As “The Walking Dead” wraps up its seventh season, the show’s producers are already looking ahead at next year – and promising a bit of a reset.
“The [first episode of Season 8] is the 100th episode,” executive producer Scott Gimple told fans on Friday evening at the show’s PaleyFest panel in Hollywood. “The first episode is less about the fact that we reached 100, and more about setting up the next 100 episodes. The end of this season is very much the end of a chapter. The conclusion promises this epic story ahead.”
Gimple and his team are currently writing the season opener, which he reiterated set up “this epic tale to come, not just in Season 8 but beyond.”
That’s as close to a spoiler as the notoriously tight-lipped “The Walking Dead” executive producers would get about the show’s future.
Star Andrew Lincoln was more forthcoming, however, when he was asked to predict the ultimate fate of his character, Rick Grimes.
“This is how I want Rick to die,” said Lincoln, eliciting gasps from the audience. “We’re going through a desert somewhere, and I jump off the bus in a very heroic act… I jump off and I’m kung fu kicking, earning my action figure. Half way down, I get bit. It doesn’t matter, I keep going. I’m just waiting to die.”
But then, Lincoln’s twist: He patches himself up, and then doesn’t die.
“The final shot is me going, ‘Holy shit, maybe I’m the cure!’ The final shot of the whole thing is a high shot of a herd of zombies coming. Rick gets up and follows the tracks to go see [his son] Carl. The herd comes toward him, and they separate.”
“The Walking Dead” creator Robert Kirkman, also on stage at the Kodak Theatre, smiled.
“I just want to say, that was cute,” he quipped.
Michael Bulbenko/Paley Center
Kirkman also batted down fan theories that “The Walking Dead” was all in Rick’s dream, and the character was still at the hospital in a coma; or that just the United States had been infected.
Meanwhile, Gimple, Kirkman and fellow executive producers Greg Nicotero and Dave Alpert discussed the journey of Season 7, which kicked off with the brutal, shocking deaths of Glenn (Steven Yeun) and Abraham (Michael Cudlitz).
“The first episode was a trifle traumatic,” Gimple admitted. The show had to eventually get “from that point to a point where these characters can smile again. It was seeing these people come alive again and earning the place they are now.”
Those deaths, of course, were at the hands of Negan, played by Jeffrey Dean Morgan – a character that has, nonetheless, developed a fan base.
“The most impressive thing that [Morgan] does, Negan is this horrible person but has this spark to him that’s really engaging and entertaining and really welcoming,” Kirkman said. “The thing with Negan, he’s so likable. He does horrible things you don’t like but… [with] Jeffrey there’s a warmth to him while he’s doing these horrible things. I don’t know how he pulls it off.”
Lincoln said shooting those deaths — and the aftermath, in which Rick becomes a broken man, was emotional.
Imeh Bryant/Paley Center
“It was a pretty miserable day at the office,” he said. “It’s difficult to explain what we do when you have to do something like that. I just thought, ‘I just lost two really good friends of mine, who have left the show forever… I thought it was such a brave thing to do, to smash a hero, an archetype. It was a scary thing to do. If we’re going to do it, I’m going to do it with everything I have, and be a shame free zone.”
Others on the panel included Lauren Cohan (Maggie), Melissa McBride (Carol), Josh McDermitt (Eugene), Sonequa Martin-Green (Sasha), Christian Serratos (Rosita), Alanna Masterson (Tara), Seth Gilliam (Father Gabriel), Ross Marquand (Aaron), Tom Payne (Jesus), and Austin Amelio (Dwight).
“The Walking Dead” airs Sundays on AMC.