The Walking Dead Takes an Unexpected Turn
This interview includes spoilers for Wednesday’s issue of The Walking Dead comic book series.
Rick Grimes, a leader of a group of survivors living in the zombie world of “The Walking Dead,” the TV show, escaped death in November after months of buildup to his demise. (Rick, played by Andrew Lincoln, will return in a series of spinoff films that are in the works.) Given that fake-out, many fans will be surprised by the events in the comic book. In Issue No. 192, which comes out on Wednesday, Rick dies.
Last month, Rick was shot in the chest by Sebastian, the spoiled son of the leader of the Commonwealth, a rival settlement. But a meeting of Rick’s people and the Commonwealth leads to good things — like Michonne, who is in Rick’s group, reuniting with her daughter. But the Commonwealth’s strict class structure and Rick’s egalitarian ways do not mesh and Sebastian ultimately reacts with violence. The issue ended with Rick asking, “What did you do?” Those are nearly his last words as Wednesday’s installment begins with Sebastian firing twice more.
The issue shines a spotlight on the artist Charlie Adlard, who conveys the enormity of the event and its aftermath in several dialogue-free pages. (The issue, which is published by Skybound, an imprint of Image Comics, was inked by Stefano Gaudiano.) “It was a real challenge and thrill to depict so many characters in so few pages, trying to convey this sense of loss, without going too over the top,” Adlard said by email.
Robert Kirkman, who created and writes The Walking Dead, answered some questions about the series in a phone interview last week. These are edited excerpts from the conversation.
What was the timing on the decision to kill Rick?
It’s something I’ve had planned for a long time. It’s a weird feeling for me because it’s been so inevitable. I’ve kind of been dealing with it, preparing myself for it emotionally for years. It’s still upsetting. I haven’t built to a character death for as long as I have with Rick. It’s a much different experience for me than when we killed Andrea or Ezekiel or other characters.
Did you always know Rick would die?
I knew that he wouldn’t survive to the end from the very beginning. It’s always been in the back of my mind that he can be taken off the table for story purposes. When I started developing the Commonwealth arc, I knew that we were going to get to this community that had some very distinct flaws, but was the first real solid step toward getting back to civilization, a place that has restaurants and has an infrastructure and a working government, although a corrupted government. A fixer-upper civilization, if you will, and that Rick would essentially be giving his life to preserve this civilization.
What do you think the fan reaction is going to be to this?
Well, I don’t know. It’s a big year for fan reaction. I think initially people are going to be angry. We’ve had No. 191 in stores and he gets shot at the end of it. But because Walking Dead has so many swerves and misdirects, there are people that are like, “It looks like he’s going to die, but he’s not; they would never do this!” So I’m kind of playing with fan reaction that way. But so far the reaction has been mixed, a lot of people saying, “If Rick dies, I’m totally quitting this book.” But I’ve been getting that threat forever and the book is doing fine.
Do you think about issue numbers as you plan? Why not save Rick’s death for No. 200?
I try not to pay attention to anything and just think, what does the story need, what leads to the next big thing? Once I have a basic outline then I have to sit back and think, how do I structure this for the six-issue trade and the 12-issue hardcover and the 24-issue slipcase and the 48-issue compendium? It gives me a structure that I think is very helpful for the storytelling. That’s why Rick dies in issue No. 192: No. 192 is the end of a compendium. So it seems like an arbitrary number, but it really isn’t.
There was a time when I thought Rick could go in the direction of Walter White on “Breaking Bad.” He seemed to get dictatorial as time went on.
I’m too much of a softy for that. When we were really knee deep in the Negan story line, I always maintained that if you had followed Negan’s group from the beginning and been there every step of the way for every decision he made, you would have been on Negan’s side in issue No. 100 when he killed Glenn. Rick had made as many terrible decisions and had crossed as many lines; it’s just that we saw it from Rick’s perspective.
Is there coordination with the show?
There’s coordination. A lot of the changes on the show end up being contractual. If Andrew Lincoln wants to spend more time with his family or wants to take the character in new directions that necessitates a film series as opposed to our television structure, those are things that we have to take into consideration. I don’t really have to deal with that in the comics.
How much have the television characters diverged from their comic counterparts?
Michonne had to take a lot of Andrea’s story line because Andrea lived a long time in the comic book series but died fairly early in the show. Because of that, some of the stuff with Michonne in the comics was given to Carol. That’s where Scott’s term “remixing” comes from. [Scott M. Gimple is chief content officer of The Walking Dead television universe.]
What is it like to have full control of the series?
It’s still very much the Wild West on this book. I can make crazy decisions that could outright destroy this book if I’m not careful. Walking that tightrope is exhilarating.
How much art direction do you give Charlie?
There’s a tremendous amount of collaboration, especially at this point in our working career. So I can say “the whole town has gathered to see Rick off” and then he turns it into this amazing masterpiece. We work pretty closely on the pacing of things like working on the page turns and making sure that the emotional beats fall where they need. That massive two page spread, that shows you each person and their moment, for the most part, I just rattle off who’s there, but he knows the emotions that need to be showing. Charlie’s able to bring that to life.