So... did we exaggerate? The Walking Dead Season 5 premiere was crazy violent, shocking, brutal, action-packed, heroic, hopeful — pretty much everything you expect from the show’s best episodes.
And now what? Where does this big group of reunited friends and new allies go from here, after surviving the “sanctuary” of Terminus? TWD showrunner Scott Gimple and star Chad Coleman (Tyreese) talked to Yahoo TV about the new struggles for Rick Grimes and company, how beloved characters like Tyreese and Carol may have to pay a big price for compromising their humanity, and how the new crew will handle their many differing personalities and agendas. “Heads will be a-butting,” Gimple hints.
Because the premiere wraps up the story at Terminus, it would have worked as a Season 4 finale, too. Scott, had you planned for a while that you would tie up the story at Terminus with the Season 5 premiere?
Scott Gimple: Yes, I did know that, and I wanted to show a little bit of Terminus history. Even at the beginning of Season 4 last year when Terminus was teased, I knew the history of Terminus. We had talked about that. We knew everything we would see at Terminus, we knew what happened to Terminus, even as our people were setting out for Terminus. We certainly knew how the season [would end], and I had a pretty good idea even at the start of Season 4 or the second half of Season 4 what the beginning of the Season 5 would be.
It gets a little mind-bending … with serialized TV, you're usually getting into three different timelines simultaneously. You're working on things that you're completing in post-production, so it's the past. Then you're writing, which is the future, and you're doing the current stuff with the production, which is the current timeline. So yeah, it's all one big flat circle. As they say on that other television program.
The history-of-Terminus scenes that bookend the premiere are great. They also feel like a cautionary tale, especially after Rick’s neck-chomping incident in the Season 4 finale.
Gimple: Yeah, absolutely. It's weird: The world of The Walking Dead is populated with cautionary tales, with living examples of what you want to avoid becoming or what you're destined to become. It's just littered with Ghosts of Christmas Past and Future, and there's absolutely an element of that to Terminus. It has happened to the people there, and it's all different types of people. People did stuff to Rick and his group … how will that change them?
We see in the premiere that Rick has become more focused, more confident, and more aware of what he’s capable of and willing to do. Tyreese, on the hand, continues to struggle with what’s necessary to do in that world. He’s a big, strong guy, but does he have too much heart to survive, ultimately?
Gimple: Yeah, I mean, he's the biggest guy. In a lot of ways, he has the biggest heart. The thing is, with that big heart and those big emotions, he can be set off, and we have seen him be very scary. As deeply as he feels things and as much passion as he has, that can drive him to be kind of scary sometimes. We certainly see that in the premiere.
Turning to you, Chad: More than any other character, Tyreese is committed to not allowing his circumstances to change him. Do you think that's true, even after what he’s pushed into doing in the premiere?
Chad Coleman: I agree 100 percent. I think he has the ultimate hope that one day things are going to return to normal. He just thinks: Who are we going to be when we get there, if we so easily fall into these behaviors and ways of being that are really counter to the way our society was constructed? The way he thinks is not easy. It's a heavy responsibility. But I'm glad he carries that kind of gravity to him. I think it helps anchor the show in reality. I think that reality is incredibly necessary in order for the show to be operating at its most effective. You never want to dismiss the weight of humanity.
Do you think Tyreese, ultimately, may be too humane to survive?
Coleman: We shall see. We shall see. I think it’s a very noble position. It's the road less traveled. That's why I just applaud him for that. I appreciate you getting that, because it's just really important to me. Sometimes people can... I don’t want to say dismiss him, but they're not catching the real true value of this man in this world.
On the flip side of Tyreese, there's Carol, who, if we didn't already love and respect Carol for all she’s stepped up to do on everyone’s behalf, is just the biggest badass in this episode. Her evolution, especially if you go back to Season 1 and the Carol that we first meet... she’s really become one of the great TV heroines.
Gimple: Yeah, it's incredibly gratifying. It's exciting to see the audience dig that. I find Carol as a character to be an incredibly interesting person, and I did as a viewer. I watched the first season of this show as a viewer; I came on [for] the second season. I was just so excited to be able to tell her story, and in my mind, it's only gotten better and better. [Melissa McBride’s] performances always just blow me away. She is the thinking person's action hero now. I will say: There is a cost to being Carol, and she recognizes the cost, and it's absolutely part of her story. In a lot of ways, she is absolutely willing to pay that cost.
Going forward, we don't get a lot of specifics in the premiere about what's coming. We know they’re all hitting the road together, and several of them don’t know each other. How long until personalities clash and differing agendas have them butting heads?
Gimple: There are a lot of agendas that are in direct opposition to one another. So heads will be a-butting. We saw them get away from Terminus and get to take a little breath with the reunions. Then the question hits everybody: “What do we do now?” So things are sorted out around that line. Do they go to D.C. or try to find another place like the prison? Not everything is... let’s just say the vote is not unanimous right off the bat.
In terms of the episode structure for Season 5, will there be more of the standalone episodes that focus on certain characters? Will we get a lot more backstory on everyone in Season 5?
Gimple: Yeah, absolutely more backstory. It's not going to be the same kind of structure as last year, but that element is absolutely there. We’re going to get some backstory, though maybe not back-backstory. We’re going to get more immediate backstory, from the characters’ more recent pasts. There's something about The Walking Dead that, in many ways, exists almost wholly in the present. I do love looking at the backgrounds of characters, and we do that in so many ways with this show. But there’s something about present circumstances defining these characters, and then seeing them change over the present circumstances that we follow as an audience that's pretty much how characters are defined on this show. I definitely underline the words "pretty much," because we throw in curveballs all the time.
The Walking Dead airs Sundays at 9 p.m. on AMC.