The Walking Dead Still Has a Lot of Life Left, Says AMC Executive

Despite the sudden ending of creator Robert Kirkman’s comic book and the looming departure of longtime star Danai Gurira’s Michonne, The Walking Dead is as alive as ever, argues AMC programming chief David Madden.

“Once Game of Thrones is technically off the air, it’s the No. 2 show on TV,” David Madden, president of programming, entertainment networks, told TheWrap. “You don’t sneeze at it being No. 2 out of the three billion shows that are on TV.”

Madden admitted the cabler was initially worried about audience drop off following the departure of series lead Andrew Lincoln in Season 9, but the following episode — which picked up where Rick Grimes’ final episode left off, with a six-years-later time jump — “dropped 1% from the previous episode,” Madden said.

“That, we thought, was stunningly strong in terms of a hold. I think the show still has — with Norman Reedus, Melissa McBride and Jeffrey Dean Morgan — a lot of characters who are truly beloved on the show.”

Season 9 hit a series low in the ratings — part of a downward trend in line with declining cable ratings across the board — but nonetheless won The Walking Dead its best-reviewed season under new showrunner Angela Kang.

Dip aside, The Walking Dead is still cable’s most-watched non-sports program — Madden’s chief reason for believing TWD Universe’s flagship series is far off from an ending.

“I’m not saying the show will go 20 seasons, but I’m not saying it won’t,” he said.

Kirkman ended the book because the finite story of Rick and Carl Grimes had reached its natural conclusion. But as the comic book author said at San Diego Comic-Con, his book was Rick and Carl’s story; the show is “about the world” of TWD Universe.

“We’ve diverged from the comic long ago. We’re now telling our own story,” Madden said. “I don’t think, either in the show’s mind or in Kirkman’s mind, the end of the comic book really affects the plan for the show.”

“Anyone that’s concerned that the fact that this comic book wrapped up means that Season 10 is going to somehow spontaneously end on episode 4 as a surprise, that is not going to happen,” Kirkman said at Comic-Con when addressing fears the book’s surprise ending signaled the coming end of the television series.

“There’s a lot more story to tell, and I’m very excited to be working with [chief content officer Scott Gimple] and Angela to figure out if there are any other threads in the comic that we didn’t quite get to, to bring the world past that point. Because I think there is some story to tell when you’re talking about the world of The Walking Dead. So I’m very excited about that, so no worries there.”

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Reedus, who has pledged to stay on board until the very end, recently reiterated that point at Comic-Con: “I mean, as long as there’s the zillion people outside Comic-Con screaming for us, I think we’ll keep going.”

The Walking Dead Season 10 premieres Sunday, October 6 on AMC.