‘The Walking Dead’ Showrunner Teases “Closure” Of Tonight’s Season 8 Finale, Lauren Cohan’s Return & ‘Fear’ Crossover

“I hope that they see why the story might have unfolded the way that it did and that taken altogether it gives them a sense of satisfaction and closure,” departing The Walking Dead showrunner Scott M. Gimple says of fans watching tonight’s Season 8 finale of the zombie apocalypse series. “I would love that.”

Reeling from the death of core character Carl Grimes (Chandler Riggs) earlier this year and the killing of Negan’s right-hand man Simon (Steven Ogg) by the Jeffrey Dean Morgan-portrayal villain in the penultimate episode last week, the end of the “All Out War” story aims to close a multi-season chapter in TWD’s run. Like past TWD finales, details of the “Wrath” episode have been kept under lock and seal, but trailers and teasers make it clear that the long-promised battle royale is surely on tonight. Add to that, the end of the latest run of The Walking Dead is followed on this self-described Survival Sunday by the Season 4 debut of Fear The Walking Dead and its crossover with the mother show.

Handing ove his showrunner crown to longtime TWD writer Angela Kang for Season 9 and taking on the newly created Chief Content Officer position for the franchise, Gimple spoke with me about whether co-star Lauren Cohan will be inking a new contract or not, surprises in store for fans with tonight’s finale, and how TWD regular Lennie James’ addition to spinoff Fear is part of a larger plan for AMC and the shows based on Robert Kirkman’s comics. Praising the pilot for TWD as “the Rosetta Stone of everything,” the executive producer also unveiled how many more crossovers are in store for the franchise and how he truly feels about charges the series may have jumped the shark.

DEADLINE: With tonight’s TWD finale being hyped as the end of the war with Negan, I have to ask right now: Will Lauren Cohan being coming back for Season 9? Have you guys worked out a deal?

GIMPLE: I cannot say. I mean we will have stuff to say about that soon, very soon. I’m tempted to say things but I can’t yet.

DEADLINE: OK, but with that hanging out there, and the death of Carl earlier this season, the death of Simon in the penultimate episode last week, and the Survivors and their allies gearing up for a defining melee with Negan and the Saviors, how is the Season 8 ender different than past finales?

GIMPLE: Well, I will say the first thing that we had been thinking about in starting this season, even when we were thinking about Season 9, is attacking this differently. This finale is big. I mean it is very big, so that’s something that we do and have done with finales, but there’s a different rhythm to the storytelling this time.

When the apex of the story sort of happens, it’s the nature of the apex of the story and what follows after that that I feel is very different. The resolution I think in some ways that challenges the audience, so I do think the entire story has been leading to that. I think that’ll be very apparent.

DEADLINE: How so?

GIMPLE: In the way that we conclude a lot of the characters, I think. I feel that it’s a very different rhythm of storytelling. It is about closure. I mean it really. I had talked to actors and producers about it, and the writers and Angela and I were talking about this months and months before we were even in production.

This is sort of the end of a very long chapter of The Walking Dead. And I don’t mean the past couple years, I mean the first eight years of the show, and that this ends a period of the story that will not be replicated. It is going to turn into, in some ways, a very different show. The conclusions for pretty much all the characters have played out and the weight of really eight seasons was on it, but I think it’s a really…it is big but it’s very different in the rhythm of the storytelling and I guess shifting point of views as well.

DEADLINE: Will there be surprises in the Season 8 finale?

GIMPLE: Oh, I believe there are. I believe there are surprises in The Walking Dead finale and the Fear The Walking Dead opener and I imagine there’ll be surprises on Talking Dead to a degree too. I think there’s going to be surprises at the theaters when people are watching as well.

Here’s the thing, I guess with the end of the Walking Dead season I hope that it also gets the audience excited about the next season. With this show fully ended, with all that closure, there’s nothing but possibility for The Walking Dead moving forward.

DEADLINE: And as a launch pad on the schedule and, narratively, for Season 4 of Fear The Walking Dead?

GIMPLE: Well, for the two shows together, what I’d like people to think is that they have taken the 16-episode shift with the story this season, or of course many episodes before that, and I hope that they’re satisfied by the ending. I hope that they see why the story might have unfolded the way that it did and that taken altogether it gives them a sense of satisfaction and closure. I would love that. We know that people have made the commitment to the show and I want them to be satisfied at the end of that meal.

I guess it’s sort of related for Fear for me too. For Fear, as the crossover occurs, I hope that it whets people’s appetites. I hope that it makes them hungry for more Fear and are intrigued with both the returning and new characters. I hope that the people who have been watching that show still see what they love in the show, which I think are the characters. I hope that they are intrigued with these new characters, that they want to know more about them and they really like the way that they see the OGs interact with Morgan, who is an OG himself, and the new characters.

DEADLINE: Now that Lennie James is going to be fully in the world of Fear The Walking Dead and the two series are on the same timeline, are we going to see a full crossover either on this season on Fear or on the next season of Walking Dead?

GIMPLE: When you say a full crossover like the shows fully crossing over?

DEADLINE: I mean like Kim Dickens’ Madison, Andrew Lincoln’s Rick Grimes, Colman Domingo’s Strand, and Norman Reedus’ Daryl are all standing in a room together. That’s what I’m talking about.

