[Editor’s note: The following contains spoilers from the Season 8 premiere of “The Walking Dead.” Proceed at your own discretion.]
Advantage: Rick Grimes. As marketed for months, the “all-out war” between Rick (Andrew Lincoln) and Negan (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) finally began in the Season 8 premiere of “The Walking Dead,” and it does appear like the Alexandria/Hilltop/Kingdom alliance has an early lead.
At the end of Episode 1, “Mercy” (which also doubles as the series’ landmark 100th installment), Negan looks to be in a tough spot — stuck in a shipping container, with Gabriel (Seth Gilliam), surrounded by walkers. But the battle with the Saviors has just started, and it’s sure to get more brutal before it’s done.
Nonetheless, there’s a bit of hope in “Mercy,” thanks to mysterious flash-forwards that show a dream-like future in Alexandria, where life is peaceful. Rick, sporting his own David Letterman-esque longbeard, wakes up to Michonne, Carl and a slightly older Judith, bouncing to “Weird Al” Yankovic’s “Another One Rides the Bus.” It’s jarring, and it’s unclear how real it is, but it nonetheless follows the time jump that “The Walking Dead” comics take after Negan is defeated.
“What Rick is engaging in beyond this is a hopeful act,” executive producer Scott M. Gimple said. “They are taking on a vast army. He is trying to rally people toward believing in victory and believing in that next work and starting tomorrow today. He is overwhelmed with hope and trying to send it to everyone around him.”
IndieWire asked Gimple, who is now also overseeing the companion series “Fear the Walking Dead,” to elaborate a bit on where things are headed in Season 8. This being “The Walking Dead,” Gimple remained tight-lipped. But he did explain a few things:
It’s not clear yet whether those flash-forwards are real, but it’s right to assume that “The Walking Dead” is already laying the groundwork for where the series goes, after the war with Negan.
“We do not know whether that is the future,” Gimple said. “It very well could be, but it also could be something else. But regardless, we’re obviously thinking about the future and the characters are too. There’s an exchange between Maggie and Rick, in which Rick says he can’t wait for tomorrow and that they can start tomorrow right now. The future does hang over them quite a bit, that this may be the last obstacle to the future that they desire. And that such a thing needs to be earned. It speaks to that obstacle and the difficulties ahead in getting where they want to be.”
Clarity on what those flash-forwards mean is coming, however.
“It will be resolved, and I hope the audience finds it to have great meaning halfway through the season when we know what’s what, and why, and how,” Gimple said. “That there’s a big, big point to it.”
No, Rick couldn’t have taken out Negan, even though it sure seemed like he had a clear line of sight.
“There is that distance there, maybe we didn’t represent the distance there for him to get his gun out and fire right at him,” Gimple said. “It was a bit of a Skywalker/exhaust port kind of shot.”
The same goes for Father Gabriel, who could have conceivably immediately killed Negan inside the container.
“You put Gabriel and Negan mano-a-mano and I don’t know if that’s an easy take-out situation,” Gimple said. “You’ll see what happens.”
Gimple had been waiting for the right moment to use the line “I hope you’ve got your shittin’ pants on, because you’re about to shit your pants.”
It’s a favorite of his, written by “The Walking Dead” co-creator Robert Kirkman in the books. “That’s a line Robert has said in life,” Gimple said. “That comes from his own Kirkman dialogue. He would call [executive producer Dave Alpert] up and go, ‘you have your shittin’ pants on?’ That’s classic Kirkman. It’s funny, someone was criticizing it and didn’t know it from the book. They attributed it to me, and I’d love to take credit for it — even if it’s criticized — because it’s a great line.”
“Another One Rides the Bus” was inspired by Gimple’s toddler, who’s obsessed with that song.
Gimple said he was looking for a song for Judith to be obsessed with, so his own experience with “Another One Rides the Bus” came to mind. He’s loath to force in his own personal references on “The Walking Dead,” but the song felt right for the jarring tone he was going for.
“I realized that using Weird Al was as jarring if not more jarring than Rick with the beard,” he said. “It was perfect. So I went through a bit of a journey on that one. To have absurdity, that kind of comedy in ‘The Walking Dead,’ it felt very strange and that’s exactly what I was going for. Whenever you use music, it’s easy to swap out, but as soon as I saw it against picture I thought it was really jarring and weird, which is what we need.”
As a couple, Rick and Michonne are fine. But separately, they’re battling their own demons.
“They face different challenges this season as a couple,” Gimple said. “What’s difficult for Michonne is completely independent of the relationship. The big thing Michonne struggles with, everyone is rolling out and she isn’t — much like Andrea in the comic. It’s difficult for her. Michonne in the comic and on the show is someone who has great difficulty not fighting for the people she loves. She’s scary this season because she’s protecting people she loves. Get between her and the people she loves and she’s pretty terrifying.”
“The Walking Dead” didn’t tone down the gruesome factor following last season’s complaints, but producers are conscious of making sure any on-screen violence is in service to the story.
“We don’t want to be willy-nilly about it but also don’t want to shy away from it,” Gimple said. “There’s rough stuff this season that specifically deals with story. I can think of something really awful, but it has everything to do with a character perpetuating the awfulness in that case. It’s a part of the show because people have been reduced to states of brutality that they have to wrestle with, to hold on to who they are.”
The theme of Season 8 is “holding on.”
It’s about “circumstance, painful events pushing you to the brink of becoming something you don’t want to be,” he said. “But the whole reason you’re doing this is to extinguish the kind of brutality from the world that you have to perpetuate. It’s about holding on to who you are, holding on to your values, holding on to your humanity.”
“The Walking Dead” airs Sundays at 9 p.m. on AMC.
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