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‘The Walking Dead’ Showrunner on That Finale Death, Rick’s War Against Negan, and a Faster-Paced Season 8

Executive producer Scott Gimple on how the stage has been set for next year's "all-out war."

Lennie James as Morgan Jones, Andrew Lincoln as Rick Grimes - The Walking Dead _ Season 7, Episode 16 - Photo Credit: Gene Page/AMC

Lennie James and Andrew Lincoln, “The Walking Dead”

Gene Page/AMC

[Warning: If you haven’t watched the Season 7 finale of “The Walking Dead,” spoilers below.]

If Season 7 of “The Walking Dead” was about preparing Rick Grimes (Andrew Lincoln) for battle, Season 8 promises to be a fast-paced all-out war with the show’s ultimate villain, Negan (Jeffrey Dean Morgan).

Executive producer Scott Gimple told IndieWire that Season 7 ended on a “strange sort of happy ending.” Rick and his Survivors are bruised and battered, but manage to survive an attack from Negan and the “Saviors.” Even the death of Sasha (Sonequa Martin-Green) gives them an opening to fight back.

It’s a huge contrast to the start of the season, when Glenn (Steven Yeun) and Abraham (Michael Cudlitz) were killed in the most brutal way possible, at the hand of Negan and his barbed-wire baseball bat “Lucille.” Sasha’s death, in contrast, was almost empowering.

READ MORE: ‘The Walking Dead’ Review: ‘The First Day of the Rest of Your Life’ Ends The Season With An Adequately Satisfying Bang

“We have a death that is tragic but maybe not as traumatic,” Gimple said. “Unlike in the beginning, where there was absolutely no choice [for Glenn and Abraham] to die, and it was sudden and random to a degree, this was a character choosing to die rather than being used. To do whatever she could to save her friends and family. By no means is that something happy. But she went out on her own terms and did what we was trying to accomplish. It was a part of a continuum of people caring about people who had been strangers. There’s something a little beautiful in that.”

Andrew Lincoln as Rick Grimes, Chandler Riggs as Carl Grimes, Jeffrey Dean Morgan as Negan - The Walking Dead _ Season 7, Episode 16 - Photo Credit: Gene Page/AMC

“The Walking Dead”

Gene Page/AMC

Gimple spoke to IndieWire on Monday morning to discuss this season’s finale, “The First Day of the Rest of Your Life.” Among his reveals: Expect a faster-paced Season 8; Rick Grimes continuing to step up as leader; and the origins of that “Trust a Move” moving truck gag.

You ended the season on what feels like a bit of a more hopeful note, especially when compared to the end of Season 6. What was the tone you were looking to convey at the end of Season 7?

We started with two deaths that were at the height of trauma and tragedy. And it crushed our characters, Rick perhaps the most. Though you could argue that it’s at least the thing that put him on his heels. Then going all the way to this place where he’s willing to die, he’s willing to suffer to ensure that his people and other people live in a fair world. The momentum in which they face this conflict is good. They know what they’re fighting for and who they’re fighting for. And in being able to fight, they feel somewhat whole again.

Sonequa Martin-Green as Sasha Williams, Jeffrey Dean Morgan as Negan - The Walking Dead _ Season 7, Episode 16 - Photo Credit: Gene Page/AMC

Sonequa Martin-Green and Jeffrey Dean Morgan, “The Walking Dead”

Gene Page/AMC

There had been plenty of foreshadowing leading up to Sasha’s death, and we knew that Sonequa Martin-Green had been cast in “Star Trek: Discovery,” so it didn’t have the same shock that other deaths have had. Do you think audiences were already at peace with it?

I would prefer it if no one knew about her new job, and I would prefer it if people were going into the show without any meta external stories coming out. But in this world, that’s a silly expectation. That puts the onus on us to do that much better of a job in telling a story. It isn’t the turns of the story that are the entirety of the experience, but the way they’re told. Hopefully even in that you know what’s going to happen, we make it in a way that’s emotional for you. That you see it from another angle. It’s a weird thing. There’s an incredible appetite for anything about the show, people want to know and I can’t fault them for that. Of course I wish they had this glorious, pure experience, not getting an iota of knowledge.

