How The Walking Dead could end

As much as we all love The Walking Dead, it can't go on forever—at some point, every great series must come to an end. Sometimes you get a satisfying coda to a wonderful experience, and sometimes that eagerly-anticipated series finale turns out to be the loogie that ruins the punchbowl. When the walkers finally stop walking, how do we think it'll all go down? 

The walkers evolve

We don't really know much about zombie biology, but we do know about viruses. Viruses evolve, sometimes because of environmental factors, and sometimes against human intervention. Right now, the zombies are shambling, hungry monsters who hunt based on smell and sound, but what if they're capable of becoming more?

Zombies are strong, but they're slow, and can only really use two senses. But since the virus and the human body seem to have a symbiotic relationship after death, there's nothing really stopping the virus from mutating into something that allows zombies to use their sight to hunt, or even worse, rudimentary animal reasoning… or the motor skills in their legs. From that perspective, there's very little keeping the virus from only activating in the deceased. Break out your epidemiology books, because rapid virus mutation is not altogether unlikely, and when that happens, mankind is totally toast.

The walkers win

For a series as open-ended as The Walking Dead, we really need a definitive ending in order to properly wrap up the story. None of this Sopranos-style sudden cut stuff, and no Quantum Leap "things keep on happening but you don't see them" junk. Zombie fighting is a numbers game; there are simply far more walkers on Earth than there are living people, and even though humans possess superior intelligence, they just can't seem to keep it together as well as the brainless dead can. Humans lack unity, and zombies have an amazing persistence.

As we watch the last struggling group of survivors dwindle, in a world gone completely wild from neglect, they simply run out of resources to survive. Boxes of crackers only last so long, and no one seems to really pursue farming too seriously. It's a pathetic, whimpering death…but it's depressingly closer to reality than any apocalypse we've ever seen before on TV, and if The Walking Dead is one thing, it's depressing.

The humans win

For what it's worth, we know almost nothing about walker physiology. We know that they die when their brains are injured, and we know that they spread a zombie-making disease. That's really about it. At this point, we haven't met a single zombie that's died of natural causes—including disemboweling, starvation, or drowning—so we can only assume that they're basically immortal. But they're also finite, and can be easily killed with just about anything pointy and well-aimed through a fence.

It's been suggested that the walkers are the Earth's answer to climate change. So when humans eventually stop acting stupid and focus on whittling the undead down to manageable numbers, the planet's ecology will be better off than ever, because zombies are amazing mulch. It might not be great for the surviving humans who have a hankering for microwave pizzas, but you can't please everyone. Cremation after death becomes mandatory, and mankind crawls back to the top of the food chain.

Utopia is discovered

The Atlanta crew has covered roughly four states in six years, all along the East coast. The Fear the Walking Dead guys have explored a fair swath of the far West coast. We have no idea what's happening in the middle states, aside from some hints from a network of park rangers mentioned in Fear, nor do we have any real idea about what's happening throughout the rest of the world. We've seen maybe 2% of what's really going on out there, which leaves 71% open water, and 27% unexplored land, every inch of which might contain a viable, safe living situation.

Once we know that Rick and whoever else survives are truly safe, we'll be able to sleep at night, and the series can end. On Marc Maron's podcast, creator Robert Kirkman said he'd like to see the TV series end on a positive note, so real, actual, measurable success isn't out of the question.

A cure is found

Disease experts are in pretty short supply, but we've seen that groups of people have been able to survive in labs and hospitals. While it seems unlikely that someone will whip up a zombie cure and cropdust the entire planet with it, the discovery of something to counteract the zombie virus would pretty much be the ultimate symbol of hope. No, it won't restore Grandpa to normal, but at least it'll stop him from hungering for living flesh, which is a pretty fair compromise, and maybe even a little better than when he was alive.

If a cure could be administered to humans, it would immediately start to reduce the zombie population, and it might even create peace. By cutting off the everlasting zombie supply, the heroes could save the world. We know that zombies are useless under two conditions: in small numbers… or up any set of stairs.

It ends with Rick

When a show loses its star, it rarely lasts more than a couple of seasons before totally collapsing. Scrubs, The X-Files, 8 Simple Rules… all shows that ran off the rails once their leading actor was gone. Rick is really the compass of the group, even when he's spinning wildly off course. While characters like Daryl and Carol are certainly interesting to watch evolve, The Walking Dead is Rick's story from beginning to end, and without him, we just don't have a focal point.

Whether Rick just can't survive the thousandth onslaught, he manages to pass from old age, or Andrew Lincoln just decides that it's time to pursue a different dramatic turn, Rick's story is the only story. Like a canary in a coalmine, once Rick is gone, start preparing for the bitter end. Then again, Carl's story is also a part of Rick's story. We'd only like to see Rick dying in a final episode sort of deal, where he passes the torch of leadership to the boy who was by his side throughout the entire zombie apocalypse, his son.