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The Walking Dead creator reveals zombie virus' origin

We may not have all the answers we want about the current real-world coronavirus pandemic sweeping the globe, but Robert Kirkman is finally ready to talk about what caused the fictional zombie pandemic in The Walking Dead

For fans who have been following the story of The Walking Dead since Rick Grimes first awoke from his coma back in 2003, this revelation is a long time coming. It's actually impressive that Kirkman, the series' creator, has kept his cards so close to his vest for so long considering the franchise has expanded to infect every quadrant of our media world: video games, books, TV — you name it. Now, having reached the epic conclusion of his long-running tale (at least in comic form), Kirkman must have decided it was finally time to dole out a little fan service. 

Through 193 issues of the original comic and no fewer than three television series set in Kirkman's post-apocalyptic world, we've seen survivors navigate every facet of this deadly scenario without any understanding of the zombie horde's pathogenic origins. Well, wonder no more. On Twitter (via ComicBook.com), Kirkman confirmed that it is, in fact, aliens.

Killer spores from outer space

In the original Walking Dead comic series, small-town Georgia cop Rick Grimes awakens from a coma caused by a mundane gunshot wound to discover that, while he slept, society as he knew it had been dismantled by an invading horde of infectious zombies — "roamers," in series parlance. Early on in the series, it's revealed that every human in the world is already infected with the zombie pathogen; while zombie bites accelerate the transformation, any death eventually results in zombification. According to Kirkman, the cause of this pandemic is extraterrestrial in nature.

"Space spore," Kirkman confirmed on Twitter when a fan asked how the zombie virus started. 

Kirkman has long credited the work of the late horror movie director George A. Romero as a key inspiration for The Walking Dead. He's said on numerous occasions that his entire magnum opus resulted from the supposition, "What if a zombie movie just kept going?" In light of this, the space spore explanation may be yet another homage to Romero — particularly his iconic zombie flick Night of the Living Dead, wherein the zombie apocalypse has potentially been instigated by radiation released from a space probe to Venus.

Fans weren't sure they'd ever get a straight answer from Kirkman as to what started the zombie virus in The Walking Dead. As recently as 2018, in a Q&A on Tumblr, he dismissed the notion of revealing the source of the zombie contagion as irrelevant to the story he was telling. "Maybe years after it's all over I'll just casually mention it in an interview," he said. "That seems like a very J.K. Rowling thing to do." Shots fired! Fortunately for curious fans, it seems like Kirkman found his inner Rowling.

Kirkman may have already tipped his hat on the space explanation

On the surface, it may not seem like Kirkman's decidedly earthbound tale of humans surviving against impossible odds to rebuild civilization has much to do with extraterrestrials, but the alien explanation has always been bubbling around the periphery of The Walking Dead. When Kirkman and his creative team originally pitched the idea to Image Comics, Kirkman had to concoct an outlandish backstory for the series just to catch executives' attention. At that time, he told a substantial white lie that the zombie pandemic in The Walking Dead was designed by aliens who intended to use the zombie apocalypse to make Earth a softer target for invasion.

Although Kirkman is pretty clear that this was never really his team's intention, it wasn't the last mention of E.T.'s in The Walking Dead history. While not necessarily canon, a bonus ending for issue #75 was inspired by this misleading pitch. In this sci-fi re-skin, a lightsaber-wielding Michonne explains that hostile aliens unleashed the zombie horde to turn humanity into a race of slaves bound into service by harvesting water, which their alien overlords use as currency. How's that for an alternate ending?

Will we see alien spores on The Walking Dead, Fear the Walking Dead, or The Walking Dead: World Beyond?

Aside from the explanation of the virus being "totally irrelevant" to the comic series, Kirkman also believes that the TV iterations of his work are unlikely to explore either the source of or cure for the virus. While certain fans may prefer a pat resolution to the apocalypse plaguing the world of The Walking Dead, Kirkman's instincts are probably spot-on. The forthcoming third TV series for the franchise, The Walking Dead: World Beyond, will take place a decade after the beginning of the zombie pandemic. Based on what we know so far about The Walking Dead: World Beyond, the set of young protagonists are still grappling with the world of the undead.

The lack of a cure is definitely organic to Kirkman's original vision. The Walking Dead has never been a series about finding a miraculous cure — it's a story about survivors re-establishing a new normal in a world that will never be the same. Discovering a cure would undermine the entire premise. But hey, at least we know officially know what started the collapse in the first place.

The Walking Dead airs at 9 PM Eastern on AMC.