Major spoilers below for anyone who isn't current with The Walking Dead comics through issue #192.
The end of an era went down within the pages of The Walking Dead comic book, with Alexandria head honcho and all-around lead character Rick Grimes shuffling off this mortal coil and joining the choir invisible. (Or at least the choir undead.) Like many other readers undoubtedly feel, I can't quite believe Rick's death actually happened. But it did, and creator Robert Kirkman knew he would have a lot of explaining to do as fans questioned why it happened, and how it ties to the TV show.
Robert Kirkman's Explanation
Wisely, Robert Kirkman spent more than a full page of #192's Letter Hacks section offering up his take and his reasoning for having Rick die at the hands of a turdball of a teenager. (As well as saying goodbye to longtime inker Stefano Gaudiano.) First, he noted that Rick's death has been in the docket for longer than fans might have expected.
Rick's death was planned longer than any death in this series. I've been working toward this since I started writing... issue #1. It doesn't make it any easier, but it's been something I've been getting more and more used to as the years got down to months and then weeks... I knew it was coming.
To be fair, that's not such a surprising statement to make. Robert Kirkman has long stated that he has a rough draft version of how he wants The Walking Dead to end. Since Rick Grimes is no longer part of the comic story in a full-bodied capacity, it can be inferred that Kirkman didn't envision the end of this story with Rick involved. Thus, he likely would have earmarked that kind of big moment early on in order to use it later.
What's more, Robert Kirkman got ahead of any suggestions that pinning the big death on Sebastian was an impulsive decision. In his words:
Even before we introduced Sebastian Milton (in issue #177) I knew he was the one who would kill Rick Grimes. For almost a decade now I knew Rick would choose to preserve the Commonwealth no matter the cost... and it would cost him his life.
It all jibes with The Walking Dead's overall themes and the ideals that Comic Rick has held for a long time. (TV Rick came into those notions in far different ways, and they weren't always displayed so prominently there in the end.) There's certainly a debate to be had about whether or not getting shot in his bed was the best way to have Rick dying for the Commonwealth, but the event itself is justified, considering Rick's efforts in keeping cooler heads prevailing during his time there.
Now, let's dive into how this might affect things in live-action.
Could Rick's Comic Book Death Affect AMC's Rick Grimes Movies?
This is a topic I approached previously, when it wasn't yet known what would come from Sebastian's seemingly accidental gunshot. Having his death confirmed now opens that conversation up even wider, since Rick's survival in the comics always gave me hope that Andrew Lincoln's character would be able to exit the TV narrative with his life intact.
Spoiler-friendly as he might be at times, Robert Kirkman obviously wasn't going to offer up any concrete resolutions on this front, but he did shut down a comic/TV theory that might be floating around out there.
I don't like addressing the TV show, simply because it has no bearing on this series. This series informs the show, not the other way around. BUT... we did lose Rick Grimes this year on the TV show as well, although he didn't die. So I feel compelled to state for the record that the events of this issue were in no way a reaction to that. As I stated, this has been planned for a LONG time.
It would appear that Robert Kirkman has received some correspondence from comic readers suggesting that he wrote Rick’s death into the source material in reaction to Andrew Lincoln leaving the TV show. That wasn’t the case at all, though, according to the creator. I’m not sure why a comic book character would need to die just because his live-action counterpart did, so hopefully that confirmation will assuage some fans’ worries on that front.
In any case, Robert Kirkman craftily didn't address if or how Rick's comic book death may play into wherever Rick's story is heading for AMC's standalone movies. Fans technically don't even know if The Commonwealth is getting introduced in live-action, even though it appears that will end up being the case. (Especially if The Walking Dead's radio plotline plays out similarly to the comics.)
However, everyone can probably take comfort in TV Rick having the same values as Comic Rick. So if the AMC drama ends up introducing a new community that he could try to preserve by sacrificing himself for it, then you can put good money on TV Rick attempting to make that sacrifice. I mean, that's basically how he left the flagship series, in which he blew up a bridge (and himself) to thwart a walker herd.
Perhaps there is a clue to be found in what Robert Kirkman said to The New York Times about what he expected the fans' reaction to be.
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.
Robert Kirkman specifically brought up that he was toying with reader expectations with Rick's death, not that it's any big secret that he does that. I, for one, had a sizable stack of hopes that the latest issue would start off with Sebastian running away in fear while Rick found immediate medical help. Instead of how it actually started, with Sebastian putting a few more bullets in Rick before leaving him to rise up as a walker.
From there, we can likely surmise that The Walking Dead TV show's creative team will take the same approach when considering readers' expectations for what will happen to Rick whenever his story is front and center once more. I guess it'll boil down to whether or not fans most expect for Rick to survive or to die whenever his standalone films get released. (Spoilers: He's going to survive the first one for sure.)
The Walking Dead won't return to AMC until this October, and it's not clear at all when the Rick movies will be popping up. In the meantime, though, Fear the Walking Dead Season 5 has started off in earnest, and it has seemingly already made its own big connection to Rick's future narrative. It airs Sunday nights on AMC at 9:00 p.m. ET.