The Walking Dead's ending may be on the horizon, but the TV show doesn't need to end yet - it just needs to plan how it's going to finish. After the sudden conclusion to The Walking Dead comics with issue #193, there's been a lot of talk about what the future holds for TWD on television, although AMC has been keen to reassure fans it's not going anywhere for a while.
Still, it's clear that the network is making plans for a time without its flagship series. Alongside Fear The Walking Dead, there's a third TWD spin-off in the works and a trilogy of movies featuring Andrew Lincoln's Rick Grimes. The Walking Dead, meanwhile, is about to enter its tenth season, which is a long run for a cable drama, and its ending is going to come sooner rather than later.
While its variations in quality and decline in ratings have led to suggestions The Walking Dead could and indeed should be canceled, that isn't necessarily going to help things. The Walking Dead's long had a problem with formula and repetition, and what it needs to do now in its twilight years is figure out a plan to go out on a high.
The Walking Dead's Ending Is In Sight
While for a long time it seemed as though The Walking Dead would never end, the finish line is now in sight for the series. The show's ratings have plummeted in recent years, with its viewership even dipping below 5 million in season 9. Compounding matters in this regard is that the principal cast members keep leaving: Andrew Lincoln has gone; Lauren Cohan (Maggie Rhee) left already too, and will likely return but only part-time; Danai Gurira (Michonne) will exit in season 10.
They aren't just minor departures, but key characters whose journeys have lasted almost as long as the show, and it's harder to continue on without them. It still has other key figures such as Norman Reedus' Daryl and Michelle McBride's Carol, but beyond them there will soon be a lack of beloved, well-developed characters. On top of that, The Walking Dead has just two years of comics material left. Ending somewhere around the season 11 or 12 mark would seem to make a lot of sense from its current position, giving the long-running series roughly 3 years left on the air.
The Walking Dead Doesn't Need To End Just Yet
It's tempting to look at the various factors that've affected The Walking Dead in the past few years - the decline in ratings, the departure of significant cast members, and now the comics ending - and determine that it'd be better if the show simply ended. Indeed, there have been calls in some quarters, especially from disillusioned fans who have perhaps given up on the series already, that AMC would be better off just cutting their losses and going out with whatever good grace they have left.
Although understandable, The Walking Dead doesn't need to end just yet. The ratings certainly look bad when compared to the incredible heights the show once soared to, but when contrasted with most other cable dramas, they're actually pretty solid, and it's still AMC's biggest TV show by some margin. There are still interesting, worthwhile stories to tell too, including the impending Whisperers War and beyond that plots centered around the Commonwealth.
The Walking Dead returned to form in season 9. It wasn't quite the same as its glory days, but it was certainly a major improvement on seasons 7 & 8, with new showrunner Angela Kang breathing fresh life into what had felt like a dead show walking. That isn't something the producers can take for granted, but instead means they once more have a strong platform on which they can build The Walking Dead's future - and ideally its ending too.
TWD Needs To Plan & Work Towards A Proper Ending
One of the big problems that has plagued The Walking Dead throughout its run is the feeling that it isn't going anywhere. Longtime fans became familiar with the show's routine, which would involve the group finding an apparently safe location, quickly running into trouble, a big blowout, and then going back on the road until the next location came along, and the cycle began anew. It's broken free of this in recent years, instead building up a number of communities, but it's still not clear where it's all headed. It might be staying put at Alexandria and Hilltop, but it's easy to see how that could lead to a new sense of stasis a few years from now, and the series fizzling out once again.
That's why The Walking Dead needs to plan an ending, and gradually begin working towards it. It's no easy feat to end a show of this size, so it's better to start slowly moving into that endgame now, especially when cast members are leaving. It's generally better for TV shows to be able to know when they're ending and what the conclusion is going to be, allowing them to go out on their own terms, than it is to be backed into a corner and forced to write a sudden finale. This is something AMC has proven good at before now, with the likes of Mad Men and Breaking Bad knowing with plenty of time that their final seasons were coming, and being able to plan accordingly, moving characters and storylines into place for a big finish. The Walking Dead doesn't need to rush in that sense, but it should definitely start thinking about and laying the groundwork for its own ending.
What The Walking Dead's Ending Might Be
It's easy to say that The Walking Dead should end, but another proposition entirely to imagine just what that ending might be. Although we now know how the TWD comics end, it doesn't entirely help because the TV show is so different now, and thus can't have the same ending, not least because neither Rick nor Carl Grimes is on the series anymore (though Rick could still return).
That being said, The Walking Dead should look to echo The Walking Dead comics ending in terms of tone: Robert Kirkman went out on a surprisingly hopeful note for humanity, and given how The Walking Dead's twin themes have long been hope and despair, it'd be great to see the TV show choosing the former in the end. It shouldn't offer to concrete a solution, such as walkers being completely gone or a cure being found, because it feels a little too convenient, and from a logistics point, it'd hinder the other spin-offs. But something that suggests a brighter future, perhaps with Judith in place of Carl, while containing just enough ambiguity for it to not be a totally happy ending, would be quite fitting.
It could also be that the show's ending ties into the movies. This has, after all, largely been the story of Rick Grimes, so if they can find a way to tie back into his tale and bring the entire series full circle, perhaps by reuniting the Grimes family (with both Lincoln and Gurira agreeing to return) and again hinting at the hopeful future, even if it's in the wake of Rick's real death, could make for a bittersweet conclusion to The Walking Dead.