After that harsh Season 8 midseason finale in December, well, The Walking Dead is going to return on Feb. 25 with a midseason premiere that is even more harsh, more tear-inducing. But also, believe it or not, more hopeful and on the path to a new future. As showrunner Scott Gimple promises of the episode: “It really is the beginning of an end of a chapter.”
In celebration of the show’s return, Gimple asked fans for their thoughts on six questions related to the series’s characters and storylines, and now he’s sharing his reactions to viewers’ insights in the latest installment of Yahoo Entertainment’s Ask the Fans feature.
1. Do you think the show portrays people as basically good or bad?
Analyzing the answers: The majority of fans said they think The Walking Dead represents people as both good and bad, and they appreciate the portrayal of the complicated choices characters are often forced to make in their postapocalyptic world. “I think the show basically portrays people as good, but shows how that can change based on their circumstances,” viewer Yvette responded. Edie added, “The post-apocalypse world allows people to do what they want since there is no law or authority. All the characters in Rick’s group are basically good, but this world causes good people to do bad things. It’s eat or be eaten!” Often literally, of course, as we’ll see tragically play out with Carl in the midseason premiere on Sunday.
TWD fan Jamie added some specific, and Carl-appropriate, insight in his response, writing, “I think the show portrays people as basically good. … Even though society has crumbled, people still want to find other people and create groups that they care about and protect. I think that even with the ‘bad’ groups, when they do hurt other humans, it’s generally because they feel like it’s to protect the others in their group. I feel like the majority of ‘bad’ behavior happens out of peoples’ need to protect their people, their loved ones.”
And viewer Nick wrote in his thoughtful response, “I believe the show portrays the villains as basically bad more so than portraying the heroes as basically good. Most of the Saviors currently in the show are often portrayed as just straight-up bad people, with no redeeming qualities. There [are] maybe a few Saviors that actually have some redeemable qualities, such as Gavin, and I’ve found myself liking Laura quite a bit. Negan himself has a few redeeming qualities, but his actions greatly outweigh any redeeming qualities that come through. … One thing I want to mention as well [is] that sometimes the show portrays our ‘heroes’ as people who can do no wrong. For example, Rick and his group forcefully take Oceanside’s guns and everyone else seems to go along with it. … Being self-aware in your writing is really good and really helps expand the characters more, and as the audience, we get to question the characters, and we can be shocked and disappointed at their actions, but we get why they do it because of all they’ve been through. … It may just be me, but I really enjoy when characters make mistakes and pay for it, it makes for good storytelling. Daryl accidentally getting Glenn killed was a good example of that; it was very sad, and it did a lot to his character.”
Scott Gimple responds: “I think that’s extremely thoughtful, and even back when I was a viewer of the show, and even before that when I was a reader of the book, it’s one of the things [I saw as] one of the primary elements to the show, which is, when people are put in situations of right versus wrong, the line between [can be] very, very thin. It just invited a great deal of thoughtful conversation about it,” Gimple says. “I love that these responses are honing in on the very stuff that I used to think about when I was reading the book and watching the show. I will say that back in Season 2, [TWD universe creator] Robert [Kirkman] and I were having lunch and, apropos of nothing, or everything, I just straight-up asked him whether he thought people were basically good or basically bad, and I think we’ve been having that conversation ever since, intermittently, over the years. … I can’t remember if this was public or private when we were talking about it, so I won’t say which side he wound up on, but I will say, over the years, his opinion has changed.”
As for Gimple’s own thoughts on the subject? “I do believe that people are basically good. And that fear and situations can turn them, also illness,” Gimple says. “There are lots of places [in the show] where characters have probably espoused what I think. There’s a conversation that Aaron has with Daryl, and Eastman kind of lands on it, that we’re all connected, that people are, I think, basically good, but fear is the No. 1 thing that can affect the goodness of people.”
