Throughout its sixteen year run, Rick Grimes was the core of the sprawling saga of The Walking Dead. However, if series creator Robert Kirkman had gone through with his original plan, Rick would have died at the end of issue #6.
In the published issue, the culmination of the initial Days Gone Bye arc of the story, Rick confronts Shane about Lori’s affair with him, and his ex-partner and former friend blames him for waking up from his coma and reuniting with his family, thus ruining the relationship he wanted with Lori after becoming obsessed with her. He’s about to kill Rick when he’s fatally shot through the neck by Carl, who, fearing for his father’s safety, had followed them.
In a deluxe and colored reissue of the series, Kirkman explained his original plan, saying:
“Rather than Carl killing Shane, I considered having Carl find them in the woods just as Shane was killing Rick… Shane wouldn’t have known Carl had seen him, so there would have been a lot of tense exchanges between the two of them. Shane would have been the first real big villain in the book, and he would have been with the group, on the same side as them, the enemy sleeping the next tent over.”
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Kirkman notes that the focus of the comic would have then shifted to the nine-year-old Carl, who wouldn’t tell anyone what he saw due to his fear of Shane killing Lori in retaliation. This would reinforce one of the story’s main points that people are the real danger rather than the zombies, and that the title refers as much to the living being eroded of their humanity as it does the shambling undead now roaming the world. Kirkman changed his mind when the comic’s sales began to increase, though, giving him more confidence in its potential longevity and thus not requiring a shock twist as a final ending.
The Walking Dead went on to have 193 issues before it was brought to a conclusion, which in a roundabout way was done in a not entirely dissimilar manner. Like the original outline, the penultimate issue has Rick die somewhat pointlessly, although the finale’s 25-year time jump sees him remembered as the man who united everyone and changed things for the better. This means the story still starts and ends with Rick, but now leaves his legacy as something far more meaningful, which would all have been lost had Kirkman carried out his original plan and killed him off early.