For those who have been following The Walking Dead over the last decade, this week’s announcement that AMC would be pulling the plug on the series after 11 seasons came as a shock to most of us. We have been hearing for years that there was no end in sight for The Walking Dead, that it could run for 12 years, 15 years, or 20 years. Six months into the pandemic, however, AMC pulled the plug on its flagship series. It may have come as a surprise, but it shouldn’t have, and it probably didn’t have much to do with the pandemic.
So, why did AMC decide to end the series? There are a number of reasons that probably factored in.
1. Robert Kirkman’s Source Material Dried Up — After once suggesting that the comic series could likely outlast the television series, Robert Kirkman abruptly ended The Walking Dead last year, which had more ramifications for the television series than AMC was willing to let on in 2019. Kirkman’s source material, however, has provided 80 to 90 percent or more of the storylines in the series, so far, and without Kirkman’s arcs, The Walking Dead wasn’t going to be the same (see, e.g., Fear the Walking Dead). There’s one major story arc remaining in the series — The Commonwealth — and I expect the television show will end there, as well. It feels right.
2. Build Hype for the Grimes Movie — Right now, with The Walking Dead expected to air 30 more episodes, ending in late 2022; the spin-off, The World Beyond expected to run two more seasons; and the Rick Grimes movie likely coming afterward, it feels like everything is pointing toward the Rick Grimes movie putting a cap on The Walking Dead and this “phase” of the TWD universe. Announcing an end now allows the creatives to work toward that end goal, and it also builds hype toward the finish. Dramas will often announce an end date a few years in advance (see Lost) to get everyone back on board as they head toward the finish line.
3. Cast Members Keep Leaving — For most of The Walking Dead‘s run, it was the writers killing off characters and sending actors packing. The last few years, however, it’s been the actors who have been making those decisions. That’s to be expected for any long-running series, particularly one that shoots outside in the middle of the summer in Georgia. The writers killed off Carl, but Andrew Lincoln and Danai Gurira left on their own, and Lauren Cohan tried to leave but got pulled back in after her action-drama Whiskey Cavalier was cancelled. Don’t forget that Sonequa Martin-Green (Sasha) also left for Star Trek, and that Christian Serratos (Rosita) is expected to leave for Netflix’s Selena TV series. It’s probably not that easy to write and plan for a show where cast members are constantly leaving, and I expect that others who have been around five, six, seven years might have otherwise wanted to leave soon, as well.
4. It’s Mostly About Money — As most things are, it’s mostly about the money. I’m sure that AMC was happy to fund the necessary budget to pay for a popular and ever-expanding cast when the series was getting 15-20 million viewers a week. The ratings have fallen precipitously in recent years, however, while cast, producer, and licensing fees have increased, as happens as a show gets older. Moreover, as THR points out, the streaming rights were sold to Netflix years ago, and that’s where the real money is these days, especially as ad rates have fallen on The Walking Dead.
The untitled Carol and Daryl spin-off would allow AMC to continue following TWD’s two most popular characters while reducing the budget significantly, resetting the storylines, and reselling both domestic and international streaming rights. I’m sure that TWD Carol and Daryl is less a spin-off and more of a pared down continuation, but it allows AMC to essentially continue the same show (with the same showrunner) at a fraction of the cost while earning more profits from streaming rights.
There is a gamble, of course. If AMC ends the Rick Grimes’ phase of TWD with the movie, there’s no guarantee that viewers will want to continue watching a spin-off. How many more variations of the Carol and Daryl characters can we churn through? Maybe after 12 years, 11 seasons, two spinoffs and a movie, viewers will have had their fill of The Walking Dead universe. I am guessing, however, that most of us will at least sample the spin-off, so it will be up to Angela Kang to keep us hooked. Based on two seasons of The Walking Dead, I trust that she can pull it off.