AMC’s Scott Gimple tries, and fails, to defend Season 5 of ‘Fear The Walking Dead.’
Fear The Walking Dead doesn’t return for its sixth season until much later this year, but there’s already a bit of a marketing campaign underway.
First we have this tease of a long lost character making their return in the next season. And we have a sprawling interview with AMC’s Scott Gimple, which goes into all sorts of territory but also touches on Fear’s fifth season and the backlash it received from fans and critics alike. Turns out fans and critics can be on the same page from time to time, and Fear united the clans. That says something.
In any case, in the interview with Entertainment Weekly, Gimple did his level best to defend the season without actually saying much of anything at all. He had no real arguments as to why it worked or what was good about Season 5, possibly because he freely admits he doesn’t read any of the criticism of the show. And while I get why he might avoid that—I can see how it would be disheartening after years of fan backlash to both The Walking Dead and now Fear—I’m still disappointed. Being open and receptive to criticism is one of the best ways to improve, whether you’re talking about a TV show or life in general. Burying your head in the sand? Not a great strategy.
So what did Gimple have to say in defense of the travesty that was Season 5? Let’s take a look.
On What Didn’t Work In Season 5
Everything’s fine, nothing to see here folks. All part of the plan!
When Gimple was asked if there was anything that he felt didn’t work about Season 5, he didn’t offer up any regrets about, say, the jarring, convoluted plot. He latched on to the interviewer’s final portion of the question, which turned the whole thing into one hell of a softball. The interviewer asks: “Is there anything you feel didn’t work as well as you had hoped, or was this just part of this plan and this is a stretch of this plan that you need to go through to get to somewhere else?”
To which Gimple replies:
“Right there. You just said it. We’ve been lucky enough on that show to be able to do these long-range plans. Season 5 was about setting up this journey that these characters are on through there to season 6, and I think people are going to see the relationship between those two seasons. I think even getting to the very end of season 5, the last few moments, really informing that whole season about reaching for benevolence and reaching for sweetness and art and just life and how in the circumstances they’re in, it didn’t work, and how we leave a person that put that forward isolated, alone, bleeding in a dead town.”
So the entire justification for Season 5 was just . . . that the entire thing was a setup for Season 6? That’s a terrible excuse and one that makes literally no sense. Of course Season 5 should inform where the show goes in Season 6. That’s just the most basic piece of a serialized TV drama. But it has to exist on its own merits as well.
Instead we had half a season of our heroes trying to find a plane so they could fly back to their home base, and then half a season of them floundering around with Alicia painting trees and the established season villain being killed off out of the blue by a brand new set of bad guys, and then they all just gave up in the end with a whimper. The entire cast spent the entire season trying to “make up” for their past wrongs, each one of them echoing Morgan’s do-gooder ethos to the point where the whole group basically became a cult. That was the basic narrative of the entire season. We help people! We will help you whether or not you want us to because we need to make up for some imaginary sins!
That’s a very brief summation but it should illustrate just how ludicrous the whole thing was. And now we’re told it was all just to set up the next season? So really, we could have just skipped it entirely?
On Fans Appreciating Season 5 In Retrospect
Yippee Kayak Other Buckets
Gimple wonders if people will view Season 5 differently once they’ve watched Season 6:
“I’m curious how people will watch that season in the future. Season 2 [of The Walking Dead], when we did it, we were assailed in a lot of ways. “Why are they on the farm? Why are doing this? Why are they doing that?” I think in subsequent years, people watching that season had different takes. This season 5 as a piece setting up season 6 into a truly serialized entertainment, I think people might see the relationship and the journey, why the journey went the way it did. I was so happy with the way that everybody did. I think it really did come together in the end in this really tragic way that we couldn’t have gotten to without the journey that we had been on.”
I think people will still look at Season 5 and think “That was some truly godawful, utterly pointless television that ruined a lot of our favorite characters.”
And I’m sorry—what “tragic way” are we referring to here? The way Morgan (probably) died at the end? We were all so sick of Morgan by this point that his death is a bloody victory as far as I’m concerned. It’s cause for celebration. The only thing better than Morgan getting killed would be the return of Dave Erickson, Kim Dickens and Frank Dillane.
“It is interesting,” Gimple adds when the interviewer brings up “the doors opening” in Season 2 of The Walking Dead, “it’s a challenge that I think people will continue to have because the story might not go the way the audience wants it in the short term, but it’s all towards telling this grander story for them in the long term. I hope that anybody who had an issue with it can see this upcoming season and see how that led to this, because it was always the plan, to tell a story of some serious contrasts.”
I’m sorry but you don’t make your audience wait for 16 episodes (32 if you count the mostly dreadful-but-still-not-as-dreadful Season 4) for something interesting to happen. There was no barn doors opening moment in Season 5 of Fear. There was nothing even remotely close to the conflict between Shane and Rick that season. And let’s face it, Season 2 of The Walking Dead is a mixed bag. It has some great moments and it has Andrea and Lori being awful human beings that are almost intolerable to watch.
More to the point, can we really accept all of this at face value? Was there really some master plan all along that ties everything in Season 5 to what happens next in Season 6? If so, then why spend an entire half-season on the plane/nuclear power plant plot? Why introduce a villain like Logan only to suddenly kill him off? If this all has to do with the cowboy bad guys, why not introduce them sooner and start building toward that story from the outset?
