"The Walking Dead is a universe... and we have a plan to manage over the next decade, plus," Sapan said during the Goldman Sachs Communacopia Conference (via THR). "That plan is a careful plan to respect the world of the fans of that world."
The formerly singular series became a universe when AMC launched original spinoff Fear The Walking Dead from Walking Dead creator Robert Kirkman and original showrunner Dave Erickson. That universe was cemented when longtime Walking Dead star Lennie James was ported over to Fear, officially bridging the two shows for the first time.
Scott Gimple — then-showrunner and now Chief Content Officer overseeing all things Dead for AMC — said in 2014 the show could continue on practically endlessly by way of a revolving door of cast members.
"As a comic book, I don't know if it will end. As a TV show, all TV shows end," Gimple said on Larry King Now. "But I will say, I think it's possible that it could go on and on and on. I think if it went ten years... if it went longer than that it's possible that the cast, considering the amount of deaths on this cast and everything else, after ten or twelve years, it could shift into a whole new cast."
More recently, in 2017, Gimple said the show was aiming for a 20-year-plus run that could rival even long-running cartoon series The Simpsons, which enters into its 30th season this year. "We are trying to do twenty years," he said. "The comic has certainly done it, and I look forward to every issue."
The show, which has often veered away from Kirkman's comic books but typically follows those books as a not-quite-strict blueprint, has continued to make major departures from the printed version: Carl Grimes, who plays a pivotal role in the ongoing comic books, was famously killed off the show this past season.
Another major shake up is to come in Season Nine, as Andrew Lincoln and Lauren Cohan — whose Rick Grimes and Maggie Rhee are still around in the comics in major roles — are the next to step away from the series.
"We try to reinvent the show every eight episodes. We have this story that is a fidelity to the comic book, but we're also exploring original stuff, and those things help us go on every year," Gimple said last year. "We want to try do it better, do things we haven't done, take risks. It's scary as hell, but as long as we keep doing that the show can go on and on."
New showrunner Angela Kang said The Walking Dead will continue to remix its comic book counterpart in the wake of losing some of its biggest characters. Without both Grimes men and Maggie, the show will move on and continue to be an ensemble series as its expansive cast grows even bigger to include new faces over the course of the latest season.
Fear The Walking Dead, now airing Sundays on AMC, was renewed for a fifth season in July. The Walking Dead Season Nine debuts Sunday, October 7 on AMC.