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Its flagship creative source may be gone now that Robert Kirkman has ended his iconic comic series, and its TV ratings may be hitting new lows. But compared with just about everything else, The Walking Dead continues to be one of the most successful and highly-viewed franchises anywhere on the small screen.
As The Walking Dead begins its new foray out of a small huddle of clustered AMC shows and into the much wider world of a sprawling shared universe, TWD content chief Scott Gimple says he’s like a “kid in the candy store” with all the branching story possibilities that lie ahead. In addition to the upcoming new series set to follow the younger generation of survivors into the post-apocalyptic future, there’s also a standalone Rick Grimes movie trilogy on the way that returns Andrew Lincoln — one of the series’ biggest stars.
Yet Gimple recently revealed that he’s not preoccupied with slavishly following the central-character formula that worked so successfully for the original series, which just kicked off its 10th season at AMC. Rather, as he told Deadline in a far-ranging interview, he’d rather explore the enormous mythology that Kirkman’s comics have cultivated, mining the Walking Dead mythos for new ideas that can unfold in every nook and cranny of the zombie-plagued world — ideas that don’t necessarily have to bleed into each other as new TWD story lines spring up in diverse and interesting ways.
“I think we will have entertainments that are very single-character driven and we will have others that have an ensemble dynamic. I don’t think it’s particularly vital one way or the other, it’s just searching for that differentiation,” he said, sharing a laundry list of story ideas that indeed strike into completely new territory. If some of Gimple’s hopes for the franchise ever see the light of day, in fact, The Walking Dead indeed would begin to look a whole lot like other shared-universe brands like Star Wars and Star Trek — franchises that share a common mythology, but allow for endless forking paths that don’t always reconnect with the flagship series.
“…The Walking Dead is truly a shared world and a shared situation but it’s going to be a lot of different aspects of that shared circumstance,” said Gimple. “It’s not dependent on these characters knowing each other, interacting with each other, or having anything necessarily to do with one another. It makes it a priority for us to create new mythologies and new situations in this world — big stuff that’s going on — but the really interesting thing about this universe is that because of this apocalypse that’s happened is that a lot of these stories aren’t even going to touch. These people won’t even know that these other people and these other situations even exist. I hope that allows us for a real differentiation in the stories we tell.”
What could that mean for the kind of TWD experiences we'll see in the years ahead? Almost as if to drive home the point that a Walking Dead story can be told almost anywhere in the post-apocalypse, Gimple made the case for a hermetic, Cast Away-style TV show or movie — one that follows a single, stranded Tom Hanks-type character whose only frame of reference is his or her immediate, shattered surroundings.
“One of my favorite projects, one that’s sort of hovering around, is really about a person, a single person in the apocalypse,” he said. “…[Y]ou have a story that’s like Cast Away or Omega Man, I suppose…We are pursing specials as well, which are very short form. Some of that linking up [to established characters and situations] but some keeping to themselves by having their own distinct aspects. When we’re working I call those the agnostic stories. Those might feel more Twilight Zone-y, more anthological, whereas the more connected stuff might feel more like Star Wars in the shared, episodic mythology…It’s very kid in the candy store.”
To be clear, Gimple didn’t reveal that a specific desert-island Walking Dead scenario has been given a green light, or that any of the “agnostic stories” that his creative team are toying with will ever make it past the concept phase. But it’s clear that he’s approaching The Walking Dead’s budding shared-universe recipe by looking at the big picture, envisioning a lore-verse that abides by a specific set of rules — no matter the scale at which they’re deployed in the service of a good story.
While the younger-generation spinoff still hasn’t been given a name, it’s tentatively set to arrive sometime in the first half of next year. The release timeline for the Rick Grimes / Andrew Lincoln films is less clear, though it was revealed at this year’s San Diego Comic-Con that the first film would premiere only in theaters, via Universal Pictures, and not on the AMC network. In the meantime, we’ve still got plenty of Walking Dead stories to tide us over in the here and now: Season 10 of The Walking Dead debuts its second episode at 9 ET this Sunday (Oct. 13) on AMC.