"Being a fan of it to start with, you want to do right by the moments that you've seen. But to do right by the moments you've seen, sometimes you have to remix them because people like myself who are familiar with the work know what's coming," Gimple said during AMC's 'From Book to Screen' panel Saturday (via INSIDER).
"So you're not going to get that surprise. You're not going to get that emotional twist. You're not going to get that build. So to do right by the book, to tell the book with absolute fidelity sometimes, you have to change it. That said, you're sort of like sneakily trying to get into the same exact thing that Robert did, and to do that it takes a little bit of misdirection."
Gimple, who boarded the series as a writer-producer in its second season in 2011, said he argued with Kirkman early on after the comic book creator encouraged deviations from his source material.
"Back when we started, Robert and I argued a lot because I wanted to do the book just as the book and he actually wanted to do changes because he had already done it," Gimple said.
"And, yeah, I wanted to see those moments that I saw in the book. And yet, as I worked more and more on it, because I was so familiar with those moments, I knew that making those little twists to give the reader, it's actually doing right by the people who read the book and know what's coming. You try to put them in a place where they don't know what's coming, which is what reading the book is like."
In straying from the comic book, Gimple said, reimagining the comics for television meant invoking the same kind of experience and feelings without a page-for-page translation.
"It's been a learning experience. It's been finding out how to drift away from the text to get back to the text or to elicit feelings just exactly like the text," Gimple explained.
"And then, there's just the butterfly effect. There's little changes in the book that just ripple bigger, and bigger, and bigger. Daryl's not from the book. There's also television. Television is a different medium than comics even just from a practical point of view. There are characters in the book, main characters, that drift away for like 17 issues. And that's weird in television."
One of the bigger changes from the book to screen was the survival and subsequent evolution of Carol (Melissa McBride), who in the comic book committed suicide by walker in issue #42.
"Taking that backstory that Robert had, but then playing it out, that was a big part of, as far as the transformation... the drift from comic to TV that even when I was just writer/producer was really a big focus of mine," said Gimple, who served as showrunner from seasons 4 through 8 before being elevated to chief content officer of the entire Walking Dead brand for AMC.
The producer didn't expand on the controversial decision to kill Carl Grimes midway through season 8 — arguably the biggest shift from the comics, where Carl Grimes is poised to one day step up as leader in the place of Rick Grimes — but said he personally feels a "responsibility" to do right by Kirkman's original work.
"I wouldn't be doing it unless this person sat down and did all this work that I enjoyed so much. It's, in some ways, from an emotional standpoint, it's easier because you have this amazing material," Gimple said.
"But there's also this benefit of feeling the pressure of doing right by the person who started it. Robert is someone I used to go see on panels I used to stand in line to see and then I can say he's become a friend."
In a March visit to live after show Talking Dead, Kirkman said he wasn't upset by Carl's television death but was instead "excited" by the possibilities such a major change brings to the show.
"I think that any time that path is not set, any time you can't look at a comic book series and go, 'oh, I know exactly what's going to happen,' it makes things a little bit more exciting," Kirkman said.4comments
"And dealing with those unknowns, when we're in the writers room, when we're working on season 9, all those changes that kind of snowball out from that, it just makes for a better show."
Day-to-day overseer duties have since passed from Gimple to longtime series producer-writer Angela Kang, who will serve as showrunner on The Walking Dead moving forward. The series returns with its ninth season this fall on AMC.