After more than a decade on the small screen, AMC's zombie horror series The Walking Dead is coming to an end. As the network announced in September 2020, The Walking Dead's upcoming 11th season will serve as its last, airing in late 2022 with 24 episodes — quadruple the amount that its first season had.
The overarching franchise will continue on with the well-established spin-off series Fear the Walking Dead, the soon-to-launch limited series spin-off The Walking Dead: World Beyond, a trio of feature films centered around former hero Rick Grimes, another spin-off focused on Daryl and Carol, and a character-focused anthology series entitled Tales of the Walking Dead.
It's exciting that the franchise, overseen by former Walking Dead showrunner Scott M. Gimple, is finding new life in more and more projects, but there's no denying that the show's conclusion will mark the end of an era. In total, 31 episodes stand between fans and the end of The Walking Dead. What might the finale episode look like? Let's speculate.
Robert Kirkman's long-running Walking Dead comic series delivered its final volume back in late July 2019, when The Walking Dead was in between its ninth and tenth seasons. As with many page-to-screen adaptations, the series has deviated from its source material, changing up certain plot lines and character arcs.
Issues 192 and 193 of The Walking Dead encapsulate the ending of the comics' run, and what happens within them would be impossible to perfectly recreate for the show because of the changes the series' team made prior to that point.
In Issue 192, Rick meets his end at the hands of one of his enemies. Rick's son Carl is, sadly, the one who must put Rick's re-animated corpse down for good. The Walking Dead issue 193, the very last of them all, picks up several years after those fateful events. Carl's all grown up, married to a woman named Sophia, and raising a daughter of his own. The final frame of the comics shows adult Carl regaling his daughter with stories of her grandpa, the brave and noble Rick Grimes. The end.
Now, this exact finale can't happen on the show. For starters, Andrew Lincoln's Rick Grimes isn't around anymore, and hasn't been since season 9, when everyone believed he died. He was then seen being taken to a "safe place" via helicopter, so we know he's still out there somewhere. Lincoln could return for the Walking Dead finale, of course, but it feels more likely that the next place fans will see Rick's face is in the first of his three standalone movies.
Then there's the fact that Carl died on The Walking Dead before his father left, having met a tragic demise in season 8, while his would-be wife Sophia has been out of the picture since season 2. Another key player within the comic's finale will also be totally out of the picture on the show -- Michonne actress Danai Gurira is set to exit after season 10.
That considered, though, a finale similar to the comic's could play out on The Walking Dead. Rick's daughter Judith is still very much alive on the series, so it's possible she could stand in for Carl on the show's finale. In the same vein, Michonne and Rick also share a son, R.J., who could be the grown-up fans see telling his daughter tales of the great Rick Grimes upon the series' end.
For his part, Gimple has said that the Walking Dead team plans to adapt the comics' finale the best that it can, and acknowledges that there will be challenges in the adaptation because the show isn't going to kill off Rick. He also offered up some remarks that possibly hint at the series ending on a positive, hopeful note, telling Deadline in October 2019:
"I knew that Robert had been working toward a finale, and he had mentioned some ballpark aspects, but he held back a lot because he knew I wouldn't want spoilers [...] The biggest thing is we will tell that finale story one day [...] Honoring the aspects of [the broader] finale story without the death of Rick Grimes will be a challenge to our storytelling."
When asked why the Walking Dead television adaptation changed so much from its comic source material, Gimple responded that it had a lot to do with wanting to preserve the feeling a reader gets when discovering something in the comic. He explained:
"If Robert has a surprise on the page, we might change things on the screen only so we can get to that surprise in [a] way that protected it so people can't predict it. That remains the job even when the stories are new and even when stories aren't directly related to the comic: to capture the spirit of the comic [...] I always want to feel the spirit of the book in everything we do." Watch the video to find out, How Will The Walking Dead End?
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