‘Walking Dead’ Showrunner Scott Gimple Teases ‘Darker, Weirder’ Times Ahead

Not only did a cherished character get a bullet to the brain, but things are only going to get worse on The Walking Dead. Head honcho Scott Gimple tells us what to expect. [Warning: Spoilers abound.]

Frank Ockenfels/AMC

With the first half of The Walking Dead’s fifth season behind us, Rick & Co. have found themselves in a situation possibly darker than ever before. Their last hope for saving humanity, Eugene, turned out to be a liar with no idea how to stop the zombie virus. Their last base camp, Father Gabriel’s church, has been overrun by walkers. Beth lashed out at Officer Dawn Lerner and got a bullet in her skull in return—oh, and Bob’s leg got eaten by cannibals and his shoulder bitten by a walker. He died, too.

On that happy note, Walking Dead head honcho Scott Gimple says that although there is a light ahead for these characters in the second half of Season 5, things are going to get even darker and “weirder” first. He breaks down Beth’s tragic demise in “Coda,” and fan favorite Morgan’s new status as a “changed man” (and how to figure out how far behind Rick’s group he is), and what to look forward to—or not!—when the show returns in February.

So, that was a hell of an episode last night. Let’s start with the obvious: Why did it feel like the right time for Beth to die?

Well, it’s weird, you know. It’s never like the “right” time, it’s just the time that the story seems to dictate it. This is a show where they live in a very dangerous world. Really, we were looking to tell this story in some way since Season 4 when Beth went off in that white cross car. We knew about Grady and we knew that the story would be about Beth not seeing herself as a weak character, but finally realizing this strength within her that she had all along. She met this character, Dawn, who portrayed herself as strong but who in the end was weak and compromised, and decided to make these compromises because, “Oh, well, we’ll be rescued in the future.” That defined Dawn.

I think she didn’t expect Dawn killing her. We made it ambiguous, but Dawn herself didn’t picture her killing Beth. It was an accident. But in another world, Beth stabs Dawn and she is bleeding and none of those other cops are helping her get to a doctor. And they walk out. It’s just that Dawn was so weak that she couldn’t even control the way that she reacted and she inadvertently shot Beth dead, which is incredibly tragic. She was a character we loved writing that we would have loved to write more of, just as we would have loved to write more of Bob or Hershel. But the story and this world takes things away.

You pissed off a whole legion of Bethyl shippers, are you afraid for your life?

Yeah, yeah. I mean, it’s an unfortunate thing, people are very passionate about this character. I absolutely don’t mean to cause them pain at all. It is an aspect of the show. I know that as characters continue to die, there will be groups of people who’ll be very hurt that that was their favorite character. But it’s going to happen. [Laughs] I feel awful about it, but it’s part of the story we’re telling.

Emily Kinney told me that Beth and Dawn understood and respected each other on a certain level. Was that something you saw as well?

Ugh, I loved their stuff in the episode last night. I loved that they had reached this point of understanding each other. But I don’t think that Beth respected Dawn as much as she came to understand Dawn. And she was like, “Oh, you’re weak and this is why you do things. I don’t hate you for it, but that’s your deal.” It isn’t until she sees Dawn basically bring Noah back in just for the way it looks that she moves toward her in a situation where she cannot allow Dawn get away with it.

The worst part of Beth’s death for me was that her older sister Maggie never got to see her again. The last time they saw each other was way back at the prison. Why did that feel like the right decision, to keep the sisters apart until the end?

You know, there was a lot of closure with Bob. He got to say goodbye. Sometimes characters don’t get to say goodbye and it’s tragic, it’s awful. To even take that away from people. We are in the place now in the story where our characters are being ground down. They are being pushed to this darker and darker place. That was a function of that.

I’ve noticed that too, particularly with religion, or the lack thereof. It’s been a pretty prominent theme this season, with the introduction of Father Gabriel and his church, Dr. Edwards’ painting of Peter the disciple, Mary’s bible, and Maggie, who seems to be losing the faith that was a big part of her upbringing.

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Yeah, I mean, as far as Maggie goes, her reducing a church to just “four walls and a roof” says a lot about the character. She’s not feeling too keen about religion right now. I think after all this, it is about a loss of faith. Gabriel is having a very difficult time completely reconciling his faith with his own behavior and the state of the world. Religion is part of the human experience. These are people. There are moments of humor even, and friendship and love, and there are moments of religion, or lack of religion. That’s one of the things that make people people.

This season has gone at a breakneck pace since the first episode, from Terminus to Gabriel’s church, to Grady Memorial. What was your strategy for going so quickly through so many plot points and locations for this first half of the season?

You know, it all works together toward the overall story of the entire season, but as far as this half of the season, I have been gratified at just how much story we’ve been able to tell, with so many characters in eight episodes. The first three episodes were very quick, but there were also episodes that were about emotional movement. It’s really just fun being able to tell so many stories at so many different paces all within the same eight episodes. And next half season is going to be totally different.

As in, they’re going to slow down?

Uh, well. [Laughs] I will say there will be a variety.

Will we possibly be hearing about the Alexandria Safe-Zone soon?!

Oh, I would never say that. Never say that. But I will say that our characters are going to be in a very dark place when things start. And then things get a little darker. [Laughs] And then our group is going to face the possibility of some light. But they will have been through so much that, can they accept it? To tell you the truth, it’s difficult to know what’s a trap and what isn’t anymore. Who’s a friend, who’s a foe? It’s hard to know what the right approach is anymore, like what happened at Grady. What happened with that was perfect and traumatic and terrible, but who knows how badly things could have gone if they went with Rick’s plan. Maybe more people would have died. There’s just no way to know.

The other thing everyone is really excited about is the return of Morgan. We saw him come up to Gabriel’s church after the group has already left. Are you allowed to say how far behind he is?

Oh, no way! But I will say take a look at the post-credits sequence after the first episode. Do some investigation, there are some hints about how far behind he might be.

Is he the type of character who would ever join the group permanently, or is he more of a drift-in, drift-out kind of guy?

I will say this: He was on the road to Terminus. “Sanctuary for all, community for all, etc, etc.” So he was on the road to community, you know? He was on the road to people. I mean obviously, just looking at him and seeing his behavior, it seems like he’s in a much better place. So what we know of Morgan in the past might not be how is in the present. He’s a changed character. What you had said about him, like whether he would ever be in the group or not, we might have known—well, we definitely don’t know. We know that we definitely don’t know the whole story. A little verbal gymnastics there.

What else can we look forward to in the back half of Season 5?

Well, I mean first I’ll tell you once again that losing Beth was extremely difficult, extremely painful, and losing Emily to play with has been awful too. I think the big moment for Beth isn’t her dying. It’s her refusing to accept that Noah is going back into Grady. She was too strong to let that go. To me, that was the biggest moment for the character, not that she died.

And in the second half, like I said, things will get darker and then they’re going to get weirder. And it’s gonna be a completely different half-season than we saw. And I guess I will say as well that the group is gonna be together a lot more than they’ve been apart, so there ya go.