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When The Walking Dead returns with its midseason premiere tonight, the survivors will be fighting for their lives in Alexandria, and how that fight goes will determine whether they can continue to call that community home. But there is another key location that will soon be making its debut on the zombie drama.
It has already been announced that comic-book characters Jesus (Tom Payne) and Gregory (Xander Berkeley) will be showing up soon, and they both come from a community known as the Hilltop that hopes to set up a system of trade with Alexandria. It is an arrangement in the comic that eventually leads to the introduction of big bad Negan (who will be played on the TV version by Jeffrey Dean Morgan).
We spoke to showrunner Scott M. Gimple to get his thoughts on the long-term prognosis for Alexandria as well as the introduction of these new characters and the Hilltop.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: So usually when a place gets overrun, our survivors flee. However Alexandria feels different and we know in the comic that it’s a place that is around for a long time. What makes this community potentially worth saving?
SCOTT M. GIMPLE: What’s good about Alexandria, and what makes Alexandria worth it is that it is a place where people seemingly have earned what they have. Maybe the people of Alexandria have earned it very recently, but it seems that those walls, those houses, the ability to have some power, clean water, to have food — there’s a great deal of utility to the place that’s just incredible. But it is a place that all of them — some of them very recently, but all of them — have earned, and I think those things together make it their home.
Let’s talk about the introduction of some new people, specifically Jesus, who is another hugely important character from the comic book in terms of what he brings and his connection to a new, larger world. Talk about bringing this character to the TV show.
It’s daunting, because something like that, you just want to do right by the comic book. So it’s always daunting from the writing level, from the casting level, from costumes level, from a hair level. I mean that’s the first challenge is being true to the comic book and then it’s integrating his story and in a lot of ways expanding his story to weave into the tapestry of the show.
What do you mean by expanding his story?
Well, Rick is handily the star of the book. But the show, as we have it, is a bit more ensemble, and you see that any of these character’s stories has been expanded from the source material, and a lot of time it’s just taking the direction of the source material and just keep on going in that direction for that character. But the story winds up divvied among the characters and through that they might have bigger arcs or we look a little deeper at them than we do in the book. Because the book is very much Rick’s and Carl’s, I would say.
And so what can you say about how Jesus is going to be introduced to our group?
I mean, you know me. I wouldn’t want to say much about that.
I know you all too well, Scott.
I want people to experience the story. But I think to viewers of the show, it’s very much in the spirit of how he was introduced in the comic. But, you know, little remixes here and there that hopefully will provide a little bit of surprise for comics readers. But it’ll be very familiar to them as well.
It’s been announced Xander Berkeley is playing Gregory, another guy from the Hilltop who is their leader in the comic. What can you say about Gregory?
He’s torn from the pages of the book. If anybody looks at a picture of Gregory and looks at a picture of Xander — when Xander has a beard, that is, because the man is a chameleon — it’s rather uncanny. And I, I love what Xander does with it, and the voice I was hearing in my head when I read those pages so long ago comes to life. Gregory is one of the more interesting and more complicated characters from the book, and I think Xander has a lot of fun with him.
So we have Jesus and we have Gregory, which means we must be getting to the Hilltop. How would you describe this community and the role it plays here in this larger world?
The Hilltop has had a completely different path than Alexandria or Rick’s group. It’s just a whole different experience of the Apocalypse and that has resulted in a very, very different place than Alexandria.
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And I assume that means exploring what happens when you have two communities connecting that have different people with different experiences.
That’s one of the giant things on the show is different experiences of the apocalypse and who they’ve been made into from those experiences. That’s everything, whether it’s going to be conflict or friendship. Whether it’s going to be violence or mercy. How far along people are into the apocalypse? It’s their experiences of the apocalypse completely that drives the relationship between strangers.