'The Walking Dead': What to Expect From the End

Walking Dead- season 10, episode 8 - Publicity Still 5- H 2019
Gene Page/AMC

It's the end of the world as we know it — but the Walking Dead franchise feels fine.

On the one hand, it's major news: The Walking Dead, one of the modern television era's biggest hits, is ending with season 11. On the other hand, it's no surprise at all, on a number of levels: the franchise will live on past the flagship series, with at least two planned spinoffs in the form of a Daryl Dixon and Carol Peletier series starring Norman Reedus and Melissa McBride, as well as anthology series Tales of The Walking Dead — not to mention Fear the Walking Dead and The Walking Dead: World Beyond, both of which are still active as it stands.

Add this to the list of reasons why the series' ending shouldn't register as a huge surprise, at least no more surprising than the ending of Robert Kirkman and Charlie Adlard's comic book in 2019: well … exactly that. Kirkman and Adlard rocked the Walking Dead fandom with an unannounced ending to their historic comic book run with The Walking Dead #193, an issue that takes place several decades after the main action of the series, showing how several beloved characters settled into life after the zombie apocalypse became somewhat more civilized. If nothing else, at least AMC's Walking Dead is giving fans plenty of time to prepare their goodbyes, as the series' announced ending won't come for another 30 episodes; more than enough time to invest in your tissue brand of choice.

As for the particulars of how The Walking Dead will end … once again, we wade into the territory of "no surprise at all," since this is a series deeply rooted in source material. Kirkman and Adlard's tale has always been the guide, even though the show has veered away from the events of the comic book, sometimes out of an interest in shaking things up, and other times out of necessity. Changes have ranged from minor to drastic. As The Walking Dead begins its final descent, one can imagine the ways in which showrunner Angela Kang's vision will have aspects of both.

Warning: spoilers from the Walking Dead comic books are ahead; indeed, in the spirit of this conversation, these spoilers are wholly unavoidable. Proceed with caution.

In the comics, following the Whisperer War arc, The Walking Dead moves into its endgame: a very much still alive Rick Grimes leading his people toward The Commonwealth, the most advanced community anyone has encountered in the apocalypse thus far, by far. To say our rag-tag bunch of survivors and the uptight leadership of the Commonwealth don't see eye to eye would be selling things short. A couple of almost-coups later, Rick and his companions manage to avert yet another all-out war, but not without great cost: namely, Rick himself, assassinated in cold blood by the son of the Commonwealth's governor; think of it as the Walking Dead equivalent of Prince Joffrey ordering the death of a certain noble someone (here I am tap-dancing around Game of Thrones spoilers not quite a decade later), had he swung the sword himself. Following Rick's death, the comics leap forth decades into the future, rooted in Carl Grimes' eyes (er, eye) as he reckons with the ways in which society changed, all thanks to his father's sacrifice. It's a literal storybook ending, as Carl reads the kid-friendly version of the Walking Dead history to his young daughter, a sunny testament to the world Rick fought and died for.

So, how much of that is going to happen as The Walking Dead starts wrapping? Aspects of it, for sure. We're already well on the way toward wrapping up the Whisperer War. It will happen in season 10, without question. If Kang and her writing staff were planning on leaving things as a cliffhanger at the end of season 10, the plan has at least altered somewhat thanks to the elongation of the season; an additional six episodes were ordered over the summer, bringing season 10's episode order up to 22. Expect Beta (Ryan Hurst) and his zombie flesh-covered allies to perish either in the forthcoming fall finale, or shortly thereafter.

What's more, we are right at the Commonwealth's gate, if not literally. In addition to the concluding Whisperer War, The Walking Dead has been pushing toward the Commonwealth for a full season now. It was first teased at the end of season nine in the form of a radio transmission that went unnoticed; throughout season 10, Eugene (Josh McDermitt) has corresponded with a new potential love interest who claims to live in a different community. As of the most recently aired episode, Eugene and friends Ezekiel (Khary Payton) and Yumiko (Eleanor Matsuura) are on their way, with a new ally named Princess (Paola Lázaro) in tow. Expect them to meet their Commonwealth contact within the next episode; the sprint toward the Commonwealth proper should follow shortly thereafter.

Then there's the curious case of Lauren Cohan's returning Maggie Rhee, gone from the series for a full season and change at this point. Set to make her return in the season 10B finale, Maggie's recent whereabouts remain an unknown; could she have spent some time in the Commonwealth recently? Totally possible, and it would be fitting, since Maggie becomes Commonwealth president by the end of the comic book series.

There's still a lot of business left to handle in the adaptation process, such as, well, getting everyone from Alexandria to the Commonwealth, for one. There are new characters who need to be set up, too: Pamela Milton, Governor of the Commonwealth; Sebastian, her son who murders Rick; Mercer, head of Milton's security team; and Elodie, Michonne's daughter.

Wait, back it up… Michonne's daughter? Yeah, that's a plot twist that isn't likely to go down on the show. Add it to the list of things that won't likely make the jump from comic to television. Higher and more urgent on that list: Rick Grimes' assassination. Unless AMC has those Rick Grimes movies ready to go much sooner than advertised, Rick isn't likely to swoop back into the Walking Dead TV series just in time to die and inspire his survivors. So, who is going to die in order to inspire the survivors? We could have spent some time speculating on Daryl or Carol for this role, as they are the most marquee names still on the board, except for one thing: Daryl and Carol will survive The Walking Dead, at least long enough to headline their own television show. This leaves Maggie as the most prominent character still in the Walking Dead universe by far, at least the only one whose death would serve to galvanize everyone else; Jeffrey Dean Morgan's Negan is definitely a big name, too, just not someone whose demise would result in cementing civilization for all time.

Throughout the series, The Walking Dead has stayed true to the main beats of the comic book, even with its riffs here and there. The same will almost certainly be true as the television series follows the comics into the (wait for it) world beyond. Simultaneously, the exact specifics will be very different, if only by necessity. How will the series end? It cannot end like the comics, with Carl reading a story to his daughter, since, well, Carl is very dead in the world of the show. Can it end on a similarly uplifting note? The precise alignment of the show's ending and the comic books' ending will be one of the most interesting storylines to follow in the years ahead, as The Walking Dead prepares for one last massive season filled with blood, guts and hope.