “Are we giving too many hints of what’s going to happen?” But you have to play it straight. It’s like you said, for the rewatch. You have to be consistent with what’s true and what isn’t.
How much did Annett know about the character’s true purpose?
She knew. The dummy side that we gave her … we wrote up all these dummy sides. I actually think within The Walking Dead universe itself, the amount of fake scenes that have been written could be several seasons of television by now.
Well, that sounds like an excellent book at the very least.
I have to tell you, I love these scenes. (Laughs.) I pray to God they’re out there somewhere. But her audition scene, it was all about that: seeing these two sides of someone. It was baked into the character from the very beginning.
Given the ending of the season, we’re all but guaranteed to see more of the civilization that you have been developing since the helicopter first appeared on the flagship series … what can we expect in the second and final World Beyond season in that regard?
What’s so cool about next season is how different it is to this past season. This season was on the road. It was a quest. Now, these characters exist in a few different worlds that are completely different from one another with such a high contrast. A couple of those worlds will tell us a lot about the Civic Republic and the Civic Republic Military storyline. It’s going to fill out that world. We will see a lot more of that world in different places. But I also want to say that this isn’t the entirety of the Walking Dead mythology. It exists with all sorts of mythology, and this is just one of them, but it’s a mythology that clearly touches on the Rick movies. I’m not at all saying that Rick is going to be hanging out where [Hope and her father] are [in season two]. That isn’t going to happen. But you are going to see places that … who knows, Rick may have been. Or at least find out about the civilization that he’s now entangled with.
What’s the status of the six additional Walking Dead season ten episodes, which are slated to start arriving in February? Are they still in production?
Season 10C wrapped very recently, this past week. The shows are amazing. There’s a lot of circumstance that was put on these episodes. Things everyone is dealing with with the pandemic. But the way [showrunner Angela Kang] charted these stories with the writers, and the way they came together and worked so hard and so quickly and yet crafted some of the best stories we’ve had in a long while … they’re just intimate. Initially, I was describing them as “acoustic,” but they aren’t. It turns out it’s more like seeing your favorite band at your favorite bar. They are not a step down in any way as far as the scale — at least, they don’t feel that way. They feel more intimate because they are more [character] focused. There are just a couple of characters per episode, or a few characters per episode, and that makes them special. It’s an incredible accomplishment from Angela, the writers, the cast, the crew, the producers. I am very, very proud of what they’ve done. I think the audience is going to love them. It’s incredible how quickly they’re going to be in the audience’s hand.
Having finished these episodes in our current conditions, what can you report back on how COVID-19 is directly impacting The Walking Dead, practically and creatively? How does this impact scenes featuring major crowds of zombies, for instance? Will you be relying more on CGI?
The systems put in place were incredible. AMC took it very, very seriously. There’s a serious testing regimen in place. The way the entire production is organized and the way things are shot and the sets that were chosen … I’m not sure if people are going to notice a difference on screen. I think if they look at certain things and think about them, they will wonder, “Oh, why isn’t the walker nose to nose with Daryl?” Okay, fair play, but short of that? I’m not sure people will actually notice. That’s attributed to the things Greg Nicotero came up with as far as how to do the walkers and how to create them, how to do the makeup. Also the directors’ novel ideas on how to shoot. It was really incredible. There are some things we did that we’ll be taking with us even when [the pandemic] is over, as far as techniques to do other things just as well but faster and also in very different ways. It was a reinvention. People worked incredibly hard and AMC was very supportive, stepping up to make sure we could do all of this safely. I’m blown away by it. Angela was a giant part of it, because she was the nexus of so much of everything happening.
In terms of the feel of the episodes, even your favorite band at your favorite bar sounds like an intimate story, unplugged or not …
That’s what I mean. It’s suddenly so concentrated and in your face, but it’s still that band and it still has that intensity. Initially I thought it would be more unplugged, but I really don’t think it came out that way. I think they came out fully plugged in. But you’re not at the Meadowlands. You’re not at the Forum. You’re at Joe’s Bar and Grill.
You mentioned Rick Grimes a moment ago. Any updates on Andrew Lincoln’s return to the Walking Dead universe via these movies?
Well, first, it must be said, we should shout out the online production of A Christmas Carol, where he’s playing Scrooge at the Old Vict, trying to make sure they can keep it going. But yes, we’re very much continuing forward. I’m working on it with Mr. Lincoln and [Walking Dead co-creator Robert Kirkman]. We have a whole bunch of people cranking away on it. It’s a movie. Movies are different. Movies go through a very different process than television. I’m confident at the end of the day, it’s going to be something special.
Are the current conditions and their impact on theaters impacting these films at all?
Not at all, but it certainly goes through my head that this is all about seeing [the film] at the movies. Independent of anything we’re doing, I’m just pulling for the industry. We’re about to go through a very tough time. But as we move toward the spring, we’re talking about things potentially getting better in a permanent way. I would hope that come the end of next summer, people are piling into movie theaters again and laughing until they’re screaming together, eating popcorn together, and that we are once more enjoying each other’s company in front of a huge screen with awesome things happening on it. We hope to be a part of it.
What’s the status of Fear the Walking Dead, which ended one episode shy of its intended midseason finale?
It was heartbreaking not to be able to carry it through to 608, just because that is an astounding episode. It’s such a big episode in the history of the series. It’ll make an amazing start. [The series is back in production.] We’ve been working for many weeks now, if not months. We’re cranking away on Fear the Walking Dead. We have the rest of season six to finish up while we are working on season seven.
You’re already writing it?
We are indeed. It’s weird. The timings of the different episodes as it relates to the pandemic were interesting. With The Walking Dead, it was at a point where we could really adjust what it was imminently about to do. Fear was in the middle of its season, and World Beyond was just starting its writing [for the second and final season]. It’s been interesting to see the different productions at such different places during this time, and everybody’s been working with each other and learning from each other as far as techniques are concerned as we’re shooting right now. Through this whole pandemic, the Walking Dead universe has never been more connected as we’re figuring out just how the heck to make TV.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
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