How ‘The Walking Dead’ Boss Built Rick Grimes and Michonne Spin-Off Alongside Its Stars

“The Ones Who Live” actors Andrew Lincoln and Danai Gurira tell TheWrap about calling the shots this time around as EPs

The Walking Dead: The Ones Who Live
Danai Gurira as Michonne  in 'The Walking Dead: The Ones Who Live' (AMC)

Years ago, “The Walking Dead” executive producer and chief content officer for the franchise Scott Gimple told star Danai Gurira that no one knew Michonne better than him. After Gurira portrayed the katana-wielding zombie slayer for nine seasons, that sentiment changed.

“Gimple was saying to me, ‘Well, no one knows her better than you,’” Gurira told TheWrap.

It’s a slight change and one that marks the difference between “The Walking Dead: The Ones Who Live” and its mothership. After years spent embodying these characters, Gurira and Andrew Lincoln are no longer just Michonne and Rick Grimes. They’re executive producers and creative partners on AMC’s latest “Walking Dead” spin-off, following a high-stakes romance tale between the two beloved characters.

“The Ones Who Live” takes place after the events of “The Walking Dead.” While everyone around her is convinced that Rick has died, Michonne embarks on a journey to find the man she loves and the father of her children. That search leads them both into the heart of the Civic Republic Military, as the star-crossed lovers attempt to reunite.

Gimple knew he wanted to craft a Rick and Michonne-centered story even “before they left” the flagship series.

“I could tell that Andy, his time was reaching an end in ‘Walking,’ ” Gimple told TheWrap. “But that doesn’t mean we have to stop telling stories with Rick Grimes. We could do it in a different way.”

As Gimple made the switch from showrunner of “The Walking Dead” to chief content officer, his first job was facilitating a worthy Rick Grimes and Michonne story with the help of the stars that brought them to life.

“I loved returning to the role, and I love working with Danai. That was always the attraction, to continue telling this love story of these two characters that are so similar and found each other in this crazy apocalypse,” Lincoln told TheWrap. “When we did have our first scene, everything made sense, the reasons for completing the story and reviving these characters.”

“It was awesome to work with Andy again and to be [Michonne] again. I’ve always felt like Michonne is more of a woman than I am,” Gurira told TheWrap. “I look at her like, ‘Oh, that’s how you do it.’ So it’s very interesting to step back into being her.”

“To get back with the sword and the dreadlocks … it felt really right,” she added.

The Walking Dead: The Ones Who Live
Andrew Lincoln as Rick Grimes – The Walking Dead: The Ones Who Live (Photo Credit: AMC)

Lincoln and Gurira are in a very different position than they were on “The Walking Dead.” Planning for “The Ones Who Live” started with Gimple, Lincoln and Gurira sketching out a comprehensive season arc before the writers room even opened.

“A lot of the ideas came from lots of different conference rooms in hotels across the world when we were able to meet,” Lincoln said. “It was very much a collaboration in all areas.”

Gurira wrote an episode for the six-episode drama — Episode 4’s “What We” — and both EPs were heavily involved in post-production.

“This is the first time I produced, and I was fascinated to use my brain in a different way,” Lincoln said, referring to the budgetary concerns he had to consider throughout the season.

“The Ones Who Live” is part of the most recent round of “Walking Dead” spin-offs. Save for 2020, there has been a new “Walking Dead” series every year for the past five years. The year 2019 brought with it the teen-focused “World Beyond.” The episodic anthology “Tales of the Walking Dead” premiered in 2021. The Manhattan-set “Dead City” launched in 2021 and followed Maggie (Lauren Cohan) and Negan (Jeffrey Dean Morgan). Most recently, 2023 brought with it the Norman Reedus series set in France, “Daryl Dixon.”

Looking ahead to the ever-expanding universe of “The Walking Dead,” Gimple emphasized that his priority has been combining classic characters with “experimental” stories. That means sending characters to France or framing a John Carpenter-esque zombie apocalypse in New York City.

“If you look at [“Daryl Dixon” and “Dead City”], they have that ‘Walking Dead’ DNA of those larger-than-life characters and that real emotion,” Gimple said. “It isn’t just zombie storytelling. The stories that you’re going to get are going to have these features that are consistent throughout all of the expressions of these stories, however different they are. We value that character and emotion above all.”

Gimples agreed with TheWrap that there was an operatic quality to this universe.

“We want people to feel deeply about these characters. That can be dangerous in a world where these characters die,” Gimple said, joking that some people are already mad at him over a character death in “The Ones Who Live.”

“I don’t want to bum anybody out, but it also heartens me that people care about the characters that much,” Gimple continued, highlighting the emotional weight of his zombie opera. “I do think that we have a lot of entertainment that shies away from that and is pretty pessimistic … to me that’s giving up on story. If you don’t have hope that is challenged or lost or regained, what’s the story?”

“The Walking Dead: The Ones Who Live” premieres on AMC and AMC+ Sunday at 9/8c p.m. New episodes premiere Sundays.

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