'The Walking Dead' Postmortem: EP Scott Gimple on That Cliffhanger, Season 7, and Keeping the Secret of Negan's Victim

SPOILER ALERT: Storyline and character spoilers ahead for the “Last Day on Earth” episode of The Walking Dead.

He’s already back in Atlanta to start working on Season 7, but The Walking Dead showrunner Scott Gimple is very aware that fans have some issues with how Season 6 wrapped. Gimple spent nearly an hour answering questions on a conference call with reporters, where he discussed the polarizing cliffhanger and how he hopes viewers will trust that it will pay off as the storyline continues to unfold next season. He also talked about trying to avoid spoilers on Negan’s victim and the tone and themes of Season 7. The highlights:

On why he chose to cliffhanger the finale, instead of revealing who Negan murdered with Lucille, and how graphic the reveal will be next season:
“In many ways what we saw last night was the end of the story… Where Rick winds up is completely different from where he started in [episode] 1 and where he started in 9. I know, obviously, and I’ve known for awhile, what is in 701. Presenting what occurs, to show what happened in full force, it is the beginning of the next story. It’s an incredible work of gore by Charlie Adlard in the [comic]… How we show that on TV? I’m certain that we will be pushing some boundaries with it.”

On how he thinks the Season 7 premiere storyline will justify the controversial cliffhanger:
“I think if you approach it from a place of skepticism, or with the idea that there’s some sort of negative motivation behind it, if you come at it that way, it’s difficult to convince you otherwise. I do think we’ve done enough on the show… to ask people to give us the benefit of the doubt that it is all part of a plan, and it’s all part of a story. I truly hope that people see 701 and they feel it justifies the way that we’ve decided to tell the story. I know what 701 is, and I feel that it delivers on what 616 sets up.”

Related: ‘The Walking Dead’: Even Greg Nictotero’s Mom Doesn’t Know Who Negan Killed

On whether or not he anticipated negative fan reaction to the cliffhanger:
“We definitely anticipated some. I think any sort of story vulnerability… if you have something in the story that can be criticized in some direction, it will be criticized. There is a vast audience and… people, I think in some ways, now feel almost that it’s their duty to let their opinions be known. That’s the thing, it’s a part of the world now. If you do something, some people aren’t going to like it. You can set your watch toward people saying so, and usually not subtly. I know the greater story that we’re telling, and I know why this fits in where it fits in. The hard thing about it is you can’t say why. You can’t say exactly why you do some of the turns you take, because you’ll wind up [spoiling] details of the story. It’s a very weird position to be in. I do know, and the writers know, producers know… we know why we do what we do. We know that our intentions are good. We know that we care about our audience. We know that we’re just trying to deliver them an experience.”

On DumpsterGate with Glenn, and whether or not he regrets removing Steven Yeun’s name from the opening credits:
“I know that in my heart, it was about protecting the audience’s experience. There is a great deal of meta that goes on around the show. Really, it’s interesting, if I left his name in, I think it might have been criticism in another direction, of being sloppy, or for not protecting the audience experience. Taking it out, I can see that the people that choose to look at it cynically, like that we were trying to trick [viewers] in some way, but really I wanted the audience to go through an emotional experience, and I didn’t want things like the credits to get in the way of that.”

On how difficult it may be to keep the identity of Negan’s victim from being spoiled in the next six months:
“It is very, very difficult nowadays, especially on a show that’s in so many different places. That said, we are working very hard to put things in place to hopefully protect it. It goes back to what [I] was talking about… with the credits [and removing Yeun’s name]… The way we took that credit off was trying to protect our secrets. We are willing to try to protect the secret of this to protect the audience and the experience. I sure hope it doesn’t leak in any way, but the world is what the world is. We’re going to work hard to try and make that not happen.”

Does he think fans can figure out the identity of Negan’s victim if they study the final scene enough?
“I believe there is no way. There are a couple things in there that might help people limit the amount of people who are vulnerable. I recommend people not to go down that route. I truly don’t think there is a way to puzzle it all out definitively.”

