Scott M. Gimple is a busy man. Yet as production wraps up on the latest season of “The Walking Dead,” the series’ show runner (its third in six seasons) took time to answer questions about Sunday’s episode, during which a main character may, or may not, have been killed.
Near the conclusion of “Thank You,” the third episode of “The Walking Dead’s” sixth season, Glenn Rhee, portrayed for the run of the show by Steven Yeun, appeared to be torn apart by zombies. But fans of the show remain unconvinced that Glenn is gone for good, likely fueled by a statement from Gimple himself that was read on “Talking Dead,” the “Walking Dead” after-show, which stated that fans of the show would see “some version of Glenn again,” be it in flashback or otherwise.
Gimple spoke by phone to expound on the reverberations of Sunday’s episode.
Is Glenn dead?
That’s a very direct question. I had to take the unusual step of releasing a statement on it. Ordinarily in storytelling, that’s not usually a part of it. I think it answered that question super ambiguously.
Making the statement to “Talking Dead” was a bit unusual. What spurred you to make that decision?
I think it’s just the after-show aspect of it. It’s cool that our show invites discussion about all sorts of things. So much of “The Walking Dead” is about “What would I do?” and that’s how “Talking Dead” came to be. There was a lot of discussion about the show and we thought, “We should have a place for people to discuss [the show.]”
Knowing that there would be all this discussion and thought and theorizing, it seemed like throwing something in the mix there was a wise idea. It seemed that silence, for some reason, might be looked upon as saying something unto itself.
It’s funny, the season is very, very busy, so I don’t get to catch up on “Game of Thrones” until after I’m done with production, so it’s just beyond spoiled for me, just obliterated. So I was trying to close my eyes to the fact that there was something with the whole Jon Snow thing because I really wanted not to be spoiled, but I caught glimpse of the headlines. Beyond that, if there was any fervor, I didn’t know about it.
Have you been tracking how the Internet has taken Glenn’s situation?
This whole thing is right at the time where we’re closing down our whole season, which is one of the busiest times of the year, so I’ve been catching glimpses of it between all of the work.
What’s the process like with your actors when you have a big and jarring story that you’re cracking for them?
I talk to the actors throughout the year whenever big stuff is happening with the character, from death to them perpetrating death, we talk about it. They absolutely have an idea of what’s coming up. Typically we’re a couple episodes ahead, sometimes it’s a little tighter than that, sometimes there’s a great deal of lead time with regard to the discussion. It’s a huge cast, but I still try to communicate with the actors very often, especially when it’s about dramatic stuff.
Kim Dickens and Cliff Curtis as “Fear the Walking Dead” lead characters Madison and Travis, unknowingly getting a foreshadowing of the beginning of the end.(Justin Lubin / AMC)
Cliff Curtis as Travis, left, Elizabeth Rodriguez as Liza, Lorenzo James Henrie as Chris and co-executive producer Adam Davidson during the filming of “Fear the Walking Dead.”(Justina Mintz / AMC)
Cliff Curtis, who plays Travis, on the filming of “Fear the Walking Dead.” (Justin Lubin / AMC)
Cliff Curtis, left, Kim Dickens, Alycia Debnam-Carey and Frank Dillane in “Fear the Walking Dead.”(Frank Ockenfels 3 / AMC)
Cliff Curtis as Travis during the filming of “Fear the Walking Dead.”(Justin Lubin / AMC)
Frank Dillane as Nick in “Fear the Walking Dead.”(Justina Mintz / AMC)
Lexi Johnson as Gloria in “Fear the Walking Dead.”(Justin Lubin / AMC)
“Fear the Walking Dead” executive producers Greg Nicotero, left, and Dave Erickson.(Justin Lubin / AMC)
Elizabeth Rodriguez as Liza, Lorenzo James Henrie as Chris and Cliff Curtis as Travis (reflected in mirror) in AMC’s prequel “Fear the Walking Dead.”(Frank Ockenfels 3 / AMC)
Executive producer Dave Erickson and Kim Dickens during the filming of “Fear the Walking Dead.”(Justin Lubin / AMC)
“Fear the Walking Dead” executive producer Dave Erickson and co-executive producer Adam Davidson.(Justina Mintz / AMC)
“Fear the Walking Dead” co-executive producer Adam Davidson.(Justina Mintz / AMC)
Alycia Debnam-Carey as Alicia in “Fear the Walking Dead.”(Justin Lubin / AMC)
Executive producers Gale Ann Hurd and Adam Davidson.(Justin Lubin / AMC)
The wrap clip board for “Fear the Walking Dead.”(Justin Lubin / AMC)
Glenn was one of the most morally upright characters on the show, almost an audience-insertion character, and in the midst of a zombie apocalypse, you often need a “white hat.” Are you concerned about the balance of that sensibility moving forward, whether or not Glenn is alive?
