Cookies help us deliver our Services. By using our Services, you agree to our use of cookies. Learn More.

How Will The Walking Dead End?

After over 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, 11 more than its second, eight more than its third through ninth seasons, and two more than its tenth, which scooped up an additional six episodes set to premiere in early 2021. 

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 the flagship series' former hero Rick Grimes (Andrew Lincoln), another spin-off focused on Daryl Dixon (Norman Reedus) and Carol Peletier (Melissa McBride), 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 Walking Dead'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.

The Walking Dead can't end exactly same way the comics did ...

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. (Season 9 wrapped on March 31, 2019, and season 10 premiered on October 6, 2019.) As with many page-to-screen adaptations, The Walking Dead 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 Grimes 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. Alexandria has become a safe zone that hasn't seen trouble from walkers in a few years ... so when a walker, which escaped from a traveling "carnival" run by Glenn and Maggie Rhee's now-adult son, Carl is perturbed enough to dispatch with the zombie without thinking twice. That lands him in trouble with Alexandria brass — i.e., President Maggie.

Bent on a brand of justice that would've made his papa proud, Carl promptly sets out to destroy the "carnival properties" in question, which lands him in the hot seat and on trial when he returns to Alexandria. But the judge overseeing the "trial" is the one and only Michonne, who clears Carl of any wrongdoing and sets him free. 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.

Secondly, Carl died on The Walking Dead before his father left, meeting a tragic demise on season 8, and his would-be wife Sophia has been out of the picture since season 2. Maggie actress Lauren Cohan is slated to return to The Walking Dead after previously departing from the series, but Michonne actress Danai Gurira is set to exit the show after season 10, so another one of the key players within the comics' finale will be totally out of the picture on the show.

... but it could be fairly similar

That considered, though, a finale similar to this one 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 Walking Dead series ending on a positive, hopeful note.

"I knew a lot [of] aspects of the [comics'] finale and 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. And to me, that finale story — and Robert agrees — plays a lot like a pilot. Honoring the aspects of [the broader] finale story without the death of Rick Grimes will be a challenge to our storytelling," Gimple told Deadline in October 2019. 

He added, "[The series]  is a very different entertainment than The Walking Dead comic. [...] A lot of times, we changed things only to get closer to the feeling that people had when they read the comic book. If Robert has a surprise on the page, we might change things on the screen only so we can get to that surprise in 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. Because the comic isn't simply, 'There's a zombie apocalypse.' There's tone, there's a feeling, and there's story values. Comics and television aren't the same medium, but I always want to feel the spirit of the book in everything we do. Whether characters are gone or the story don't match up, we carry on that feeling."

It may not be clear how The Walking Dead will end in terms of its characters and its plot, but one thing seems obvious: With Gimple in charge, fans can rest easy knowing the TV series' conclusion will likely give them the same fuzzy feelings that the comic book finale did.