'Walking Dead' Creator Robert Kirkman Explains That Game-Changing Twist

The man behind the zombie apocalypse reveals how the latest shocker was almost a full decade in the making.
Courtesy of Gene Page/AMC

[This story contains massive spoilers for the latest issue of Robert Kirkman and Charlie Adlard's The Walking Dead comic book series.]

"So … Rick Grimes is dead."

Walking Dead creator Robert Kirkman begins the letters column of issue #192 with those five painful words, a sentence few readers ever expected to encounter, even after a monthlong cliffhanger in which Rick's life was left hanging in the balance. All the same, the sentence speaks for itself: Kirkman and artist Charlie Adlard have put an end to Rick Grimes once and for all, at least in comic book form; the version of Rick played by Andrew Lincoln is no longer involved in the Walking Dead TV series, but will live on in a series of movies for AMC.

"Rick's death was planned longer than any death in this series," Kirkman writes in the monthly column, Letter Hacks. "I've been working toward this since I started writing… issue #1. It doesn't make it any easier, but it's been something I've been getting more and more used to as the years got down to months and then weeks … I knew it was coming."

According to Kirkman, Rick's death in service of preserving the Commonwealth, the most sprawling and functional community encountered in the series to date, has been in the works for the better part of a decade. While his body is only freshly cold, Kirkman insists Rick's legacy will live on in the issues still to come.

"I've said in interviews for many, many years that everyone dies in this story, and that even Rick Grimes won't survive until the end," he writes. "While this was always Rick's story thus far, as written about in the first issue, that doesn't mean he needs to be alive to be a presence in the series. This is the story of a world, not a man … it's the story of a world profoundly affected by that man, as we'll see starting next issue … but it isn't exclusively Rick's story."

As for where the series heads next in July's issue #193, Kirkman concluded the Walking Dead letters column with a vulgar clue: "See you next month! And with Rick Grimes gone … who will be the focus of this series?! I'll give you one fucking fuckity guess, you fuckers." You don't need to be hit in the head with a barbed-wired baseball bat to know Kirkman's referring to the return of Negan, played by Jeffrey Dean Morgan in the television series. Perhaps an increased focus on Negan in the coming issues will translated to the AMC adaptation, with Morgan's turn as the hard-hitting survivor leading to even more of a presence in the seasons to come.

Speaking of the television series, Kirkman used the letters column to stress how Andrew Lincoln's exit from The Walking Dead had nothing to do with Rick's demise in the comics: "I don't like addressing the TV show, simply because it has no bearing on this series. This series informs the show, not the other way around. BUT … we did lose Rick Grimes this year on the TV show as well, although he didn't die. So I feel compelled to state for the record that the events of this issue were in no way a reaction to that. As I stated, this has been planned for a LONG time."

In an interview with The New York Times, Kirkman elaborated on the relationship between the comics and the show: "There's coordination. A lot of the changes on the show end up being contractual. If Andrew Lincoln wants to spend more time with his family or wants to take the character in new directions that necessitates a film series as opposed to our television structure, those are things that we have to take into consideration. I don't really have to deal with that in the comics."

"It's still very much the Wild West on this book," he added. "I can make crazy decisions that could outright destroy this book if I'm not careful. Walking that tightrope is exhilarating."

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