I think all of these characters have their own struggles with what exactly is moral and immoral in a world that has fundamentally changed what being a civilization means, what being a person means. Glenn didn’t kill Nicholas, that’s not who he is. At the same time, he didn’t want Nicholas out there. Unfortunately, he got cornered into that situation. He had told Nicholas in the season premiere, “You should not be here,” then things got started and there was no choice. But Glenn wasn’t like, “I didn’t kill you and you’re wonderful.” He believed that Nicholas had a long way to go and he was actually worried about being around him.
On shows where the characters are perpetually in mortal danger, you’ll often hear show runners say that anyone can be killed. No one’s off-limits. Is that an accurate statement? Do you feel like there are characters that are off-limits in the story you’re trying to tell or do you feel as if the story is strong enough to survive losing someone like Daryl or Michonne or Rick?
I will say that I want all these characters to be able to stand on their own. We just had an episode last week that didn’t feature Rick or Michonne or Daryl or Glenn, and people seemed to dig it. In the second half of Season 4, I was very proud to have a structure that focused just on a few characters and we didn’t see all the characters all the time. I want all these characters to be strong enough to tell a story about them, on their own. I think that has much more to do with storytelling and making our ensemble as strong as it can be. But that ensemble being as strong as it can be does make it that we can tell stories without the bigger, more main characters.
The comics are the DNA of the show, and there’s so much of the comic that we want to tell as close to how it unpacked in the comic as possible. But since we have all these characters, stories can transfer from character to character, like something that happened to one of the comic characters might not happen to their TV counterpart or may happen to a different TV character.
Really, one of the main things I try to do with the show is get to those big parts, those big scenes, those big emotional moments in the comic that I loved so much and show them on TV in ways that are very true to the comic and yet could be surprising to the reader of the book or could be integrated into the overall story in a very true but very different way.
Do you see a unique opportunity in being able to tell a story that is able to surprise and entertain both rabid fans of the comics as well as people who love just the show? Is that a challenge you embrace?
I do. I love it. It’s very hard because you want to stay with what the book is and there’s sometimes you can’t and there’s sometimes you take risks to use those stories in different ways to pump up other things, potentially to feel all that stuff you felt in the book that much more.
But I love it. We have a bible. We have a thing that’s the basis for everything, and the moments that I’m desperate to see on-screen and yet sometimes we have to get there through creative means. It’s a really cool thing.
On top of that, there’s so much that Robert [Kirkman, creator of “The Walking Dead” comic book] brings to the show that has nothing to do with the books, stories that are different from those in the books. It’s a really good thing. I feel very lucky to be able to tell that story on television and to make it work in this very different medium.
Looking at how all of this has played out and looking ahead to the rest of the season, is this unfolding the way you’d hoped, as far as fan reaction and the story you’re telling? Do you feel good about where you’re at and where you’re headed?
It’s weird. It’s like they show a reel of the movie, then the lights come up, then they’re like, “Hey, what did everybody think? OK, we’re going to the next reel of the movie,” and the lights go down and you show the next reel. It is this big movie, it’s this whole piece.
When I watch shows that I love, I love that during the day that it’s on, I’m like, “Wait, what am I looking forward to tonight? Oh, crap, that show is on that I dig.” I love being part of that for people’s lives. That’s the trade-off. We give people something to look forward to every week, and in the meantime I have to worry about people freaking out about the twists and turns of stories.
I would just encourage people to watch the entire thing because all of their questions will be answered. It’s absolutely cool that they’re reacting any way at this point, but there are a whole lot more chapters, a whole lot more reels in the movie to watch to get the whole picture.