‘The Walking Dead’ surprisingly ended its 16-year comic run and the creator says it was planned for years

Robert Kirkman bid farewell to Rick in June's issue of

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Robert Kirkman bid farewell to Rick in June’s issue of “The Walking Dead.”
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Image Comics/Skybound

  • Warning: There are spoilers below about “The Walking Dead” comics and issue No. 193 below.
  • July’s issue of “The Walking Dead” from Skybound and Image Comics is out in stores Wednesday.
  • The 72-page issue has two big surprises. After the death of the comic’s protagonist, Rick Grimes, the story jumps forward 25 years with his son leading the story.
  • The second shock comes at the issue’s very end when creator Robert Kirkman abruptly ends “TWD” comic after 16 years. July’s issue serves as an epilogue to Rick’s death, showing the legacy he built and left behind for his friends and family.
  • In a six-page letter to fans after the issue, Kirkman lays out how he’s had the comic’s end laid out for four years and kept it a secret. He said he once considered ending the comic much earlier, before the arrival of popular villain, Negan.
  • “I hope it makes you happy,” Kirkman wrote to fans. “Even if you’re upset at not getting to spend time in this world anymore.”
  • Visit INSIDER’s homepage for more stories.

It’s all over, #TWDFamily.

“The Walking Dead” surprised fans Wednesday with an abrupt ending to Robert Kirkman’s long-running series.

July’s conclusion to “TWD,” No. 193, comes one month after the unexpected death of the comic’s protagonist, Rick Grimes. The monthly comic started in 2003.

The epilogue jumps forward in time 25 years after Grimes’ death where readers meet Rick’s fully grown son, Carl. As the story unfurls, you learn the dead are no longer a real threat. In fact, spotting a walker is so rare these days that the few who remain are part of a carnival act.

The comic slowly reveals who made it, who moved on, and how the survivors – ranging from Maggie to Michonne – grew and changed for both better and worse. Rick has been forever immortalized as a giant statue, a reminder of how far they’ve come. As Carl recounts a bedtime story to his daughter of Rick and how the world became safe again, the comic comes to a close on a happy note.

A grown Carl Grimes closes out

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A grown Carl Grimes closes out “The Walking Dead.”
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Image Comics/Skybound

“This is the end of “The Walking Dead,'” Kirkman wrote in a lengthy six-page letter at the comic’s end.

“I’m sure you have a million questions… and I’m sure you feel as emotional about all this as we do… if not more so. I’m completely willing to bet some of you are angry over this,” he added.

Kirkman said they didn’t make an announcement about the end of the comics because he hates the feeling of knowing when a TV series or movie is winding down. He even cited and praised one of “TWD’s” biggest cable competitors.

“Some of the best episodes of ‘Game of Thrones’ are when they’re structured in such a way and paced to perfection so your brain can’t tell if it’s been watching for 15 minutes or 50 minutes… and when the end comes… you’re stunned,” Kirkman wrote.

Read more: ‘The Walking Dead’s’ Austin Amelio kept it a secret for a year that he was going to ‘Fear the Walking Dead’

“‘The Walking Dead’ has always been built on surprise,” Kirkman wrote of ending to the comic series. “Not knowing what’s going to happen when you turn the page, who’s going to die, how they’re going to die… it’s been essential to the success of this series.”

“It just felt wrong and against the very nature of this series not to make the actual end as surprising as all the big deaths… from Shane all the way to Rick,” said Kirkman.

In his letter to fans, Kirkman said he knew in 2013 what the “gist of this final issue was.” He originally thought he would make it past issue No. 300. But four years ago, when artist Charlie Adlard turned in the cover for issue No. 142, when people are gathering for the fair, Kirkman said he knew every big story point the comic would hit on the way to its final arc and he knew he only had about 50 more issues to go.

Issue No. 142 of

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Issue No. 142 of “The Walking Dead” was released in June 2015.
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Image Comics/Skybound

“Four years ago this plan seemed rock solid,” he said. “Never tell anyone, keep it secret,” said Kirkman.

Kirkman said he was a little unsure whether or not ending the comic was the right thing to do, saying he feels “a sense of regret over this whole crazy plan” to abruptly end the book.