Gimple points to Kirkman’s initial pitch for the comic book: “the zombie movie that never ends.” “And in a zombie movie, certain characters change,” he says. “By being caught in a zombie movie going on nine years, you see how characters change, see how their goodness might get corrupted. Or just have whoever it might be holding on to their goodness. … They do make stupid decisions based on fear sometimes. It’s very much the ability to hold on to that humanity, that is one of the basic things. There’s survival, and there’s breathing, and there’s eating, desperation. But there’s also just trying to keep your humanity intact.”
2. If the show has ever given you walker nightmares, what were they like?
Analyzing the answers: Just as is true in the series sometimes, viewers said it’s not usually the walkers that show up in their dreams. Rather, it’s the challenges of living — or trying to — in the apocalypse that sometimes haunts them. Ann wrote, “I’ve actually not had walker nightmares. I have had not-so-nice dreams about an apocalyptic situation where my children were in danger.” Ann, like many other respondents, said TWD living characters have shown up during her slumbering hours: “I’ve had really nice dreams about Andrew Lincoln saving us all.” Ditto, Ann.
Fan Abi clearly has the TWD pilot, and Rick’s hospital drama, on her mind, writing, “No, the show has not given me any nightmares, but once while visiting a family member at a hospital, soon after binging the first three seasons, seeing a man stumble around a corner almost triggered a fight-or-flight response.”
As for fans who do see the undead in their nightmares, viewer Lori said they show up “outside of my work, waiting for me when I get off the clock! I work in the basement, and a lot can happen in 8 hours!” Good point… think about how much happens in eight hours, or half a season, of the series.
And then there’s Maggie, who said she enjoys her walker nightmares: “My favorites were the ones I’d have right after watching TWD and Downton Abbey. My nightmare would combine both shows. Those were always entertaining.”
Gimple responds: “Oh, wow, I want to see that show,” Gimple says about the Walking Dead/Downton Abbey mashup. He also appreciated that even in their dreams, viewers are thinking about the deeper issues in the series. “I love that they are thinking about the connections, you know, their families, their lives,” he says. “It isn’t necessarily like, ‘Oh, my God, I’m gonna get beaten, and eaten, and torn apart,’ it’s more like, ‘What about my family?’ Which is lovely. And horrible, I suppose. But instantly it shows that people aren’t worrying about themselves right off the bat.”
As for his own TWD nightmares, he says they tend to revolve around deadlines — “not doing your homework, first day of school” kind of scary dreams. “I haven’t had the dream where we’ve been working and some of the extras aren’t extras, they’re actual zombies,” Gimple says. “I haven’t had that one yet, but I imagine that’s gonna happen sometime.”
3. What character do you identify with the most?
Analyzing the answers: Unsurprisingly, this question elicited the biggest variety of responses, though Carol, of course, was one of the most popular ones. “Carol is definitely my spirit animal,” Terri wrote. “She is a real bad mama jama. When I die, if there is reincarnation, I would come back as Carol.” And Diane sums up what a lot of Carol fans said: “I really don’t know if I am like her, but I really like Carol, and I really like to think that if I needed to, I could be as strong as her. I’d like to think that I could survive bad stuff like she did and still be the best kind of person I could be.”
Duke’s pick is Rick Grimes. “I identify with his leadership and protection of his ‘family,’” he wrote.
For Morgan, and a number of other fans, it’s all about Maggie: “I identify with Maggie the most. She has been through the most in my opinion. She’s lost her whole family, the love of her life, and now she’s fighting for the lives of everyone she knows. … She is stronger for going through it all. I have gone through a lot, and seeing her keep fighting helps me keep fighting as well.”
Jamie noted another TWD heroine, Michonne, and wrote one fantastic description of her: “She is fierce! … Michonne was a mother, as I am, and I love that she has that duality of being a nurturer and then also a badass, katana-wielding samurai warrior woman. I feel that and love that there is this strong woman character that is also allowed to be soft and funny and smart.”
