Gimple’s style is fairly obvious for any of us who have followed any of season 2 and 3. His episodes actually stand out for motifs and structural reasons. Here’s a rundown of some of Gimple’s style:, from season 2-3 when he was just a writer:
1. Character development – the characters grow or more is revealed about them through their conflicts, decisions, and how they react to adversity. Shane’s character really evolves during “Save the Last One” as he makes the decision regarding Otis. Rick takes a hard line in 18 Miles Out, yet loses his sanity in Hounded. “Sorrowful Life” and “Clear” of course also reveal a lot about the evolution of Merle and Morgan.
2. Dialogue – He writes some of the best dialogue I have heard on the show. Clear, This Sorrowful Life, and 18 Miles Out have outstanding lines and dialogue, and one of my favorite scenes is from Save the Last One, with Daryl talking to Andrea in the woods while searching for Sophia.
3. Irony – Gimple uses it to his advantage very well. The title of “Save the Last One” refers to saving the last bullet in your gun for suicide in the case of a zombie attack (see “The Road” for a similar motif); however, ironically, Shane uses that last bullet is used on Otis, not himself. The irony in Clear is that the very woman Morgan doesn’t want to put down, his wife, becomes responsible for his son’s death. In Pretty Much Dead Already, the irony that the person they were looking for was right under their nose the entire time is blatantly obvious.
4. Suspense building (aka “the great reveal”) – Gimple’s stories usually have a “great reveal,” if not at the end of the story, then at a key point. Zombie Merle, Sophia in the barn, Otis’ shooting, the story of Dwayne’s fate, the revelation of Rick’s phone calls, etc, are great examples of how Gimple builds the suspense by not revealing everything all at once, and then the audience is surprised when the full truth is shown.
5. Zombies in the background – With the exception of “Save the Last One” the main threat isn’t Walkers, it’s man, his need for survival, his desires, his emotions, etc. But even in STLO, the threat of the Walkers becomes Shane’s shield that saves him, as he uses Otis as bait. I’m always amazed at how in the zombie masacre in the barn the audience actually feels some sympathy for the Walkers as they are picked off one by one after being kept and feed in the barn. They aren’t the main threat – mankind is.
6. Relationships – Characters build relationships in Gimple’s episodes, for good or for bad. Rick and Shane (18 Miles Out redefines their relationship), Merle and Michonne (TSL), Daryl and Andrea (STLO) etc.
7. Parellelism – I’ve written entire threads on the parellelism used in season 3, which I think is a brilliant literary tool for comparing choices and paths, and showing the different ways characters handle things. Gimple especially “throws back” to past episodes, bringing a sense of nostalgia if nothing else. Andrea’s “safety” line and Merle’s “Officer Friendly” are just two examples of parellelism Gimple used, reminding us of past episodes that he didn’t even write. It helps remind the viewer of how far the character has come, or how far s/he has fallen.
8. Theme development – it appears that Gimple is able to develop the theme more deeply in his episodes than in the entire season. Leadership, sacrafice, survival, family/community, what is death, insanity, etc are just some of the themes he has developed in his writing.
9. Varied story structure – Gimple has used nonlinear story structure (starting and ending an episode with a sequence, ie Shane shaving his head in STLO), bookending, and flashbacks in his writings.
10. Others (literary techniques) – symbolism, imagery, and a command of pacing are used in all his episodes.
So, Gimple’s challenge has been to extend his style as a writer for an episode at a time into an entire season.
Although it may be hard to evaluate the effectiveness of Gimple’s style in season 4 quite yet (we need to wait until the season has ended) we can certainly analyze certain parts of it.
His story structure in season 4
Gimple has used a variety of techniques to structure the pacing and subplots of season 4. In 4a, we see a “slow” start as we witness an idealistic life in Home Prison. Rick is a farmer, Daryl is a legend, Tyreese is a lover, Carol is a teacher (of sorts), Maggie and Glenn are making a home, crops are growing, life is good. Then come the “I” episodes. All the episodes that being with the letter “I” deal with the sickness in the prison and the deaths of Karen and David. In essence, those 4 are “bottle” episodes that deal with the question of mercy and compassion. Hershall puts in own life in line to “ease their suffering” by extending their lives “as long as they can.” He covers their faces as he puts them down. He cries and prays for them. He wants them to die with dignity and make them as comfortable as he can. Carol, in contrast, killed the first two who were sick. Her reasoning: they were a threat, and they were gonna die anyway. Their bodies aren’t nicely covered and put down, they are burned and left smoldering. To Carol, she was being merciful. “They were suffering,” she tells Rick. So who was more compassionate? Some would say Hershall was a fool who was putting everyone at risk by allowing it all to continue and not just make the rounds, but some would say he was more compassionate in trying to extend their lives than the person who puts them down. But who ended the suffering? It’s quite a question.
After the I episodes we get the “Gimple reveal” and slow the action down for a Gimple flashback in not one but two Governor episodes. The episodes show a man who attempts to “come back” from the things he’s done. Like Rick, he’s trying to recapture the past, but we are left wondering if he’s just a sociopath who’s trying to fight his homocidal ways, his lust for control and manipulation and need for revenge. In killing Hershall, the symbol of mercy, compassion, and morality, he kills the soul of the prison group. In many ways, he kills the last shred of mercy, compassion and morality in himself as well. Hershall was starting to touch that part of him, so the Governor had to cut the head off of it.
With their soul gone, the prison group scatters. Now we need to deal with grief and loss, and it is here Gimple’s use of bottle episodes take center stage. Each of the single word titled episodes (Alone, Inmates, Claimed, Still, Alone and soon (The) Grove) shine the light on a group, at times just a single group, or only two. Sure, we could see them on the road and bounce back and forth between them, but instead Gimple chose to dedicate episodes that allowed their grief to play out over the course of that episode. We haven’t had much grief in TWD. Characters are killed and with the exception of Lori their deaths have no impact. Even Sophia is only mentioned a handful of times, and most of those times have been this season. Gimple takes time out to explore their grief, and how they handle their losses. Daryl shut down and regressed, as did Michonne, but she came out of it on her own and realized the value in companionship without the help of a blonde teenager. Beth used a sort of teenage rebellion to channel her grief; Maggie and Glenn, not surprisingly, used hope and determination. Sasha dwelt in fear, while Bob had no real losses and grief because he was newcomer to the group and hadn’t lost much. If anything, he gained two companions (hot ones, I might add). Carl expressed anger and resentment. Rick, well, he’s still stuck.
The Grove looks to be the pinacle episode and the last of the bottle ones, ending on a bang, we assume. After that, we get to “Us” which leads us to believe after their journey of grief and sorrow, they will start to reunite and come into hope. I don’t know what “A” will bring us, but it does seem to come down to a journey of emotions all ending in one place, a reunion in Terminus.
Whether or not the place is good or bad, Terminus is “us” at the end…….right?
OK, I spent a great deal of time dealing with Gimple’s story structure, so maybe next time I’ll use another one of his stylistic techniques.
Tune in for your next lesson!