Last summer, Robert Kirkman abruptly ended his beloved The Walking Dead comic. Shortly after killing Rick Grimes, an issue would print with a final page reading, "This is the end of The Walking Dead." The six page letter which followed would dive into Kirkman's decision to end the series and thank the many people who have helped make the series a global phenomenon but many were left looking for more answers about the story decisions and characters who were left alive. While Kirkman took a step back into that world with Negan Lives, he opened up more about the choice to end the series and the major changes in that final flashforward in a recent interview.
"I'm a huge Game of Thrones fan. I love Game of Thrones. If I had been watching that last season not knowing it was the last season, I would've been like, "Whoa. What the heck? Wait, this is crazy." That's the thing that most entertains me, that makes me most excited about works of fiction: the surprise," Kirkman told THR. "In Breaking Bad, when [spoilers removed] dies, I was like, 'Of course he dies. It's the last season!' The last season of The Sopranos, last season of Breaking Bad, I feel like some of those events don't have the impact they should have because you know the season is ending. But Rick Grimes dying in the comic? I got two or three months of questions: 'How does the book continue after this? Oh my god. What does this mean for the book?'"
Along the way, Kirkman had claimed the zombie series would make it to 300 issues. However, along the journey to such a milestone, Kirkman realized so many issues would be harder to pull off than he thought without the quality suffering.
"There's an issue where everyone's at the fair in Alexandria. I was like, 'Okay, so if we've already built civilization up to that point, I don't think I'm going to make it to issue 300,'" Kirkman revealed. "And so that's when I started getting worried about, 'Wait a minute. How much story do I actually have?' I think people have the misconception that I'm like, 'The Walking Dead is popular. I'm going to figure a way to keep it going forever.' But I always had a story I was building to and I knew each new safe place that they got to had a reason for being and set up the next place they would go to because I know for a while, it seemed like, 'Oh, I get it. There's just a psycho when these people go to a prison and then they stay here and then they stay there.' But there was a reason for all those places."
In the final issue, many years have passed since Rick Grimes was killed by Sebastian at the Commonwealth. Carl Grimes has grown to an adult, the world has evolved, and relationships between characters we knew prior to this flash forward are not what long time readers expected them to be.
"More than anything, I wanted this issue to be about how much the world has changed, how it's different from what we've known," Kirkman said. "The idea of a zombie is so rare that somebody is traveling from town to town like it's the old west: 'Pay me a nickel and I'll show you this [zombie].' I thought it would show how much time has passed and how things have evolved. And to have Hershel doing it? It's a surprise. And the reason he's doing it is very emotional and it's explained at the end, but for now, I just wanted him to look like he had grown into a shitty person. I really enjoy making an audience hate a character, and then going, 'Aren't you guys kind of assholes for hating this character?'"
Ultimately, Kirkman left enough doors opeen should he choose to revisit the world of The Walking Dead. Negan, for exampel, was not seen in the flash forward timeline as a means to preserve the story opportunities regarding his future because Kirkman sees him as the most likely portal back to that universe.
Still, Kirkman always wanted to ensure that fans understood why he ended the book when and how he did.
"I did want to make sure that I explained why it is that we're doing what we're doing and what it means to me and I always wanted to make sure that the audience knew that we didn't kill characters lightly," Kirkman says. "We were not behind the scenes cackling as we killed your favorite characters. It was as emotional for us as it was for you and I think that's why it worked and this was the same. The feel of regret and loss that you're feeling now that you know the series is over, I'm feeling the same and that we're ending it to tell the correct story. I wouldn't want to continue the story past its logical point and I had an end to the story and I had to honor the end of that story. I couldn't force it past that point just to keep the book going."