SPOILER ALERT: This article contains story line and character spoilers for "The Walking Dead."
Just so you know, "Walking Dead" fans: The writers and producers of the series aren't taking the deaths of major characters in Sunday's Season 4 midseason finale lightly, either. Sure, maybe no one's crying over the death of big baddie the Governor, but his death does mean the end of a compelling character, outstandingly performed by David Morrissey.
The same can be said of Scott Wilson, whose Hershel had become one of the most beloved characters for fans and the other actors on the AMC series. And Wilson … "TWD" showrunner Scott M. Gimple says it best. "I don't think I've ever used the word 'adore,' but I adore Scott Wilson," Gimple tells Yahoo TV.
Gimple and "TWD" executive producer, director, and special effects makeup whiz Greg Nicotero talked to Yahoo TV about why letting go of such stellar actors and characters is part of the larger story line of Season 4, about how the Governor is like Walter White, about how the second half of the season is like a different show, and, yes, about how we will find out the identity of the person who lured walkers to the prison fence with those rats.
Andrew Lincoln told us last week he had texted you a quote he read, "Tragedy is when right means right." That really resonated after the finale. The Governor went into the showdown with at least some good intention of protecting his new family. Is that quote a summary of the Governor's story?
Scott M. Gimple: Yeah, it's interesting … Andrew was sending me quotes throughout the season and just really nailing them even before the scripts would come out. The bottom line is the first five episodes are one story, and the next two episodes are another story. And they're through the point of view of Rick and the Governor, each of their stories crashing together and very much coming to their own individual ends at the end of this midseason finale. We see that king [chess piece] on the ground, and that's the end of that story with the Governor. And then we see Clara, from the season premiere, and that's the end of that story, and they're both individual stories that have their own "when right meets right."
Greg Nicotero: I remember sitting in the writers room when Scott pitched out — the way the process works is, the writers break the story, and then we all come in, and we sit around the conference table, and Scott pitches out the first eight episodes. And basically it's like telling you a story. One thing that I remember hearing Scott say over and over again is, "OK, this is the moment when this character's story ends. This part of their journey ends here, and then we will pick it up somewhere else down the road." So to be able to see the first five episodes and see where those characters are going … The first day we were shooting, Andy Lincoln was saying, "Yeah, you know, I don't know about Rick as a farmer. It feels unnatural and it just …" It was an interesting character choice for him. But when you go back now, and you look at Episode 1, and you see where Rick was, and what he is forced to do and what happens to him, every one of our characters in this first half of the season has had a well thought-out beginning, middle, and end [to their story arc].
Just a more permanent end for the Governor.
Nicotero: I loved the two-episode departure into the Governor's world, because, very much like ["Breaking Bad's"] Walter White, there were moments when you watched the Governor, and you wanted him to get what he wanted. You see him hugging Meghan, and she's like, "I have mud on my hands, I don't want to get you dirty." And he hugs her, and you feel his affection and love for her, and you're like, "Aw, come on! You've got to give him what he wants, because maybe that's just all he needed." And then, of course, that isn't all he needed, but much like in "Breaking Bad," where there were moments you would look at Bryan Cranston, like when he offered $10,000 to Robert Forster to just sit with him and talk to him, at that exact moment I went, "You know what? I could almost forgive him for all the sh-- he's done, because I feel the humanity inside him," and I feel like Scott and David Morrissey were able to tap into a very, very similar moment.
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I mean, we were all hoping that the audience could believe that maybe the Governor could take Rick up on … for Rick to make the offer for the Governor to come in is huge. My favorite moment from the episode is actually Hershel smiling. Just smiling at seeing that Rick has kind of made it, that he's made the change. That he's not the guy he was. And if the audience for a moment believed that maybe the Governor would take Rick up on it, that would be me believing that we all did our jobs.
Not just believing he might … the audience was still hoping that he might still be redeemable at that point.
Nicotero: Yeah. And the fact that he doesn't, and pushes so far away from that, is the tragic end of the Governor flirting with actually being a human being.
