When Scott Gimple took over for Glen Mazzara as Walking Dead showrunner prior to season four, it was clear what the show was getting. Based on Gimple’s output writing for the series, he was the “intimate character moments” guy. Gimple penned six episodes before taking over as showrunner and almost all of them featured a pared-down cast of characters so the show could hone in on smaller, quieter moments.
Gimple wrote season two’s “Save the Last One” in which Shane and Otis went on a suicide mission to get supplies, “18 Miles Out” in which Shane and Rick went on a suicide mission to get supplies, and season three’s “Clear” in which Rick, Michonne, and Carl went on a suicide mission to get supplies.
Man, people have to go retrieve supplies a lot on this show.
Regardless, each of those three episodes (and to some extent the other three episodes Gimple wrote) featured a renewed focus on characters. “18 Miles Out” remains a series highlight and was maybe the last time in Walking Dead history when two characters talked about their postapocalyptic philosophies and it wasn’t boring. “Clear” was the classic return of Morgan and showed the cost of surviving alone in this brutal landscape as well as any episode of the show has before or since.
So it stood to reason that when Gimple took over, we would get slower-paced, introspective episodes. That we did almost immediately. The back half of season four split all the characters up so that nearly every episode was “18 Miles Out” or “Clear.” Four years later, we’re in season eight and that introspective character schtick that seemed exciting at first has gone beyond stale.
AMC has opted to make some big changes to the show for season nine, however. Gimple has ascended to de facto emperor of The Walking Dead extended universe, becoming the Chief Content Officer of The Walking Dead to oversee both TWD shows as well as any other zombie content AMC has in the offing.
Gimple’s promotion has also opened the door to get some fresh blood into the series for the first time since season four. Writer Angela Kang will be taking over as showrunner for Gimple. Kang has been with the show since season two and before that her only major writing credit was the short-lived and superb Terriers on FX.
When Gimple took over, he had a clear style and it was easy to see what the new direction of the show would be. Does Kang have a similar identifiable style? In short: no.
Here is the list of all 23 episodes that Kang has written since her debut in season two of The Walking Dead:
Dale confronts Hershel after Glenn tells him about the walkers in the barn. Meanwhile, Lori struggles to come to terms with her pregnancy, and Shane tries to teach Andrea how to use weapons.
Judge, Jury, Executioner (2×11)
Dale fears the group is losing its humanity as Rick and the others vote to execute Randall.
Say the Word (3×05)
Rick struggles to cope. Andrea and Michonne part ways. Daryl and Maggie head out to find food and clothes for the baby.
I Ain’t a Judas (3×11)
As Rick and the group debate their next course of action, Andrea tries to negotiate with them. Meanwhile, The Governor prepares Woodbury for battle.
Rick is forced to abandon his quiet lifestyle when a mysterious virus puts the lives of everyone at the prison at risk.
Daryl and Beth seek refuge in the woods, where conflict emerges between the pair.
Rick, Carl and Michonne cross paths with the Claimers once again on the way to Terminus, as the so-called sanctuary begins to reveal its true face.
Four Walls and a Roof (5×03)
With Bob’s life hanging in the balance, the group prepares to fight back against Gareth and his group of cannibals.
Rick and the group go face-to-face against Dawn and her officers in an attempt to save both Beth and Carol without any more bloodshed.
While out recruiting, Daryl and Aaron find troubling signs of human activity. Back at Alexandria, Carl bonds with Enid, and the tension between Rick and Pete comes to a head.
Thank You (6×03)
With half of the herd out of control, Glenn and Michonne lead Nicholas and their group back to Alexandria, as Rick crosses paths with the surviving members of the Wolves.
The Next World (6×10)
Weeks after the walker invasion, Rick and Daryl cross paths with Jesus, a mysterious man with many secrets. Meanwhile, Michonne helps Spencer find closure, as Carl recovers from his injury.
The Same Boat (6×13)
Carol and Maggie must fight for their lives after being taken by a group of Saviors.
The Cell (7×03)
Daryl is taken by Negan to the Sanctuary, home of the Saviors. Meanwhile, Dwight is sent on a mission to bring back a runaway member of his group.
Sing Me a Song (7×07)
As Eugene and Rosita head to the bullet factory, Rick and Aaron search for supplies for Negan. Meanwhile, Carl and Jesus find themselves on their way to the Sanctuary.
Rock in the Road (7×09)
Jesus leads Rick and the group to the Kingdom, to convince King Ezekiel in joining Alexandria and the Hilltop in the incoming fight against Negan.
The Other Side (7×14)
The Saviors visit the Hilltop unexpectedly, surprising everyone, with plans of taking more than supplies.
