Just one issue after killing off series protagonist Rick Grimes, The Walking Dead creator Robert Kirkman made a surprise revelation in a letter closing Wednesday's 72-page issue #193: The Walking Dead is finished.
"This is the end of The Walking Dead," Kirkman declared. "That's it... it's over... we're done."
The lack of an announcement is because The Walking Dead "has always been built on surprise," and revealing the series' end ahead of time would have added a ticking clock. "I hate knowing what's coming," Kirkman wrote.
For its shock ending, "It just felt wrong and against the very nature of this series not to make the actual end as surprising as all the big deaths... from Shane all the way to Rick," Kirkman wrote.
"I'm upset, too. I'm going to miss it as much as you will, if not more so. It breaks my heart that I had to end it, and we have to move on... but I just love this world too much to stretch things out until it doesn't live up to what I want it to be.
"I got to tell my story exactly how I wanted to, for 193 issues, and end it on my terms, with no interference at all along the way... at any point," Kirkman continued. "That's such a rare thing, and it doesn't exist without the unyielding support this series got from readers like you."
When celebrating The Walking Dead's 15th anniversary in October, Kirkman said he knew when it would be time to end it all, but noted the book wouldn't be wrapping up "too soon."
"I know what I have to do to get where I'm going," he told Variety. "I know the stories that have to be told, the deaths that have to happen, the changes I need to make to push things forward and evolve. When I get to those points I'll know it's time. I don't think anyone should have concerns about things wrapping up too soon."
While Kirkman acknowledged he didn't know if he would reach that finishing point in "1,000 issues or 100 issues," he added, "I know what the conclusion of the story is and what has to happen to get there."
Now Kirkman has reached that point, ending his flagship book three months shy of its 16th anniversary.
Solicitations for coming issues in the months ahead, which teased the arrival of a Sheriff Kapoor — who looked suspiciously like a darker-skinned Rick Grimes — as well as the death of another major character at the hands of the "Swordsman," are now known to be fakeouts.
"I think The Walking Dead universe is very strong and it has enough characters within it take up not just his mantle but take up the story and where we've left off after that," artist Charlie Adlard recently told Express when saying the book could "easily survive" without its longtime lead character.
"Believe it or not we've got a few surprises up our sleeves yet to raise some more eyebrows in the fandom."