Rick Grimes is gone from one part of The Walking Dead TV world, but his departure in Sunday’s “What Comes After” sparked the announcement that we’ll continue to follow his story — with Andrew Lincoln returning to his iconic role — in a trio of made-for-AMC movies that will begin production in 2019.
The movies are the first specific projects that former TWD showrunner/now chief content officer Scott Gimple has clued fans in on, but the growing TWD TV universe will also include new projects with new characters, and old characters — even some dead ones — returning in new ways. Gimple talked to Rotten Tomatoes about plans for the future, shared how Robert Kirkman’s comic-book backstories might be getting movie or limited-series treatments, confirmed we will find out more about Jadis and the helicopter people (on the series and in the Rick Grimes movies), and teased the “brand new show” The Walking Dead becomes with Sunday’s episode.
Kimberly Potts for Rotten Tomatoes: It’s sad to think about The Walking Dead without Rick Grimes, but that teaser of the next three episodes that aired immediately after Sunday’s episode was exciting. We’re going to see these other characters we’re invested in find out what they’re capable of, see who they will become, who the new leadership will be, without Rick. Did that inspire the writers and the cast after Andy Lincoln’s departure?
There’s a couple of things. The end of the episode, we saw the helicopter fly off, and we held on that frame, and the trees grew and one of the trees fell down, and the exciting scene of these people being saved … and we see that it’s Not-So-Little Asskicker, Judith Grimes. To me, that was … it’s like it almost fulfilled the previous eight years and five episodes, and yet also launched everything into this brand new world. It’s starting with [issue] 127 of the comics and The Whisperers, and we have these new characters. And even more importantly, there’s these beloved characters we have who have evolved. And they’ve evolved without us over these six years [of the time jump], and we get to find out where they’re at, meet them again, see what’s happening, see the relationships of it. I think the audience is in for, yet again, a brand new show that they will have to kind of learn all over again in an exciting way.
At the same time, that opportunity exists now for Rick in these upcoming movies. He has a freedom that he hasn’t really had in the time that we’ve gotten to know him on the series, and that he probably didn’t really have when he was a sheriff and he had this young family. How much will that be the driving force of the Rick movies?
(Laughing) You make it sound like he’s going off to party. Rick Grimes is at the center of them, and we’ve seen him evolve through these eight years and five episodes from a man with a very strict moral code living in … it took him a while to sort of leave the world he had lost, enter the world of after everything. And through that time he built himself up and he broke down and he had incredible losses and he lost his mind at points. He became incredibly pragmatic and even brutal at some points. And in the end, Carl was able to bring all those pieces of him together and get back some of what he had lost from that very first Rick Grimes that we saw, and I think that made for a beautiful ending of a chapter.
But now that he understands this world, that he has both the capacity for humanity and brutality, of pragmatism and idealism, it puts him in a very interesting place for yet another evolution. To find himself in a place, in a situation, that challenges him in ways that we haven’t seen, and that all of these experiences have been trying to set him up for. So, it’s going to be a brand-new story. It’ll be very much unlike what we’ve seen, and it’s very scary in some ways, but I think it’s doing right by the character by challenging him in ways that are completely different than how he has been challenged before.
One of my favorite things about “What Comes After” is that Rick literally got back on the horse. The man fell on rebar! He pulled himself off of rebar, and literally got back on the horse.
And then he got back on the horse.
You’re working now on the script for the first movie. What can you say about the logistics of Rick’s story continuing? It’s tough to imagine a Rick Grimes who survives and gets well physically and then doesn’t immediately go back to his people.
I can’t get into much of it, but what you bring up is an incredibly big part of it. You’re right, the connection with what he has back at home is a critical part of who he is. It is a critical part of his story moving forward. But it won’t be so easy as even the most difficult thing of just getting back. He’s going to find himself in the center of a situation that’s very complicated and different and unusual to what we’ve seen, but his love of his family — and really that last episode was all about his family and what his family is and what it means to him — that’s such a huge part of this.
Jadis and the helicopter people are out of the picture, too, now that they’ve flown off with Rick. Will we eventually find out more about their backstory?
Yes. There’ll be some explanation of what that’s all about. We’re going to find out more about the relationship of Jadis and the helicopter and all that. That stuff is part of the movies. People shouldn’t expect to see a lot more of that on The Walking Dead, but I will say that we’re going to tell the story of what happened in these years that have passed on The Walking Dead. It is possible that people might see some other stories that have to do with that group on the helicopters within the TV show. But not a ton of it.
Do you have the arc of all three Rick movies planned out?
Oh, yeah. The arc is planned. They’re not finished, but absolutely, we know the arc.
