The Walking Dead is rapidly approaching 100 episodes (time flies when you're crushing zombie skulls like watermelons), but according to its showrunner Scott Gimple, they're not planning on cancelling the apocalypse any time soon.
The series has already been renewed for Season 8, but Gimple apparently has his sights set on a much loftier goal.
"Episode 801, the first episode of Season 8, is gonna be the 100th episode. The first episode is less about that we reached 100 episodes, it’s more about setting up the next 100 episodes," he revealed during a panel at Los Angeles' annual PaleyFest television festival on Friday night. "The end of this season is very much the end of a chapter; it's a conclusion that promises this epic story ahead. It’s about setting up this gigantic, epic tale to come, not only in Season 8, but beyond."
Rick (Andrew Lincoln) and his allies are currently trying to rally the neighboring communities of The Kingdom, Hilltop and the Scavengers against Negan (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) and his oppressive Saviors, so it's entirely possible the Season 7 finale will show us an all-out war between the factions.
Then again, Jeffrey Dean Morgan has also confirmed that he'll "be around for Season 8," so that confrontation might not be as satisfying as we'd hoped...
And if you're still scarred from the devastating Season 7 premiere, which saw Negan kill both Glenn (Steven Yeun) and Abraham (Michael Cudlitz), Gimple admitted that the cast and crew felt your pain.
"The first episode was a trifle traumatic, for you guys and for everybody here," he noted, explaining that the point of the angsty first half of the season was "to get from that point to a point where these characters can smile again."
Image: Gene Page/AMC
The second half of Season 7, on the other hand, is more about "seeing these people come alive again and earning the place where they are now," he said. (It would be nice if we could also keep them alive, but that might be a little too optimistic.)
Here's what else we learned from the cast and producers at PaleyFest:
Eugene (or should we say "Negan") is just trying to survive, according to actor Josh McDermitt. The cowardly engineer seems a little too comfortable bossing people around at the Saviors' HQ, but McDermitt doesn't think he's actively trying to betray his friends—or to help them, for that matter.
"I don’t really feel like he’s playing a game; he’s out for himself, he’s trying to protect himself," he explained. "Eugene is scared, and a lot of that fear is coming from Negan... why not align yourself with the man who’s causing the most fear in your life? We’ve seen him adapt and change. We may see him change and adapt again if he continues to live on in the series. That’s how he survives; he lies, he manipulates—he’s like a cockroach, man."
There could be hope for Dwight. While Eugene's busy playing dress-up at the Sanctuary, Dwight seems to be having second thoughts about living under Negan's oppressive rule, and actor Austin Amelio admitted that he relished the opportunity to show a more vulnerable side of his troubled character in episode 711. "When I first got that script I felt a reprieve, because most of the time I’m popping out from behind trees... or shooting your favorite character," Amelio joked, pointing out that the episode gave viewers some insight into "what he truly cares about and what he’s fighting for." Is redemption possible for Negan's right-hand man? "I hope so," Amelio said.
What doesn't kill you makes you stronger—especially when you're Maggie. Lauren Cohan admitted that the only way her character can deal with the loss of her husband and the rest of her family is because "she’s come to understand it’s not about her, it’s not about any of us as individuals; it’s about them as a whole, them as a greater good, them persevering because they’re still standing."
While it would be easy for someone in Maggie's circumstances to give up, Cohan said, "What other reason would there be to experience such loss than to have life inside of you and to know that you still have to live for that?" She added, "The more people she loses, the stronger the fire burns in her to share and to spread and to strengthen everyone else she's with."
Image: Gene Page/AMC
Sasha is pretty tough too. Sonequa Martin-Green expressed a similar sentiment to Cohan, especially since Sasha and Rosita (Christian Serratos) are now planning to join forces to take down Negan in a mission that neither of them are planning to return from. "It is not about me anymore, it’s not about me pursuing my own survival or my own safety, it’s about solidifying the future that we can create," she said of Sasha's motivations after Abraham's death.
Melissa McBride doesn't see Carol as a badass (and that makes her even more badass). "Badass is really hard for me to wrap my head around because I don’t feel like I play her as a badass, she just does badass-y things," she admitted. "I’m so proud of Carol. [What she's going through is] nothing compared to what she came from. If she could withstand that... and still she’s learning from where she was. Any bad thing that happens that you can’t learn from it is a missed opportunity. It’s okay to be in a mess when your mind is in a mess. I’m proud of her for that and I do admire that in her for being honest with herself and not just being a people-pleaser."
Andrew Lincoln thinks Michonne is the key to Rick's new sense of purpose. "The thing I love about playing this guy is, he’s been beaten down onto the canvas so many times and he keeps pulling himself back up, generally for other people. This is the first time he hasn’t done that, he’s needed a helping hand up, and she’s absolutely key in his return," he said. Oh, and he's also okay with the idea of Rick and Michonne having a kid of their own someday: "We've got to repopulate the world," he shrugged.
The Walking Dead airs Sundays at 9 p.m. on AMC.