Showrunner Scott M. Gimple On the Creation of 'The Walking Dead's' Best Episode Ever

Scott M. Gimple has one of the best jobs in America. And one of the worst.  He’s the showrunner of  The Walking Dead, television’s most popular show in the most important demographic.  (Spoilers for The Walking Dead, to Episode 415, as well as the comic.)

Which means that he gets to spend his days working on the details of how to kill zombies—and sometimes the people trying to escape from them. It also means that 20 million fans have an opinion about how he’s doing his job and aren’t shy about sharing it.

Gimple’s job has been something of a hot seat. He’s the third showrunner in the show’s four seasons, following Frank Darabont, who left abruptly in the middle of season two, and Glenn Mazzara who departed after last season.

A writer by trade, Gimple is emphasizing character-based story telling more than ever, and the result is a season that has been a creative and commercial success.

Gimple is already a couple months into the planning process for Season 5, but he pulled himself away from the Writer’s Room to talk about season 4 on the eve of Sunday’s finale.

In the first installment of this two-part interview, Gimple discusses Episode 414  “The Grove,” which was one of the most powerful—and one of the best—episodes in the show’s run. He’ll discuss the genesis of the idea, selling it to creator Robert Kirkman, and the hard/easy process of actually writing it.

In the second part of the interview, which will appear tomorrow, Gimple will discuss the season in general, the specifics of his great/tough job, and what to watch for in Sunday’s finale.

It’s Interview Week so read my conversations with Shameless star Emmy Rossum, Justified showrunner Graham Yost, and look out for interviews with Breaking Bad’s Jonathan Banks and a video chat with Michael Potts of True Detective.

I thought “The Grove” was really special. I think it was the best episode of The Walking Dead to date.

Thank you. That’s huge, because I started as a viewer and I love the first season. Measuring up to that…I thank you sir.

“The Grove” is based on an idea from the comic book, but it’s been re-imagined pretty substantially.

One of the very first episodes I did was “Pretty Much Dead Already.” We took a moment from the comic book, which I loved when I read it—Hershel’s barn opening up and his relatives coming out as zombies—and  we found a way to heighten that moment.  null

That’s where that Sofia storyline came from.

After having such a wonderful experience with that, I think it sort of coalesced my philosophy. Trying to take the stuff I loved in the comic books and figure out what I loved about them and figure out ways to make them hit even harder. I think that was the philosophy behind the very long play to “The Grove.”

The thing I love best about it is the fact that all of those heartbreaking moments were fully earned. The pieces were in place for a long time.

We were super proud. It was an idea based on the Billy and Ben story line in the comic.  And that’s a story that’s very much a story line that served Carl in the comic.

But with the story we were hoping to tell about Carol, it became apparent pretty quickly that those two stories—the Carol story and the Billy and Ben story– really worked with each other.

At what point did you figure out it wasn’t going to be Billy and Ben?

This was before we even sat down. There were great things that came out when the writers all sat down. But the very idea of the Billy and Ben storyline going to Carol instead of Carl was something I talked about with Kirkman before we started the season, just a couple weeks before the writers room met.

I unbelievably value Robert’s opinion and I really want to honor the source material. I really wanted him to get excited about it too.

And was he?

It’s funny, when I first talked to him I was like “There’s this big thing with Carl and I might want to take it away from him? He was like “Oh, man” and he was kind of disappointed

And then when I pitched him out the idea he got really really excited. Just seeing that gave me so much more confidence in the story.

This story arc touched on so many of the things that are central to Carol’s character

So much of Carol’s evolution has to do with the fact that she lost a daughter. It pushed her to a place of pragmatism, where she would do anything to protect people, and especially kids. And [she ends up] having no choice, where she has to do the very thing she was trying not to do.

Knowing what an incredible performer Melissa was, and having the writers get so excited, it was really something else. All the pieces came together it a way that I got really really excited about.

It was a long while from idea to conception. What were some of the those pieces that came together?

Our focus puller is a guy named David Galbraith. And he kept telling me, “You really really have to use a pecan grove in an episode. “ He was sending me videos over the break in the spring.  [When I saw the videos] the story was so stuck in my head and I was like “It’s going to be perfect.”

You also wrote the script. How hard was it to write?

Looking back on it I was saying “It was easy” and my assistant Alex Brown, who’s a production associate on the show, he’s like “Dude, you don’t even remember.” I guess I do look at some writing experiences with rose-colored glasses. Apparently it was not the easiest thing in the world to write. I had known what it was going to be  for a very long time and I was really looking forward to writing it. I also got sick and I had to stay in bed. It was the perfect place to write this story. Maybe that’s why I remember it being easy. It was just really really intense.

What did you think of “The Grove?” What are you hoping for in Sunday’s season finale.  Share your thoughts in the comments below.

For the best-curated television news about The Walking Dead and other great shows, follow me on Twitter (@allenstjohn).

Allen St. John is the author of Newton’s Football: The Science Behind America’s Game, published by Ballantine Books

Source: Forbes Business

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