GIMPLE: That would be awesome but no, that won’t be happening. I’m not saying it won’t happen ever, but certainly not on the way you just described it. No plans right now…

DEADLINE: Really Scott?

GIMPLE: …but do remember for years it seemed unlikely that there would be any crossover between the shows. So within any creative endeavor you’ve got to leave a little room for it, but right now we’re not planning that. There are some aspects that might cross over. You’re using the word full and a full-on Infinity War situation is not on the horizon just yet.

DEADLINE: I’ll take that “just yet” as the qualifier, but there are definitely more bridges to be built between the shows, right?

GIMPLE: Not a ton but there’s some. Again, I just put that big asterisk on it that this is a creative endeavor. There are little tendrils that could start getting into a bigger situation, but I can say with certainty that there is some stuff ahead

DEADLINE: Does that stuff include new expansions of TWD franchise that you’ve alluded to before?

GIMPLE: That’s a big part of my new Chief Content Officer job. Walking Dead and Fear the Walking Dead and even Walking Dead Season 8 still have been taking up a lot of my time, but that other stuff has now just started ramping up. We’ll have a lot to talk about in the future, a lot of unusual stuff, some very traditional stuff and planning for deep into the future. We’re really trying to lay out a plan for this universe that has to do with these shows and that has to do with well beyond these shows.

DEADLINE: On the flip of expanding that universe, TWD and the producers and writers got some serious pushback this year over the directions the story went…

GIMPLE: (Laughs) Really?

DEADLINE: C’mon on you know I’m specifically referring to the “Do Not Send Us Astray” episode that aired March 25. Some hardcore fans started saying that Walking Dead had finally jumped the shark especially with that zombie in the house scene and nobody waking up despite the noise. What was your reaction to that?

GIMPLE: It’s very strange to me as far as the episodes where I try to predict that people will really dig this one, often that doesn’t happen and I’m so wrong. Then the ones I’m worried about where I’m like I don’t know how people are going to feel about this, they love it. Granted, you can find it in either direction for any episode. I’m sure “jump the shark” has been used many times in a show that’s now spanned eight years.

I respect anybody’s opinion as long as they deeply feel it and it comes from watching the show and thinking about it. I think when it comes to this type of fiction, horror, fantasy, we fans love talking about all the points of it from the emotion to the rules of it and we argue about it. So it struck me as something that happens, another thing that people argue about and some love and some don’t and it’s all fair play.

DEADLINE: Even when the criticism is of lazy storytelling? That’s got to sting…

GIMPLE: I will say that if occasionally if somebody says lazy storytelling, the feeling I take some umbrage to only because I do know how hard everybody works. I know that our cast, crew, writers, everyone, that they give everything they have to this show and no one is phoning it in. After that though it’s totally up to people, their reactions to it are completely valid. They’re the audience. It’s for them after that, they have a right to their opinions and of course I pay attention.

DEADLINE: In terms of paying attention, clearly ending TWD’s season and going right into Fear’s new season with Lennie’s Morgan providing the linkage is a smart programming move to refocus of the mother show to the spinoff again, how did you actually pull it all off and with this new gig unfolding?

GIMPLE: (Laughs) When I initially started talking to AMC about this new position, I knew one of the more difficult things would be the overlap of work. I mean, actually the last bits of Season 8 that I had to work on were last week. This show goes year-round, and when you showrun it the post-work absolutely overlaps with the new work that you’re doing, the writing work and the preproduction work you’re doing on the new season. So just in and of itself Walking Dead has always been an incredible bear and then add to the mix Fear. The add that we were wrestling with whether or not we could advance the schedule to make the finale and debut go back-to-back for the two shows. Honestly, the execs at AMC believed in us more than we did ourselves sometimes. It was incredibly difficult but it took a lot of support.

DEADLINE: And you were handing over the TWD reins to a new showrunner while staying in the mix yourself — something that hasn’t happened before on Walking Dead…

GIMPLE: Yeah, but what was great was I knew at the beginning of Season 8 that I wanted to move Angela into my position. We talked about it very, very early on so it was a lot more on-the-job training for Angela than we’d had in the past. As much as she’d always had a great deal of responsibility on the show, she just wound up taking on even more responsibility last year and was an enormous source of support.

DEADLINE: So in the end are you happy with the way this self-described “Survival Sunday” turned out for both Walking Dead and Fear?

GIMPLE: One of the things that I was determined to ensure when I was starting to work on Fear was having the same story values as The Walking Dead. I don’t want it to be the same show at all. It is very much its own show, but a familiar sort of set of values to the storytelling that’s very much based on Robert’s book and the pilot of The Walking Dead, which I think continues to be sort of the Rosetta Stone of everything. I wanted to apply that to all the things that we dug about Fear. We didn’t want to lose anything from Fear. We just wanted to add things to it but in a way that sort of synthesized what’s there. I think you can get a sense of that with those two episodes that start the season and the interplay of the stories.

It was really nerve-wracking because we wanted to do right by all the Fear the Walking Dead OGs and yet we wanted to do something new with it, too. So it was a real dance. So, It was a lot, but we’re real proud of the results. I’m really eager for people to see it.