Michael Cudlitz is still committed to that Abraham facial hair, so at least we’ll never know when he might pop up in another “Walking Dead” flashback.

We lucked out! There’s so much luck involved in things. I’ll salute “Star Trek: Discovery” on their luck. Someone like Sonequa Martin-Green doesn’t come along very often. For her to become available right when they needed her, they hit the jackpot.

Season 7 started out with a brutal opening, but then you set the focus on these different communities and the characters. Now you’ve set the stage, Season 8, for this all-out war. How brutal should we expect this coming war?

In Season 7 we tell these focused character stories with a beginning, middle and end in one episode. We wanted to enjoy that time because we knew when we got to this part of the story the narrative would be driving it in a much faster, much more kinetic place. You’re not getting the entirety of a character’s story in one episode but you will accumulate it over several episodes. The episodes themselves are moving so quickly, with a lot of different directions being covered. We’ve actually talked about how we’re breaking out the different approaches to story through Season 9, and making sure that we’re mixing it up.

READ MORE: ‘The Walking Dead’ Star Andrew Lincoln Maps Out The Unexpected Way He Wants His Character to Die

Sounds like Season 8 will be more fast paced.

It will be because it has to be, because of the type of story that we’re telling.

In January at the NATPE convention, Gale Anne Hurd told us that the reaction to the brutal Season 7 opener did have a bit of an impact on the show; how so?

We did not change one iota of the approach. I think we were aware of people’s reactions but the violence in episode 1 was very specific to the event itself. We wouldn’t do that every episode, because that was about a very specific and pronounced trauma that would change these characters forever. This is an event that made Rick Grimes stand down. And it was awful. But it was the basis to which the story was going off of. I likened it to the killing of Thomas and Martha Wayne that brought about the Batman. It was something big, nightmarish and awful, to sear these characters’ minds with a trauma that would set the stakes to what they’re doing. That would make them afraid to take action. To give them something to surmount. They did surmount it. But it took Rick coming to a philosphy of loss and acceptance of loss. The show can absolutely go to places like that, but that’s a pretty unusual place to go. If the violence seemed to take a dip after that, it was just contrasting what happened in that first episode. The violence has to mean something, it has to count and be done with a respect to the story.

READ MORE: ‘The Walking Dead’ Producers Softened Gratuitous Violence After Negative Audience Reaction

The choice of Donnie Hathaway’s “Someday We’ll All Be Free” for Sasha to be listening to seemed appropriate.

It seemed right. Our music supervisors are terrific. I often want to hear other choices, but as soon as I saw this up against picture, I said, ‘that works perfect.’ It really was the first idea. The theme of the song, which has a certain strength to it while recognizing the incredible difficulties of the world.

Josh McDermitt as Dr. Eugene Porter - The Walking Dead _ Season 7, Episode 16 - Photo Credit: Gene Page/AMC

Josh McDermitt, “The Walking Dead”

Gene Page/AMC

The “Trust a Move” moving truck was a nice, punny sight gag.

In the book, it’s “Bust a Move.” We wanted to use “Bust a Move” but we couldn’t, because between the time the book did it and we were able to do it on the show, I guess there’s actually a Bust a Move company now. We were really bummed, because we wanted to do it exactly like the book. But actually “Trust a Move” might be a better name of the company.

How would you describe Rick Grimes heading into Season 8?

At the beginning of the season, he told Negan he was going to kill him, and the push back from Negan broke him. Everything in the first episode crushed Rick. His journey in the first half of the season was getting out from under that and being able to fight. He sees it as a moral imperative to kill Negan. It is his focus, along with defeating the Saviors and returning the world to fairness. That’s what he’s going to be pursuing.

Any chance Negan will grow back his beard?

If Jeffrey had his druthers he’d be bearded. It is remarkable how much he looks like Negan from the book without a beard. He’s a little scarier without the beard. Will he be beardless forever? Only time will tell. I will say, his real beard is breathtaking right now.

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