Looking toward its ninth season after a contentious Season 8 finale, AMC’s The Walking Dead promoted long-time showrunner, producer, writer, and TWD superfan Scott M. Gimple to Chief Content Officer. In 2017, Gimple saw backlash from long-time fans about a certain character death and what many fans viewed as a departure from the original graphic novel the series is based on. As it turns out, Gimple originally never wanted any sort of departure from the graphic novel — he wanted a direct adaptation. But, he now admits, straying from the original text was the right move in the end.
SYFY WIRE attended AMC Summit 2018, during which Gimple spoke to press as part of the From Book to Screen panel, which focused on the continuous challenges of turning a popular graphic novel into a hit television series. After eight seasons on air, there’s no shortage of stories about how the horde of creatives behind bringing The Walking Dead to, uh, life managed to do so. But as AMC’s show has been bumping up against the narrative of its still-ongoing source material — Robert Kirkman's graphic novel series of the same name — from the beginning, the show’s team has had to perform an impressive series of creative acrobatics since day one.
Gimple, who served as TWD’s showrunner and executive producer from Seasons 4 to 8 as well as a writer and producer for Seasons 2 and 3, is a well-documented fan of Kirkman’s work. But, as he said during the From Book to Screen panel, being an enthusiastic fan of the original canon led to some problems early on.
“Back when we started, Robert and I argued a lot... because I wanted to do the book just as the book and he actually wanted to do changes because he had already done it,” Gimple said with a laugh.
Gimple wanted to see his favorite scenes translated directly from page to screen, but, he says, the more he worked with Kirkman, the more he realized taking a literal approach would be a disservice to fans.
“We tried to put [fans] in a place where they don't know what's coming, which is what reading the book is like. It's a bit like an M. C. Escher thing… To do right by the moments you've seen, or rather read, sometimes you have to remix them because people like myself who are familiar with the work know its coming," he said. "So you're not gonna get that surprise, you're not gonna get that emotional twist.
“To do right by the book, to tell the book with absolute fidelity sometimes, you have to change it," Gimple added. "That said, you sort of like sneakily trying to get into the exact thing that Robert did. And to do that takes a little bit of misdirection.”
Gimple said he and the other creative minds behind The Walking Dead have worked hard to keep viewers on their toes while still eliciting the same feelings that Kirkman’s work gave readers. He likened their method to the “butterfly effect,” noting that small changes from the book (like adding the now fan-favorite Daryl Dixon) ripple outward and often make an enormous impact.
Plus, Gimple added, at the end of the day, he and his team are in television business. “Television is a different medium than comics, even from just a practical point of view. There are [main] characters [in the comics] that drift away for like 17 issues. And that's weird in television. That's something you can’t do… Sometimes [in] the book, there are long stretches where people don't have much to do or you don't see them. If there is a human being on your show, they need a beginning, middle, and end.”
You can find inspiration from the books but, in this case, the old adage proves true: If you love something, you have to let it go. Or, at the very least, tweak it a bit.