Daryl Dixon was another favorite, with viewer Shawn sharing, “I identify with Daryl the most. I have been in many situations where my frustration and pride have pushed me to the point of turning my back without hesitation. I can completely understand how Daryl feels a lot of the time when he gets to the breaking point and is completely willing to leave it all behind until someone pulls him back.”
And we love this very honest answer from TWD fan Tom, who wrote, “I most identify with Eugene. I would definitely be Eugene trying to manipulate people to help me while trying to avoid getting my hands dirty.”
Gimple responds: “Well, I expected there to be a variety [of responses] because over the years, one of the things I love about the show is that it has this big diverse audience,” Gimple says. “It’s very gratifying to hear, because it’s very important to me that all the characters through the seasons have beginnings, middles, and ends to their stories, to their arcs. Some of the arcs are bigger than others, but it makes me feel good that folks are excited about different characters. It’s very important to me that there be someone for everyone, and that people can look at this story and see themselves somewhere, or they see other people they know.
“This show has a really simple premise. You can tell the premise in five seconds. But television is about characters. It’s about audiences having long-term relationships with these characters, and inviting them into their homes every week, and becoming family with them. It’s one of the beautiful things about the show because the show loses people. And unlike a horror movie, where you come to like the protagonist for an hour and they go, we’re losing people that viewers have invited into their homes for years. It’s incredibly difficult on our side, just the reality in not being able to continue working with people that we love working with. So, you know, it’s a blessing and curse of The Walking Dead. It’s a show that invites conversation, it’s a show that invites community, that invites connection, which we portray in the show. The show has these characters from all walks of life, who are thrown together as a family because of the situation, because of the horrors they have to endure losing characters, and to see them go through hard times.”
Also, another thumbs up to viewer Tom. “I admire that the fellow owned up to his Eugene-ness,” Gimple says. “That’s actually very Eugene-y. It is. Eugene is very upfront about who he is.”
4. What was the most emotional moment of the show for you?
Analyzing the answers: Carol and “The Grove.” Glenn and Abraham’s deaths in the Season 7 premiere. Sophia and the barn. And realizing Carl had been bitten in December’s Season 8 midseason finale. Those were the most heart-wrenching moments for the majority of viewers. (And just a word of caution on that Carl storyline, which plays out further in Sunday’s Greg Nicotero-directed “Honor”: However many tissues you estimate you might need to wipe your tears throughout the episode, double, or even triple it. It’s a stellar installment, running the gamut from sweet to tragic, and Chandler Riggs gives his best performance ever as heroic Carl.)
Back to viewers’ other favorite emotional moments from the show, there were some nice callbacks to other characters and storylines that continue to resonate. Charmaine wrote, “The most emotional moment was when Dawn shot Beth. … It was so sad and shocking to see such a strong woman get blown out like that, and everyone was devastated.”
The series pilot was recalled again, this time by viewer Shawn, who wrote, “The most emotional scene for me was the first day Rick awoke from his coma in the hospital. I could imagine myself in that situation, completely terrified and thinking only of my wife and son. From that point, until he found his wife and son, I can’t even imagine the thoughts that terrorized him every waking second. I wouldn’t be able to keep the scenarios from playing in my head and imagining my family dying a thousand times in a thousand different ways.”
Shawna wrote about another fine character — actually, two fine characters — who didn’t survive the apocalypse. “The most emotional moment for me was Bob’s backstory,” she shared. “Something about his solitary existence before being found by Rick and Daryl breaks my heart every time I watch it. Losing Shiva was a close second.”
And Tracey cited an earlier moment from Season 8 as the most emotional TWD event: “[I] had a moment when Rick found Gracie and realized he had killed the father. But I was imagining how Rick felt, and how the man [had been] doing the same thing Rick was doing all along, protecting his child.”
One other particularly interesting response brought up the subject of spoilers. Duke wrote, “Sophia in the barn. … Nothing on the show since has lived up to that moment, probably because I didn’t start looking at spoilers until about Season 4 or 5. [I] never saw that [so it wasn’t spoiled] like things are spoiled online now.”