As you said, his arc had come to an end, and you really told the full scope of his story, but still, is it tough to let go of a character as rich as the Governor?
Gimple: Yes. It wasn't fun, and I love working with David. He's an immensely talented guy. He's an immensely smart guy, and he's an incredibly hard-working guy. And I remember, maybe because Greg is sitting across from me I'm thinking of it, but just in "This Sorrowful Life" last year, the Governor was not in that episode a great deal. He was just in it at the very end, but seeing him grapple with Michael Rooker, and seeing the kind of stuff that he did on our show that I hadn't seen him do before — he was always game for anything. Yeah, it's a drag not to have him around anymore. But it was the way the story had to play out. It was the story we wanted to tell.
And with the death of Hershel, really one of the saddest deaths of the series … how did you come to that decision?
Nicotero: You know, what's interesting is, there were probably two other situations where Hershel was not going to make it. It was as early as Episode 11 or 12 at the end of Season 2, when there were discussions, when Randall was still in the barn or still handcuffed. There was a play where he was going to escape or be let go and kill Hershel.
Gimple: He was going to kill Hershel with handcuffs on, and by doing that, facilitate his escape. That was the end of Season 2, and I even think that it had gone as far as us saying to [Scott Wilson] that we didn't think he was going to make it through the end of Season 2. It was on paper in some form. I don't remember if it was an outline or actual script, but it was on paper.
Nicotero: But then that ended up changing, much like scripts do. But listen, Scott has touched people in so many ways ...
Gimple: Scott Wilson.
Nicotero: Scott Gimple and Scott Wilson. But to really look at the show moving forward without his character, it's sad, and we all deal with it in a different way. I've always tried to be very supportive of all of the actors, because that phone call is never a pleasant one to get, and if it was a movie, it would be one thing, because you shoot eight weeks, and you're done. But since we've been doing this for four years, everybody knows everyone's kids' names, and their spouses' names, and it really is a family. It just, it's constantly morphing into different incarnations. And I will give Scott Gimple my undying respect as to what kind of job he and the writers that are telling the story are doing this season, because I was riveted in reading the scripts and watching the cuts and watching the episodes. So I could only imagine what people who didn't know what was going to happen felt while watching [the midseason finale].
Will his death continue to have specific impacts on various characters throughout the rest of the season?
Gimple: I'll say this, I hated seeing Hershel die on the whiteboard. I hated seeing Hershel die in the outline. I hated to see him die in the script. Onscreen, it was painful each time. What was amazing was sitting there watching my wife, who didn't know and was horrified by it, and shaken by it, and not too happy with me. Watching through her eyes, I felt it again, and just felt how sad and how tragic it was. Hershel represented civilization and humanity and everything they had built the prison into.
The next part of the story, for the next half of the season, for the season after that, is all about what happens to them when they lose that. And, of course, Beth and Maggie, but especially Rick. What's sort of more tragic about it is, Rick learned the lessons from Hershel. He absorbed that humanity from Hershel, he believes that we can change, that we can come back. But can Rick come back from this, from the loss of Hershel? It's such a hugely important part of the story, so that was what enabled me to sleep at night. I don't think I've ever used the word "adore," but I adore Scott Wilson. And actually, it wasn't a phone call, it was a face-to-face meeting with him. And it was definitely one of the hardest meetings of my life.
What was behind the brutal way Hershel died? It made it that much more heartbreaking.
Gimple: It's certainly inspired by the comic … but in the framework of [our] story, the structure we had, I really did want it to be as tragic and as definitive as possible, the acts that the Governor perpetrates. He could have shot Hershel in the head, but by slinging that sword the way he does, he is a monster, and that's him pushing away his humanity, any chance of that. He believes in his heart that he has to embrace that monster to keep his family safe. The monster is what has enabled him to create Woodbury, what has brought him to the leadership of the other camp. It wasn't anything he wanted, but it was a way, in his mind, the only way, he can keep them safe. And he couldn't cross that little distance that Rick wanted him to cross into humanity, and he had to push it away as hard as he could. Cutting off this man's head, this man who, he says at the beginning of the episode, "You're a good man." That was him saying, "I'm a monster, can't you see, I am a monster. I'm always going to be the monster, because that's how I'm going to keep the people I love safe."