Related: ‘The Walking Dead’ Review: Why Negan’s Arrival Was a Triumph and a Disaster

On the tone of Season 7:
“I can say without spoiling anything that things are going to start off very, very, very dark. Everybody knows where we’re starting, but that won’t be the whole season. It’s not going to be darkness upon darkness upon darkness. I’m very psyched with all the individual character journeys, except for the way we start, which will be awful.

The world opened up this past season, and you know, it opened up to some bright places, it opened up to some dark places. In the next half season, the world is going to open up even more. We are going to have a wide variety of locales and a wide variety of tone, of character. I’m very excited for all the different stories that are going to be told. There’s going to be, I think… probably the biggest variety of stories we’ve had yet.”

On the themes of Season 7:
“A big part of it is, how do you begin again? The world is not what you thought it was, so how do you basically start over in this new world, in this place you had no idea was what it is? I can’t figure out the right way to phrase the second half of it without giving a little bit way. All of these characters, even characters that weren’t in that line up (in the final scene), are in a position where they will learn the world isn’t what they thought it was.”

On whether or not the men who helped Morgan and Carol are from The Kingdom, and whether or not he would use a real tiger as Kingdom leader Ezekiel’s pet:
“Those guys may or may not have been from the kingdom, and we may or may not do The Kingdom. If we do do The Kingdom, it will be a big reveal, and it will be another new world to inhabit and explore. Can we have a real tiger? I would say, in a really cheeky way, that we can have a lot of things. People are going to have to wait and see. If I were just watching the show, I’d want to see that tiger.”

On whether or not Heath will return, since actor Corey Hawkins will star in the new 24 reboot:
“We will absolutely see Heath again. At this point, we’ve had to ‘choose your own adventure’ a little bit. We’re hoping to have him in a certain episode for a certain thing that would lead to another thing. We have a lot of contingency plans … It’s a problem, but schematically with the character, luckily, I had been thinking about this possibility for a while and really just tried to find several different ways to get what we wanted to get with the character, if we don’t get to do it on the exact schedule that we hope to.”

On whether or not Morgan has resolved his conflict with killing, now that he killed a Savior to save Carol’s life:
“I don’t think Morgan has necessarily settled things. He wasn’t acting as though, ‘Oh, yeah. I have the secret of life now, and this is what you have to do.’ He had something that helped bring him back and that meant everything to him, but he didn’t know if it was sustainable. He saw it work, but not definitively work, not like there weren’t other ways. The Savior only made that conflict more complex … basically Carol and Morgan have wound up pretty much in the same place. They know there are situations where they have to kill.”

On how Rick’s decisions parallel Negan’s:
“I think for Rick’s experience, he justifies what he’s been doing. The world has formed him this way. What he’s done has generally been in reaction to being threatened, and trying to make sure that his people live. Things are getting grayer, and grayer, and grayer. I think that the things that Rick has done, you can hold up against the things that Negan’s done. It’s not a vast gulf between those two. The way that they operate is very different, and their philosophies are very different. I think that’s maybe where we see one person being the hero, and one person being the villain.”

On how outmatched Rick’s group is with The Saviors, in terms of population:
“The numbers are vast, and really, just talking man and woman power, Alexandria’s in a good bit of trouble. There just are many, many, many more Saviors.”

On whether or not Carl’s weird relationship with Negan in the comics will play out in the series:
“Oh, yes, a thousand times yes. It may be very, very brief, but we will absolutely see them have a pretty intense moment. There’s going to be a bit of remixing. There might be another character involved that takes some of it… That relationship will be absolutely shown. Whether it’s with Carl or not, I cannot say. I absolutely want to explore Negan having that strange respect for someone, which I think was the hallmark of that relationship, and tell versions of that story.”

The Walking Dead will return in the fall on AMC.