Gimple responds: About spoilers: Gimple can relate. “It’s interesting. I mean, there is the ‘going on Twitter, and you’re not looking for spoilers, you’re just seeing it’ sort of variety of spoiler. But there’s also the looking for spoilers variety, in which case, you’re kind of doing it to yourself, which, you know, it’s fair play. [Duke] might just be going on Twitter, and his friends are saying stuff. I don’t know. It’s a tough thing because you want to know so bad, but you are denying the power of the story. The difference between going to see Empire Strikes Back, and somebody just telling you who Luke’s father is … I just feel bad for the folks who don’t want spoilers, and just go online and accidentally get something spoiled for them. I will say, as somebody who’s way behind on This Is Us, I got something spoiled pretty bad just by looking at the news — and it was just a headline. And then on John Oliver the other night, he had a joke that was a total spoiler. Which, you know, very much could be what is happening to Duke.
“It is weird that this show started at a different time. This show, going into its ninth year, is like on another planet compared to the show that started in 2010, in that social media wasn’t as big. The way we watched television was completely different. Technology just in and of itself wasn’t where it is now. And shows [running] nine seasons is sort of an unusual thing now. Things are changing at such a rapid pace that the experience of seeing a show now is completely different than how it was in 2010. How is the experience gonna change even more? I will say that the thing I love about what we’re doing right now, about this [“Ask the Fans” feature], it’s about community. It’s about connection. The thing about shows, the way we consume them now at different times, on different devices, is TV has become a slightly lonelier enterprise for the viewer. Just because oftentimes you’re on your own. You’re not watching at the same time as everyone else. That said, you want to go find somebody to talk about your favorite show, you can find them now, whereas maybe years ago, it would have been a little harder.”
5. What character have you changed your opinion about the most and why?
Analyzing the answers: This was another question that sparked a wide selection of characters in the responses, though Father Gabriel got a majority of the votes. Viewer Alexa perfectly summed up why Gabriel’s redemptive journey from Father ‘Fraidy Cat to becoming one of Rick’s group’s bravest and most reliable members has made him such a respected character. “Gabriel. … I don’t think I’ve ever gone from absolutely despising someone to actually really loving them on this show,” Alexa wrote. “I think Gabriel really did prove himself and redeem himself. He legitimately learned how to become a better person, rather than being given all the answers or given an easy, hollow redemption that looks good on the outside until you realize that they didn’t actually do anything to get there. Gabriel worked hard for his redemption.”
Rick Grimes was another frequent answer, though viewers had various reasons for the choice, and some differing opinions on whether the ways Rick has changed have been positive. Joshua wrote, “I used to like Rick. I’m horrified how he bowed down to Negan and let this s***show go on as long as it did, with so many opportunities to kill him.” Said Lori, “[Rick] hasn’t turned out to be the hero I wanted him to be. I think Rick’s idea of right and wrong has been skewed. It’s understandable but unfortunate.” Added Gabrielle, “He went from a good cop who does no wrong to ‘I’ll literally rip your throat out’ to protect his family. When Rick rips the throat of Claimer Joe with his teeth, my jaw literally dropped. I knew Rick Grimes had adapted to the apocalypse, but at that scene/moment, I knew Rick Grimes would do anything/everything to protect his family. In Season 2, Shane told Lori that Rick wasn’t made for this apocalypse/that he couldn’t protect them. He was wrong.”
More picks: Carol, who went from being “a wallflower, a meek and mild housewife/victim to a badass, kick-ass Wonder Woman,” according to Shawna.
Danielle likes the changes she’s watched happen with Dwight: “I absolutely hated [him] at first. He was the store brand Daryl Dixon, and no one can be Daryl Dixon. However, as time goes on, my heart just breaks for Dwight, because he basically was just trying to do whatever to survive. But the more we see of him, the more I can feel his yearning for family again, the heartache, and revenge that he feels, and all around I feel sort of bad for him. No more hatred, just sorrow.”