From where I’m sitting, it looks an awful lot like they have no idea where they’re going or what they’re doing. I mean, they spent two entire episodes making Public Service Announcements to spread the word about how they want to help people. Two. Entire. Episodes.
On Critical Feedback
Hear no evil, see no evil, speak no evil.
When asked if he pays attention to critical feedback, Gimple said he does not.
“It’s a tricky thing because, again, as long as somebody is coming at their opinion having watched the show, and as long as they have an open mind to start with, anybody’s opinion is valid. One of the reasons I don’t read them is because it’s endless. It’s not, ‘Okay, I’m going to read this person, this person, but I’m not going to read the other 15 articles, and these people have the mic.’ It’s not quite fair, nor do I think it’s storytelling with integrity to just seek out what peoples criticisms are and address those criticisms without looking at the whole of the audience. And does online criticism represent the entirety of the audience? It is the same sort of demographics that are issuing those criticisms that are watching TV, just as far as their interests or their history with the show or any of those things.”
It’s really, truly a shame that Gimple doesn’t take criticism of this show seriously. If he’d listened to critical feedback of The Walking Dead in Season 7, maybe that show could have been salvaged in Season 8 instead of Season 9 when Angela Kang took over and it was largely already too late. (Fan enthusiasm for The Walking Dead fell off a cliff in Season 8 and has never recovered).
“I mean would we have told [episodes 905 and 906 of TWD] the way that we did if we were just full of worries,” he added, “if we were just trying to make sure that we weren’t taking a risk and ensuring that everybody in every sort of quarter would be happy with it, with the outcome, with Rick (Andrew Lincoln) going? Which was happening either way, by the way.”
I’m not sure what the point of this is. Does reading criticism of your show mean you can no longer take risks? Does it mean that you’ll read that criticism and think, “Oh now we must do exactly what the fans/critics want!” Of course not. But it can clue you in to things that aren’t working.
Interestingly, both showrunners on Game of Thrones, David Benioff and D.B. Weiss, also admitted to never reading fan feedback or critical reviews. Look how that turned out for them.
Maybe I’m a little biased here—I am a professional critic, after all—but this seems like a huge error in judgment. It’s also very much in keeping with the way AMC handles both these shows. The astonishingly bad decisions, lack of quality control, lack of any sort of script coherency—it can all be traced back to a general kind of arrogance. They believe that what they’re doing is great, artful, compelling, and they won’t let anyone—fans or critics or ratings—tell them otherwise.
On Taking Risks / Changing Course
Having characters who have no idea how to fly a hot air balloon fly a giant beer balloon to save the … [+]
I’ll include this next bit just so you can understand how words do not necessarily equate to meaning. Gimple talks a lot without saying anything when asked how he decides when to pivot creatively.
“I truly believe that it is our job as storytellers to take risks, to do the unexpected and not just to shock people. I want to take stories in different directions than that have gone before. In taking those risks, the only thing you’re risking is the audience’s interests or their opinion of you. There’s a lot of people out there who don’t want to do that, who just want to go down the center path and ensure that there’s nothing for the audience to be upset with them about. If you’re truly serving the audience, if you truly care about the audience, if you’re trying to give them something different, you have to take risks.
“I know it can be hard, and I know that people can be upset and you don’t want to upset people, you don’t want to make people sad in perpetuity, but you also don’t want to just give them a story where you didn’t try your best to do something special, unusual, something that they might remember the rest of their lives. If we’re not taking risks, we’re not serving the audience, we’re just serving ourselves. We’re just serving, making sure that no one’s upset with us. To really serve the audience, you got to put your neck out there. I’m very proud of these showrunners who have been taking incredible risks, and I’ve been standing right beside them every step of the way with it and sometimes pushing those risks forward very, very much myself.”
Help me out here, folks. What risks is Gimple referring to here? He doesn’t list any. He just says that pleasing the audience isn’t what he wants to do. That he won’t take the center path like other shows (which other shows?) and says the word “risk” a bunch. What is risky about Fear? What is unique or unusual? Please help me understand how any of this applies to this show? I guess it was risky to kill off the two main leads, completely overhaul the tone and direction of the show, and put two new showrunners in place.
But here’s the thing about risk: It isn’t safe. That’s the whole point. Simply taking risks doesn’t mean a thing if those risks don’t pay off. Hey, it’s risky to do all sorts of things. Crack cocaine is risky! Unprotected sex with strangers is risky! Jumping out of a plane without a parachute is risky! Risk is only one ingredient and like salt, it can make a pretty bad meal if that’s all you’ve got.
Besides, there really is nothing risky about making all your characters bland and boring and placing them in the most contrived possible situations imaginable. The only risk there is turning off your audience, which they seem to achieved with gusto.
More to the point, we don’t write stories just to take risks or to pretend we’re being more unique or brave than other shows. We write stories because of the characters. We’re supposed to find out what becomes of them, what sort of struggles they endure and choices they make. Tell a story about real people and even in the zombie apocalypse, if you’re true to your characters, it will resonate with audiences. Fear The Walking Dead hasn’t done that in two seasons. Every character on this show is a slave to the plot.
There’s more in the full interview (which is part of a larger interview covering more topics than just Fear) which you can read right here. For my part, it sounds like Gimple either has no clue why Fear has gotten so bad, is in total denial over the quality concerns, or is just trying to do his best to put lipstick on the proverbial pig. Maybe a bit of all three.