This expansion of the TV universe will include a lot of other characters —characters who are no longer part of the original series, characters who maybe are no longer alive. Could that mean, for instance, a movie or limited series about The Governor, based on the novels by Robert Kirkman and Jay Bonansinga, or Negan’s backstory, from the series Kirkman did within the comics last year, that things like that could be explored in movies or limited series?
Yeah, that’s exactly it. Those aren’t going to be the whole of it. We want to have new characters, we want to have stuff that is completely unattached to anything we’ve seen before, too. Potentially just not even anything more than a great story within this universe that doesn’t necessarily have to be, you know, Eugene’s cousin. We will have stuff that connects, and we’ll have stuff that just sits completely on its own and it’s just a great story. We really want to pursue variety and we really want to have stories that are very distinct from one another. We want to have new voices telling them. I’m excited to be doing a lot of stuff within this, but we’re going to be having a lot of other people doing things. I look forward to working with them, as I worked with Angela [Kang, TWD showrunner], as I worked with [Fear the Walking Dead showrunners] Andrew [Chambliss] and Ian [Goldberg] to get their stories going.
New voices are incredibly important to this, because we want the variety. We want to see things that we haven’t seen before, explore tones that we haven’t seen before, in different corners of the world; see situations that are completely different than what we’ve seen before on the show. So these specials, and these series of varying length, these movies of varying scope, are going to give us really, really different expressions of the what The Walking Dead is and what The Walking Dead can be.
Will Fear the Walking Dead be included in this expansion of the TV universe?
Absolutely. We’re going to see characters from Fear in other expressions. We might see characters from Fear who are no longer there. We might explore incidents and histories that have been discussed. Yeah, it’s all on the table. A lot of this is driven by, we’ve been doing this for going on nine years now, and the audience has had questions all along. What about this? What about that? What about this character with that character? We’re going to see some of those questions answered.
Like, maybe we’ll finally find out what happened to Tobias, the apocalypse-savvy teen from the first season of FTWD?
Oh my God, yes. So many questions about that. Anything is possible. I will say, other sort of unexpected crossovers are possible. It really is energizing. You feel like a kid in a candy store to be able to look at all of these characters in a different way and to look at their histories. I really can’t wait to dive into it.
It worked incredibly well with Morgan, sending him over to the FTWD storyline. The last season of Fear was so good. I know Morgan is a very special character to you and you’ve written so many of his best moments. Is there a chance maybe Rick and Morgan, the first great friendship of TWD, could meet up again?
An annoying answer, but anything is possible. This is all a very long-range plan. But it’s the feeling of those fantasy meetings and those kinds of pair-ups that get us excited. We want to get back to those, too.
In terms of The Walking Dead, and the rest of season 9, what was most important when thinking about the post-Rick world?
I guess the words that come to mind are to seize upon the moment of the new. With both shows, they reinvent themselves every eight episodes, but this, of course, is the biggest reinvention of the series. We had flirted with it happening at the end of season 8. Andy knew about my new position. Pretty much everybody on Walking Dead knew about it to a degree, and we were just trying, as I elevated Angela to showrunner, to figure it out. I was excited for Angela to be the embodiment of that reinvention, to be that new voice, even though she’s a vet on the show. With Angela coming in at this point when Rick is leaving, it was just like, wow, let’s seize upon these circumstances to tell something brand new. And it goes back to Robert Kirkman again. Robert shocked all of us who are into the [comic] with issue 127 [and the big time jump]. Robert is a genius, and he knows when to shift gears and when to surprise the audience, and he did that with 127. Knowing that we were moving towards that — Angela moving into the showrunner role, Andy going — assembling all of these parts in the right order and the right way and to seize upon this change to hopefully light the audience’s brains on fire with possibility, instead of “this thing is ending.” It’s like, no, things are just changing.
This season is so new and exciting, sophisticated and surprising, it really is an evolution of the show. And with a show that is in its ninth season, having these kinds of changes, they aren’t problems. They’re opportunities. Angela and the writers have just killed it, and the crew is just as great as they were. I see the same sort of motivations, the producers and the cast and the new cast coming in. I love this group of people. Cailey [Fleming, the new actress playing Judith] is amazing. And Magna (Nadia Hilker) and Yumiko (Eleanor Matsuura), the rest of the new group is just remarkable, and some really new and interesting actors. I can’t wait for people to see Lauren [Ridloff as Connie] and Angel [Theory as Kelly], next week. Their characters are amazing, but they are just charming and brilliant. It’s really something special. To be able to say that after losing Rick — and yes, we have stuff coming up of course with the movies and all that … I’m really excited for people to get excited about that — but they should be getting excited about The Walking Dead, too, because it really is a brand-new show.
The Walking Dead airs Sundays at 9 p.m. on AMC.