Speaking of Daryl, reader Liz has some thoughts on his recent changes and some advice for the character. “He’s been through a lot, and I think he blames himself for a lot, but he was such a strong, great character, and now he’s reckless and kind of an a**hole,” she wrote. “Everyone’s been through a lot, dude … get your s*** back together.”
And viewer Eddie was the only respondent who chose this character, but we totally agree with him. “Jadis. I hated her at first, but the more I rewatch Season 7 and 8, the more I love her,” he said of the quirky leader of the Heapsters. “She grows on you.”
Gimple responds: He was happy to hear fans have changed their minds about Father Gabriel, especially because of the terrific performance Seth Gilliam has been delivering since joining the show. Though his work has always been stellar, fans don’t always point that out when they’re hatin’ on the character, so Gimple said it’s nice to see Gilliam get love now that Gabriel has redeemed himself. “He endured the slings and arrows for a while, but I was telling him, ‘Just hold on. I don’t know if they’re ever gonna forgive you, but I know that I will, because of the path [Gabriel] treads,’” Gimple says. “He’s such a wonderful actor, and his relationship with, I was gonna say Andy, but Gabriel’s relationship with Rick is one of my favorite relationships in the series.”
As for the various reactions to Rick’s journey thus far, Gimple says he sees Rick as a hero. And he promises the second half of Season 8 is going to challenge Rick to a degree he’s never been challenged before, with some definitive outcomes about his future.
“He doesn’t get it right the first time. But in all honesty, what he has to endure, and the responsibility that he decided to take on, I think he embodies the sort of everyman,” Gimple says. “And that’s kind of horrible, because the depths that anyone could go, the dark things that they could do … where grief takes you, and where fear takes you, it’s scary stuff, but he is making his way too. And I think that makes him very human, and thus a real hero.”
Gimple continues, “It’s tricky because Rick came at a time of the antihero, of Tony Soprano and Walter White. And Rick is like Gary Cooper, he’s in the cowboy hat, he’s got the badge. It’s like, ‘Oh, that’s the good guy who wants to do good. And Rick found out quickly that he couldn’t maintain the codes, the beliefs that he had embodied basically all of his life. He’s still finding his way through good and evil in a world where those terms are sort of luxuries. He’s making his journey. He is figuring it out, and he is not giving up, and that makes him a hero. But he’s definitely not perfect, and things get very messy for him. But I do believe there’s that core, which is being challenged this season, the core of who he is. But I don’t think people could fault him for that, considering the responsibility that he had taken, where others haven’t, and the things that he’s gone through, and the things he’s currently enduring.
“Carl… what happens there is the ultimate challenge to his worldview, because his worldview is based on keeping Carl safe, so what does any of it mean? And whether it’s Glenn, whether it’s Abraham, or whether it’s Carl, at what point does anger, feelings of vengeance take over the impulses that were about just keeping people alive and safe? Rick is headed toward a reckoning with everything that he’s been, or rather that he’s become, after these eight seasons. And this story that we’re telling is very much about a conclusion to who Rick is going to be.”
6. Do you find yourself imagining things about the show — where it’s going, how things could’ve turned out differently, what you would do in the situations the characters find themselves in?
Analyzing the answers: The biggest takeaway from the responses to this question: The Walking Dead is a show that has sparked a devoted, opinionated fanbase, and it’s a fanbase that spends a lot of time thinking about the show outside of simply watching the episodes — and one that forms thoughtful, insightful reactions to Rick Grimes and his crew’s story of trying to survive and forge a new world in the apocalypse.
Edie wrote, “I have to imagine things about the show: It’s a coping mechanism. I am going to pretend that Carl passes out before he dies and later recovers in time to help save the group from the Saviors. I always imagined there would be an ending similar to how the Black Death played out. After eight years of nihilism, tragedy, disappointment, and death, I am ready for some resolution to start.”