Obviously Rick's group scattered at the end of "Too Far Gone," so can we assume they won't have found their way back together in one place again yet when the second half of the season begins?
Gimple: I was planning on being supercoy about that. But Robert Kirkman on the "Talking Dead" wasn't as coy, so I'll say what you're saying is entirely possible.
And what about the story structure of the second half of the season? Will the stories, the episodes, unfold in the same format they did in the first half?
Gimple: It's very, very different in structure, in environment, in situation. It really just couldn't be more different than the first half of the season.
Nicotero: It will feel like a different show, because of the locations, because of the situations that everyone's been put through, and because of who these characters are now, having witnessed the destruction of their home and the slaughter of someone that they loved.
What is the overall theme of the second half of the season?
Nicotero: I think what's exciting about the second half of the season is that now that we're out in the world again, it's opened up a whole other venue. When you go back to Season 1, where we were experiencing the walker-ravaged world through Rick's journey into Atlanta, it's fun to sort of hearken back to those episodes. It felt big and felt epic. Season 2, we were on Hershel's farm. In Season 3, we were at the prison. And the first half of Season 4 we're at the prison. The intent really was to open up this world again and to let our characters experience what it's like to have to survive; the choices they have to make to survive and as they come upon different situations, how they handle them.
They really didn't have to worry about that on Hershel's farm and the prison. The goal was, in Season 4 … you can tell right at the onset, the minute that they go to the Big Spot, and the raining walkers and the helicopter coming through, that was set up for the audience [to see] that the prison is safe. The outside world is very, very dangerous, and it can come from anywhere. So the second half of the season really plays up that idea that there are — that now they're unprotected in the world.
One of our favorite moments of "Too Far Gone" was Lizzie saving Tyreese. Tyreese is obviously going to have some issues with Carol when he finds out she killed Karen and David, but Lizzie was only prepared, trained, to save him because of Carol and her ideas about the group. Is this a little seed you planted that will reverberate in the second half?
Gimple: It'll reverberate. I will say that's even … let me just stretch the metaphor. The seed was planted in [the season premiere]. This is sort of the sapling. That event, Lizzie and Mika swinging in like that, it's a very sensational kind of moment. But it will have meaning, what happened there, and not even just saving Tyreese, but these are little kids with guns. That will have meaning into the second half.
Nicotero: Carol's whole point was you either have to run or you have to know how to defend yourselves, and that's what Lizzie says. She says, "We have to have guns. We need guns."
There were a lot of things you set up in the first half that we assume will carry over, be revisited in the last eight episodes of Season 4, like the rat situation. Will we get a definitive answer about who was luring the walkers to the fence with rats, and who dissected that rabbit Tyreese found?
Gimple: Absolutely. It'd be superlame if we didn't. No, it's very important, but I'll tell you nothing about it.
Didn't think so. But, OK, we're just going to put our guess out there, that it might have something to do with Bob, and that box he was hiding when Sasha walked in …
Gimple: Again, I shan't say anything.
We can all say it's definitely going to be a long wait for February 9.
Nicotero: I directed the midseason premiere. It's going to drive me insane with the anticipation of waiting for other people to get a chance to see it and launch the second half. I'm dying.
Gimple: AMC keeps on wanting to use the very, very first shot of the episode … to put it in promos, and I'm, like, "Absolutely not!" This is something we all have to earn. We all have to wait until February to get it. It's an amazing episode. I'm so beyond thrilled with it, and I cannot wait for people to see this next half of the season. It's another show. I'm very proud of the work we did on the first half, but I love that we all pulled together and mixed it up and are presenting you guys with something brand-new.
"The Walking Dead" Season 4 resumes on AMC on Feb. 9, 2014.