This wasn’t the original ending to ‘The Walking Dead’

We could have said goodbye to Rick years ago.

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We could have said goodbye to Rick years ago.
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Image Comics/Skybound

When Kirkman realized he was nearing the comic’s end, he said he spent a few weeks trying to come up with more to the story to keep the comic going for another 50 or 100 issues. It wasn’t the first time he rethought the comic’s ending.

“I’d already abandoned one planned ending to keep the series going,” Kirkman said.

According to Kirkman, he originally considered ending “TWD” shortly after Rick took over Alexandria around issue No. 72. (On the popular AMC series, this would have been around the end of season six.) But the ending wouldn’t have been a happy one. After making a big speech, Kirkman said the comic, similarly, would have jumped ahead and showed a statue of Rick, but there wouldn’t have been any people left.

“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,” wrote Kirkman.

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“The Walking Dead” issue No. 70 came out in 2010.
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Image Comics/Skybound

“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,” he added.

Kirkman admitted that was a terrible ending that would have “made the whole story pointless.” Most notably, there wouldn’t have been a Negan, a character who became one of the series’ most hated villains, before becoming popular. He’s currently played by Jeffrey Dean Morgan on the TV series.

“As unsure as I feel about ending the story, I feel confident in how I ended it. I’ve been building to this for years, and it does feel good to end on such a happy note,” wrote Kirkman.

“I hope it makes you happy, too,” he added. “Even if you’re upset at not getting to spend time in this world anymore.”

How Kirkman pulled off ‘TWD’s’ surprise ending

Carl went from teen to legend in the final issue of

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Carl went from teen to legend in the final issue of “The Walking Dead.”
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Image Comics/Skybound

In the age of social media and episode leaks of “The Walking Dead” and “GoT” prior to air, how could Kirkman and Skybound possibly keep it under wraps that one of his most popular comic series was coming to an abrupt end?

Easy. Kirkman acted like it wasn’t ending at all.

They simply made it look like the comic was taking a very different turn after the death of Rick Grimes. Kirkman had covers for fake issues drawn up until October so no one had any reason to believe it was coming to an end.

Kirkman said he needed a way to throw comic distributors off the scent of the comic ending. These fake covers for issues No. 194-196 appeared in distributor catalogues.

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Kirkman said he needed a way to throw comic distributors off the scent of the comic ending. These fake covers for issues No. 194-196 appeared in distributor catalogues.
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Image Comics/Skybound

“As a gag, they kind of tell the story of Carl dying… that’s not really anything that was intended to happen,” wrote Kirkman of the covers. He thought they would just be fun.

At the end of issue No. 192, Kirkman teased that there would be more of Negan (there really wasn’t.) The official synopsis for issue No. 193, meanwhile, read: “Out in the countryside, trouble is brewing for a certain someone.” That sure didn’t sound like a grand ending waiting around the bend.

Why say goodbye to ‘The Walking Dead’?

In his lengthy letter, Kirkman said no matter how he tried to continue the story, everything felt like “filler.” He eventually realized it needed to end so he wasn’t stretching it out past its prime.

“In a way, killing this series has been a lot like killing a major character,” wrote Kirkman. “I don’t want to do it. I’d rather keep going… but the story is telling me what it wants and what it needs. This needs to happen. Whether I want it or not.”

Kirkman said he’s feeling a bit of dread about not working on the comic anymore since so much of his past 16 years have revolved around it. But he’s certainly working on a lot of new items to keep him preoccupied right now.

In 2017, Kirkman signed a two-year deal with Amazon to develop TV projects for its streaming service. An animated adaptation of his comic “Invincible” is currently in the works with “Walking Dead” star Steven Yeun, J.K. Simmons, Mark Hamill, Seth Rogen, Sandra Oh, and more.

What this means for AMC’s ‘The Walking Dead’ TV series and its universe: Nothing really

AMC debuted Comic-Con banner artwork for

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AMC debuted Comic-Con banner artwork for “The Walking Dead” featuring Michonne, Daryl, and Carol.
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AMC

Though, in some ways, “TWD” has nearly caught up with its source material, we don’t expect “TWD” universe to slow down one bit. We’re at a point where the show is so much different than the comic – something both Kirkman and AMC have reiterated time over time to both INSIDER and fans – that it could carry on as long as the ideas stay fresh.

