Spoilers for The Walking Dead will be found below.
For those who haven’t yet heard the news, Robert Kirkman abruptly ended his run of The Walking Dead comics this week, releasing the final issue, #193, and closing out his story after 16 years. The issue comes only one issue after Kirkman killed off his lead character, Rick Grimes, and Kirkman always said that Rick would die before the end of the comic run, he just didn’t say he’d die in the issue right before the end. Of course, Kirkman’s comic launched AMC’s The Walking Dead and now an entire universe of programming, including Fear the Walking Dead, a second spin-off, and forthcoming Rick Grimes movies.
The end of The Walking Dead comics does not mean the end of the television series, however. There’s still plenty of gas left in that tank, as the wider connected universe is only now coming together. I’ll give comic readers (including myself) more time to digest the final issue of the comics before discussing how it ended, but in the letter hacks of the issue, Robert Kirkman did reveal the original ending he originally had in mind for The Walking Dead. It is both clever and bleak, and while I appreciate the idea in theory, I’m glad he didn’t execute it.
Here’s what he wrote in a special letter in the final issue (via IGN):
“The big storyline NO WAY OUT ended with Rick proclaiming that Alexandria was a place worth fighting for, that they could no longer keep moving from place to place… they had to take a stand, lay down roots and start building from there. Their nomad days were behind them.
“Well, for years… that had been planned to be… the end. Rick would make his proclamation, and the speech would end with a big close-up on Rick’s face, you’d turn the page, and Rick’s face would be the same, only it was a statue… and you’d zoom out and see the full statue with some vines growing on the bottom of it… cracks forming… and you’d realize that it was quite OLD.
“We’d keep zooming out until we saw that the statue was in Alexandria, the same place where he gave the speech, but it was different. It was old and rundown, broken windows and missing doors. We would keep zooming out until a zombie walked by, then another… and we’d see that Rick had brought them to Alexandria, given this grand speech about rebuilding civilization and SUCCEEDED to the point that they built a statue to honor him… but in the end, the dead won, society crumbled again, this time seemingly for good… and that was it.”
I loved the bleakness of that idea for about 45 seconds, until I realized just how futile an ending it might have been. It would have completely rendered the entire run of The Walking Dead pointless. The message would have been: What was the point if not only everyone was going to die, but that the future of humanity was doomed from the beginning?
Of course, that ending also would have been more in line with the traditional Romero-like ending, where the world is either overrun with zombies or we all die in nuclear annihilation. Hopefully, the conclusion Kirkman goes with in the comics (and that may eventually be adapted on the television show) is at least slightly more uplifting and hopeful.