The Walking Dead debuted as just another indie comic back in 2002, and nobody could have predicted it’d go on to spawn a transmedia empire of TV shows, films, video games, movies, board games, novels, theme park rides and all manner of merchandise. The key to this success is AMC’s hit show of the same name, which has been on the air since 2010 and is set to wrap up early in 2022.
The network has big plans for the franchise, but fans got a surprise last year when they learned that season 11 would be the last of the core show. They were consoled by the many spinoffs already airing, announced and teased, though, including Fear the Walking Dead and The Walking Dead: World Beyond, anthology series Tales of the Walking Dead, the Daryl and Carol road trip show, a rumored comedy outing, a project with an LGBTQ focus, the program exploring one of TWD‘s villains and, of course, the movie trilogy with Andrew Lincoln.
But a recent interview with star Jeffrey Dean Morgan has revealed that season 11 being the finale came as a shock to everyone – even the showrunners. Speaking with Collider, the Negan actor said:
“The news, when we got it in the middle of the pandemic, was a complete surprise, not only to me and the rest of the actors, but to everybody involved in the show from production. Scott Gimple and Angela Kang had no idea either. It came from nowhere and there was such a huge pivot. I think they had Season 11 all mapped out, where they were going to go, and suddenly it became, ‘We also have to close the story, in a way.’ It took everybody by surprise, so it was a massive pivot. And then, they threw in the six tacked-on episodes to Season 10, and instead of doing 16, we’re going to do 24 more. There was a lot of stuff to wrap our heads around.”
The mention of TWD universe head Scott Gimple and showrunner Angela Kang not seeing this coming is particularly interesting, as it hints that the decision was made high up at AMC. So, what gives? Well, it’s possible that they crunched the numbers and worked out that The Walking Dead is steadily but slowly losing viewers while its stars are getting expensive to keep under contract. If so, it would make sense to jettison some of them and put the most popular characters into their own spinoffs.
Even so, it’s worrying that the creative leads weren’t given any warning that they’d have just 24 episodes to satisfyingly end the story, especially as six of those are the 10C outings quickly assembled under COVID-19 shooting restrictions. Season 11 of The Walking Dead could feel very rushed as they try to tie everything up neatly and AMC would do well to look at the reception to Game of Thrones‘ final run for what can happen if you botch the ending of a hugely loved show.