The Walking Dead Universe can "go on and on and on," even without the guiding hand of creator Robert Kirkman's recently ended comic book series, says TWD chief content officer Scott Gimple, who views additions to the live-action franchise as professional "fan fiction." When laying out plans for AMC's flagship franchise, headed into its first decade, Gimple tells The Hollywood Reporter the blossoming universe — soon to include miniseries, specials and other shorter length projects in addition to the mothership series and its two spinoffs — can easily outlive its comic book counterpart, which Kirkman brought to an unannounced end after 16 years in July.
"Robert pitched this originally as the zombie movie that never ends. And that always, especially when I was a reader, before I knew Robert, before I was on this show, that was thrilling," Gimple told THR's "TV's Top 5" podcast. "That was such an incredible promise to have. Like, 'Oh, I'm always gonna have this thing.'"
But when Kirkman's "zombie movie" did end, "It was absolutely a surprise."
"I knew aspects of it, and I knew that Robert was looking at an endgame, but he wasn't telling me the timeline," Gimple said. "In fact, even aspects of that story in the final issue, I knew a lot of aspects of that story, but I didn't know that it was the end. And what's interesting is since Robert had told me that, my mind had been just churning with ideas about all that stuff he put in that last issue."
Issue #193 explores a sizable time jump following the assassination of Rick Grimes, who was gunned down in issue #191 before his reanimated form was put to rest by son Carl in issue #192.
In its final issue, The Walking Dead presents a world no longer overrun by the little-seen, flesh-eating undead, near extinct to the point of being a valuable sideshow attraction. Carl Grimes is now a father himself, sharing stories of "the trials" — the earliest years after the zombie outbreak documented in the first 190 issues of The Walking Dead — with daughter Andrea.
Because that final issue depicted a world mostly returned to order after a decade-plus time jump, the comic book's finale could conceivably relaunch The Walking Dead television series in the future.
"That last issue, and I told him, 'That reads like a pilot, dude. It doesn't read like a finale,'" Gimple noted. "If you take away the Rick Grimes aspect and the story between Carl and his kid, in many ways it feels like a pilot to me. And I want to see those stories."
When the mothership series eventually exhausts its source material, The Walking Dead will forge its own path wholly independent of the comic books. Kirkman and series producers have already hinted at intentions for the television show to continue on past the comic book's end point.
"I've said that I look at Walking Dead as like the biggest piece of fan fiction ever made. I came to the show as somebody who read the comic, and who watched the first season at home, and I'm thrilled to have told stories bringing it to life. But in some ways it always felt like fan fiction," said Gimple. "Really expensive, and there's a lot of effort in it, but it's fan fiction. You look at that last issue and I'm like, 'I can't wait to tell those stories.' So I'm just saying, it can go on and on and on, because I think the creativity is there, the seeds are there, I'm very excited. Like, can there still be zombie movies? And I think any of us would say yes. Can we take the creativity and the tone that Robert has and continue on with it? I believe so, yeah."
When calming worries the book's surprise conclusion meant the show would spontaneously end, Kirkman said at San Diego Comic-Con in July there's "a lot more story to tell."
"I'm very excited to be working with Scott and [TWD showrunner] Angela [Kang] 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," Kirkman said. "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."
AMC recently renewed the zombie drama for Season 11, one day before TWD returned with its Season 10 premiere.