The First Day of the Rest of Your Life (7×16)
The stakes continue to grow higher as paths cross; The group enacts an intricate plan as the Saviors arrive in Alexandria.
The Big Scary U (8×05)
A close look at Negan and the lives of the Saviors during the conflict through a familiar set of eyes.
The King, the Widow and Rick (8×06)
With things looking up for Rick and the group, an argument breaks out at the Hilltop, where the consequences of the decision are life versus death.
How It’s Gotta Be (8×08)
Every story and battle comes crashing together as everything Rick and his group have done will be put to the test.
The Lost and the Plunderers (8×10)
Groups unite their forces and converge on the Hilltop; Aaron and Enid search for allies; Simon takes matters into his own hands.
Do Not Send Us Astray (8×13)
Trouble arises when unexpected visitors arrive at the Hilltop and the community is thrust into action; heartbreaking discoveries are made.
The communities join forces in the last stand against the Saviors as all-out war unfolds.
So what can we learn from all this? Well, for one thing, we can take away that Gimple was very hands-on in crafting his vision for the direction for the show. That’s undoubtedly a good quality for a showrunner to have, but in The Walking Dead’s case, it seems to have created a more consistent and singular view of the show than is probably healthy for a drama entering its ninth season and in need of some new life.
Kang’s contributions from season four’s “Infected” onwards seem to fall in line more with Gimple’s plan for the series than her own individual voice. Too many episodes fall into the same comfortable archetype of “time-killing” while trying to inch forward the personalities of the characters bit by bit.
That’s disappointing and suggests there will be more of the same in The Walking Dead’s future, but what if Kang is determined to bring her own artistic voice to the proceedings and take the show in a new direction? There are some subtle signs that she could be capable of doing so.
For one, Kang has already articulated what kind of stories she’s interested in an interview with EW.
“We’re interested in human drama and the emotional bonds between people,” she said. “And we know from the end of the previous season that maybe not everybody was on board with the decision to save Negan. So we’ll be exploring some of those stories as we go forward.”
That works! Kang also told EW that we’ll see many characters, particularly women, step into leadership roles now that the new world is here. In terms of The Walking Dead, especially as Andrew Lincoln and Lauren Cohan prepare to leave the show, the future may very well belong to women.
“We’re going to see our women really step up,” Kang said. “And we’re gonna show a lot of stories about leadership with Maggie, with Michonne, with Carol. And they’re gonna go toe to toe with each other and with our men.”
Looking specifically at the episodes Angela’s already penned, there is another encouraging aspect that the handful of the best seem to feature: chaos.
This is undoubtedly partially a byproduct of Kang clearly being a trusted writer on staff and being given juicier episodes to pen, like season finales (“The First Day of the Rest of Your Life” and “A”), midseason finales (“How It’s Gotta Be” and “Coda”), and midseason premieres (“Rock in the Road.”)
Despite the fact that Walking Dead‘s “big” episodes are usually chaotic, Kang deserves credit for making those episodes feel particularly chaotic. Not only that, but she appears to be entrusted with some “randomly” chaotic and action-packed episodes of The Walking Dead throughout her time on the show.
Season six’s “Thank You” is often fairly derided for being the episode that fake-killed Glenn. That was a curious and borderline infuriating creative decision, but don’t let the end detract from the meaty, exciting episode around it. The sense of despair overseeing a teeming horde of the walking dead has rarely been more palpable than it’s been in “Thank You.”
Season five’s “Four Walls and a Roof” features a satisfyingly controlled level of chaos, as Rick’s group lays a trap for the Terminites under Gabriel’s church’s roof in order to slaughter them. It was particularly exciting that a major group of villains was dispatched unexpectedly so early in the season, and Kang did not disappoint with the suddenness and brutality of it.
Kang even penned one of the more tolerable episodes of season eight. “The Big Scary U” does the old Gimple trick of isolating two characters so that they can hash out their ideological differences. This time, Kang was somehow able to make that formula fresh again. The Negan of “The Big Scary U” is one of the very few logical and satisfying depictions of the big man in the show’s run so far, and it’s perhaps the first time we’re able to see how he could have built an empire on charisma alone.
And in each of those three episodes, Kang excels in juggling the various chaotic elements of the environment around the characters. Zombies are not characters or villains in this show. They’re the setting. And this handful of Kang-written episodes mostly uses this flesh-eating background in satisfying ways.
Granted, it’s hard to say exactly what to expect from the show under new stewardship. Gimple may have reached such a position of power within the AMC Walking Dead universe that nothing will change. Or maybe the show is just a big enough cultural beast that it’s impervious to change, lest it affects AMC’s bottom dollar.
At the end of the day, however, if you’re looking for signs that Kang can turn the show around, you should be able to find them – few as they may be.