AMC currently has two “Walking Dead” series, a third on the way, and some Rick Grimes’ movies we’re still waiting to hear more about. One of the current mysteries of the shows is a helicopter group that’s original to the series.

“This extraordinary comic created a world that already lives in multiple forms, and in the hearts and minds of millions of fans around the world, and will for many years to come,” AMC said in a statement to INSIDER of Kirkman’s beloved comic coming to an end.

The TV show's Rick Grimes was carried away in a helicopter in November 2018.

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The TV show’s Rick Grimes was carried away in a helicopter in November 2018.
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Gene Page/AMC

Showrunner Angela Kang previously told INSIDER she’s not looking at the upcoming 10th season of “The Walking Dead” as a potential final one.

“I’m approaching it as I’ve got to make a great 10th season. I can’t assume anything,” said Kang in February. “It’s a thing that writers certainly talk about a lot. You can fall into a trap just planning ahead and saving the great material for later. We always have to approach it as – we got to put the good material in now.”

AMC is expected to debut the season 10 trailer for “TWD” at San Diego Comic-Con during its Friday, July 19 panel. Cast members Norman Reedus, Danai Gurira, Melissa McBride, Jeffrey Dean Morgan, and Ryan Hurst will be among those in attendance along with Kang.

‘The Walking Dead’ books aren’t over

A commemorative

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A commemorative “Walking Dead” cover for issue No. 192 featuring Rick Grimes will be released Wednesday.
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Image Entertainment/Skybound

Just because Rick Grimes’ story has come to a close, doesn’t mean “The Walking Dead” is, too. There are still plenty of ways for this universe to be explored. A lot of Grimes’ story was centered around Georgia, Virginia, and Ohio. But how did the rest of the world deal with the zombie apocalypse?

In June, Skybound announced the release of “The Walking Dead: Typhoon,” by Wesley Chu. The 400-page book will explore survivors in China months after the fall of civilization.

The book will be in stores Thursday, October 1. You can pre-order it here.

The takeaway from the surprise ending of ‘The Walking Dead’ – Kirkman ended it his way and without ever revealing how the zombie virus started

One of the reasons some fans may have loyally stuck with the zombie series since its creation in 2003 was to see how the zombie apocalypse began. This wasn't that sort of book.

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One of the reasons some fans may have loyally stuck with the zombie series since its creation in 2003 was to see how the zombie apocalypse began. This wasn’t that sort of book.
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Image Comics/Skybound

We just watched a worldwide phenomenon, HBO’s “Game of Thrones,” come to an end on TV while the book series still hasn’t ended. We don’t know if it ever will. Similarly, it was thought “TWD” TV series may eventually pass or catch up to the comics, despite the two being different beasts at this point.

Kirkman beat AMC to the punch. While the TV legacy will live on, Kirkman can rest knowing that his vision wasn’t compromised.

“I got to tell my story exactly how I wanted to, for 193 issues, and end it on my terms, with no interference along the way… at any point,” Kirkman wrote. “That’s such a rare thing.”

In doing so, Kirkman was able to keep the series’ biggest mystery at bay for 16 years. Kirkman said fans would never learn how the zombie apocalypse started and we never did.

“I know what caused the virus in ‘The Walking Dead,’ but it’s dumb. I’ll never tell anyone,” Kirkman said at San Diego Comic-Con in 2017.

Two years prior, when spin-off prequel series, “Fear the Walking Dead,” started, Kirkman said the idea of learning the root cause of the virus never interested him. Maybe that’s partially because he saw the “Walking Dead” as more than just a book about zombies.

“I would argue that our show isn’t solely a zombie show,” Kirkman told INSIDER in 2014 of the AMC series. “It’s a survival show and, if you’ve been paying attention to the comics, the zombies certainly fluctuate from being very in the forefront to being very, very far into the background and not being a very big part of the comic at all.”

That’s exactly how “The Walking Dead” ended, without very many walkers at all.