Lori agrees about what she wants for the future of Rick and company, and she’s also thinking globally: “I am over all of the different groups fighting each other and would like to see the cast moving to more of a comeback from the virus and making a new government and what that would look like for survivors all around the world.”
Shawn shared some interesting “what if” thoughts, and we love his take on the relationships between Rick and Negan and Shane and Simon: “I have never read the comics, so I have no idea what’s next for the show, but I think it would be interesting to see a much bigger, more righteous group of survivors who have advanced beyond surviving and are thriving and put into perspective just how small and insignificant the war between Alexandria and the Saviors actually is. Maybe a scenario where it would take the minds of both Rick and Negan working together to defeat the new threat. … I could see Negan and Rick rising out of the ashes of this war, bonded together because of the past they both share and becoming an unstoppable partnership that goes beyond friendship and into a realm of mutual respect and understanding. I could see Rick being the partner and friend to Negan that Simon should have been. Not someone who blindly follows orders without question or hesitation. On the opposite side of that coin, I would like to see Negan become the friend and partner to Rick that Shane should have been, and not someone who questions everything at every turn.”
Maggie was not happy about Carl’s adventure with Siddiq, and said she’s determined not to accept the new guy: “I will never be able to warm up to the new guy [Siddiq]. … I will always blame him for what has happened to Carl. I know he’s in the comics, but I hope Rick kills him. After all, Carl doesn’t die in the comics, so I guess [they] are playing fast and loose with that storyline.” Maggie, we feel ya, but another little hint about the midseason premiere: Don’t make a final call on Siddiq just yet. It’s possible you could change your mind about his brief friendship with Carl…
Morgan was also bummed about recent events, but expressed excitement about what it will lead to, writing, “After every episode, I put myself in the place of the characters and see if I would’ve done the same. I also try to imagine the characters who died … and how they would’ve handled Negan and the Saviors. I thought Carl and Judith would become the leaders one day, and since that won’t happen, I’m excited to see what the future holds.”
And, with so much drama and trauma in the current storyline, we’ll wrap up the batch of fine responses, and appreciation for the time fans took in sending them to us, by sharing this gem from viewer Debra: “I constantly imagine what I would do in their shoes. In fact, one of my favorite Valentine’s Day gifts my husband has given to me over the years is a machete. Because I know when the SHTF, it’s sitting on my mantel ready for me to go kick some ass.”
Gimple responds: To those fans, like Edie and Lori, who expressed their desire for the show to move beyond the war with the Saviors and into a new phase of the future and new world-building, Gimple has great news: “We are coming to a conclusion in setting the stage for yes, a new era of The Walking Dead, and that was always the plan.”
As for fans who can’t envision a time they’ll be able to separate Siddiq from Carl’s fatal bite, Gimple agrees with our sentiments that the storyline that has yet to play out might change their minds (see: Gabriel, Rick, Dwight, Daryl, etc. in the question above). “You know, Siddiq didn’t ask Carl to do what he did, and, in fact, told him not to,” Gimple says. “And I wouldn’t blame Carl for it. … It happened, and sometimes things happen. And it happened because that’s who Carl was. He wanted to be that person that he wound up dying as, rather than live as a different person, perhaps less giving, more fearful, more cautious. We’ll see. People do change their minds about characters, as we discussed earlier.”
Finally, as for Debra’s machete and her readiness to take it off the mantel and open up some apocalyptic whoop-ass should an apocalypse occur in the real world, Gimple says, “I hope it does not come to that. I hope it’s reserved more for melons, maybe pineapples. Maybe a piñata. Though it seems like overkill for a piñata.
“But there is that, that other part of the story that people wonder about [with The Walking Dead]: What if the world ended? What if society fell apart, what would I do? It’s interesting about our story now, like, what would I do, after all the things I’ve done, and after things that everyone else has done, how would I keep going, and what would that look like? It’s going even deeper into the story. But, you know, Valentine machete, too.”
The Walking Dead airs Sundays at 9 p.m. on AMC.
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