TWD Universe Boss on Bringing Back The Walking Dead's Dropped CDC Plot

A plot from the first season of The Walking Dead finds new life on The Walking Dead: World Beyond. A post-credits epilogue ending the spinoff's series finale revisits CDC virologist Dr. Edwin Jenner (Noah Emmerich), not seen since his death in the first season finale of The Walking Dead in 2010. When Rick Grimes (Andrew Lincoln) leads his group of zombie apocalypse survivors to Jenner's door at Atlanta's Center for Disease Control in "TS-19," Jenner whispers a secret: "It's in your blood," he reveals of the zombie virus that reanimates its hosts upon death. "We're all carriers." Put simply: you die, you turn.

Rick won't reveal the secret to his group until the final episode of Season 2, by which point the CDC is in the rearview mirror as the survivors take refuge on the Greene family farm. Following the departure of series developer and original showrunner Frank Darabont, The Walking Dead had little room for scientific explanations behind the undead: it was about the survivors, unconcerned with causes or cures, fighting the dead and fearing the living. 

"If I had to do it again, I wouldn't have done the CDC episode," The Walking Dead creator and series executive producer Robert Kirkman told The Hollywood Reporter in 2014. "It possibly gave away too much information and was such a big change very early on in the series."

"I feel like there might have been a better way to wrap up the first season," Kirkman said at the time. "It ended up being a fun episode. I love the character of Dr. Jenner and thought Noah did an amazing job. But there were things in that episode that I think seem very much not of The Walking Dead world." 

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(Photo: AMC Studios)

Of particular issue was a line about the French, who Jenner says were the last ones to hold out as they thought they were "close to a solution." The revelatory episode explaining some of the how behind reanimation is original material not from Kirkman's comic book, where Rick's group eventually figures out they're all infected when someone turns without a walker's bite. 

"I probably would have changed that stuff. I've been careful in the comic series to not say what's happening in other parts of the world. It's something that's going to be fun to explore in the spinoff series," Kirkman said at the time, referring to Fear the Walking Dead. "But the fact that France is mentioned in that episode and other things like that, I probably would have steered away from that stuff if I had to do it all over again."

The setup wouldn't pay off until the third series, spinoff The Walking Dead: World Beyond, where the Civic Republic Military procures surviving scientific minds to research reanimation — and potentially prevent it all together under Project Votus

In the coda that ends World Beyond, a French doctor (Carey Van Driest) downloads decade-old transmissions from Jenner about America's response to the global outbreak. As the video plays inside the French biomedicine lab marked with graffiti — Les morts sont nes icl, "The dead are born here" — Jenner references "variant cohorts" studied by French scientists. 

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(Photo: AMC Studios)

A man with a gun (Oryan Landa) hunts the doctors of the Primrose and Violet teams, seemingly somehow complicit in the origins of the widespread infection. "You started this," he says in French. "All the teams. Then you made it worse."

The man shoots and kills the doctor, who quickly reanimates as a walker that seems stronger, faster, and angrier than any zombie overseas. Franchise chief content officer and World Beyond co-creator Scott Gimple will only tease the scene is the beginning of a ''big story" in The Walking Dead Universe. 

"We know what it is. I don't want to reveal it to the audience," Gimple told Decider about this new walker variant. "I want the audience to have fun with it, but I will say one thing definitively, [the French walker] is not super strong. But things might be different in different corners of the world, that's for sure."

Former showrunner Gimple, who joined The Walking Dead as a writing-producer in Season 2, was not involved with Darabont's CDC storyline now resurfacing ten years later. The coda connects to both the past and the future of the Walking Dead Universe, which continues with a series of theatrical films set in a different corner of the zombie apocalypse

"The thing that means so much to me about season one is, I was a fan. I was watching live every Sunday ... And then later, in my Walking Dead life, I hear people maybe taking shots at [the CDC episodes]," Gimple told Decider. "And I was not one of those people. I had a great time those Sunday nights. And there are some moments in the CDC that I love and I remember so… To work with Noah Emmerich, who I was just straight up a fan of, and we had set it up that it was this recreation of a thing that I had watched on TV and love, it was crazy, it was heavy. It was also extremely COVID-friendly." 

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