How The Walking Dead rekindled the 'magic' in The Ones Who Live

Ahead of Monday's anticipated finale, series co-creator Scott M Gimple explains how the hit spin-off came together and the real emotions and relationships underlying its power

Actors Andrew Lincoln and Danai Gurira have returned together after years of absence from the long-running series. Photo: AMC Film
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In 2015, when The Walking Dead was at the peak of its powers around the globe, showrunner Scott M Gimple had a heartbreaking realisation: “This show may run for ever, but it can’t run for ever with all of us.”

He looked around set on a hot August afternoon in the American south and saw the wonderful actors the production had brought together for a show that seems to be about zombies but is really about how desperation reveals a person's true self. Their years together had done that, too.

Near the craft table was the show’s biggest star, Andrew Lincoln. The English actor had grown into one of Gimple's closest friends. He plays Rick Grimes, the character introduced in the show’s opening scene and the story’s anchor.

Next to him was Danai Gurira, the Zimbabwean-American actor who joined at the end of season two as the fearless warrior Michonne Hawthorne and became an indelible part of what they had made together. “These are a couple people that I’m very lucky to have in my life,” Gimple tells The National, his voice breaking with emotion.

He did not know then how he would be able do it without them. But he knew the day would come when he would have to. The show’s shooting schedule was too demanding and their families needed them.

“We are lucky and cursed to have such wonderful people on this show,” adds Gimple. “It would be so much easier if they were all jerks, you know what I mean? I find that the strangest thing about what we’ve done. There’s a preponderance of wonderful people in this universe.

“It’s a blessing, but when you realise we have to say goodbye, it feels like a curse. I’m a very lucky man – I’m just that odd lucky person who occasionally has to kill people that they love.”

But Gimple could not simply kill off these two. That is when he started keeping a notebook, sketches of ideas about where the characters' lives might lead.

“I was breaking down so much of the mythology,” he adds. “It was all speculative. I thought, ‘maybe I’ll never use this, but I’m enjoying telling this little fan fiction story'. Then it became real. It turns out, those ingredients stayed pretty legit.”

Fast forward to 2024 and The Walking Dead is once again at the peak of its powers, thanks to what the seeds in that notebook have grown into. The new spin-off series, The Walking Dead: The Ones Who Live, is not only bringing in strong ratings, it is also being well received by fans and critics, with millions around the world anxiously awaiting the finale. In the Middle East, it streams on Monday on Starzplay.

The show has been praised for the work of both Gurira and Lincoln, who have returned, years after leaving, with new layers added to their characters and to the world they inhabit more broadly. Gimple could not be more proud of them.

When it comes to the spin-off's success, Gimple does not accept sole credit. “You can’t say this is my story,” he adds. “This is our story.”

Their story began during the pandemic. Overnight, the media landscape came to a crashing halt and suddenly he, Lincoln and Gurira were all available once again – stuck at home with minds free to wander. Soon, they started discussing ideas.

“It felt like the universe pushed us all together back into a room to figure out what we were doing,” Gimple explains. “I brought a tray of ingredients to the table, but soon we were all adding our own. We were caught in this wave of momentum between the three of us. I realised, suddenly, that I was playing in a band.

“We were taking Covid tests, isolating, and then finding our way into conference rooms ordering food on [production company] AMC's dime. We were laughing a lot. We were having fun, and we liked what we were coming up with. It was exciting in a way we weren’t expecting.”

As the show evolved, it remained a joint effort. “We stayed in conference rooms across the country for many months hammering it out and then, as more writers got involved, [Lincoln] and I were super involved. One of us was in the writer’s room at all times.”

The Walking Dead has long been focused on the horrors of life. Now, it is a love story. Rick Grimes and Michonne are separated, fighting to get back to each other in a changed world and new location.

Gimple believes it is effective because the emotions are born from a real place. From those original sets in Georgia as colleagues, to the messages and emails they sent each other over the years as friends, the relationship between Gimple, Lincoln and Gurira is something unlike anything Gimple has experienced before.

“It’s the magic between us,” Gimple says. The magic has returned.

The season finale of The Walking Dead: The Ones Who Live will be available on Starzplay Arabia on Monday

Updated: March 29, 2024, 6:02 PM