Spoilers below for the latest and final issue of The Walking Dead comic book.
Despite Robert Kirkman's best laid plans, news leaked early that this week's issue of The Walking Dead, #193, would be its surprise grand finale. Jumping into the future to show fans how Carl and the rest of the surviving world were holding up in the years following Rick Grimes' anger-inspiring murder, the comic immediately made an argument for itself as one of the series' best. It also contained one of Kirkman's most informational and emotional Letter Hacks sections.
It was there where Robert Kirkman finally clued fans in on something he's kept close to the vest for years: how The Walking Dead comic was originally going to end. While the creator previously stated that he'd originally planned to end things soon after Rick's group arrived in Alexandria, Kirkman detailed the depressingly disturbing way the story could have capped off 121 issues earlier.
When the story got to Alexandria in issue #72, things were going to go pretty much as they did; Rick and his crew were going to have trouble fitting in because of everything they'd been through. That would lead to conflict within Alexandria, and it would eventually lead to Rick taking over. The big storyline 'No Way Out' ended with Rick proclaiming that Alexandria was a place worth fighting for, that they could no longer keep moving from place to place... they had to take a stand, lay down roots and start building from there. Their nomad days were behind them.
Well, for years... that had been planned to be... the end. Rick would make his proclamation, and the speech would end with a big close-up on Rick's face, you'd turn the page, and Rick's face would be the same, only it was a statue... and you'd zoom out and see the full statue with some vines growing on the bottom of it... cracks forming... and you'd realize that it was quite OLD.
Dun-dun-dunnn! Is everyone following along with this timeline transition accordingly? Did you get a weird case of goosebumps seeing that this was an old statue of Rick? Well, it about to get worse.
Kirkman continued his bonkers Walking Dead admission:
We'd keep zooming out until we saw that the statue was in Alexandria, the same place where he gave the speech, but it was different. It was old and rundown, broken windows and missing doors. We would keep zooming out until a zombie walked by, then another, and we'd see that Rick had brought them to Alexandria, given this grand speech about rebuilding civilization and SUCCEEDED to the point that they built a statue to honor him... but in the end, the dead won, society crumbled again, this time seemingly for good... and that was it.
Hot damn, Robert Kirkman's Plan A would have been a bummer of an ending on a magnitude comparable to the way Frank Darabont's The Mist ended for Thomas Jane's character. Perhaps interestingly, the timelines match up so that The Mist could feasibly have been a big inspiration while Kirkman was plotting future Dead stories and scripts in 2008-2009.
Maybe it wasn't related at all, but if so, it would strengthen Darabont's connection to the franchise, since he co-created the AMC drama. (And is currently still in the process of a big lawsuit about it.) It wouldn't change anything either way, of course, but it would make for a good tale.
In any case, if you thought that original ending sounded like a breath of stank-ass air, you're not alone. Robert Kirkman got very critical about it himself in The Walking Dead's final issue:
It was a TERRIBLE ending. Bleak, sad... made the whole story pointless. What can I say... I was young and most of the endings I wrote or came up with back then... were pretty bleak. So that ending... in hindsight was embarrassingly bad, but more than that, I wasn't ready to end this series. Not by a long shot.
Robert Kirkman didn't explain why he'd even started formulating any kind of endings for The Walking Dead at that point in its run, but that might have also been a youth-related mistake. He did go on to say that for a long time, he wasn't capable of thinking the series would make it to its 100th issue.
At some point in the process, though, Kirkman realized that he actually had a lot more stories to tell about Rick, Michonne and the rest, to the point where he then fantastized about reaching 300 issues. However, Kirkman later landed at what the true Walking Dead ending would be, and he cited Charlie Adlard's cover for #142 as the inciting factor in realizing he no longer had that same abundance of stories to deliver.
After having had the pleasure of reading #193 minutes after its release, I cannot imagine going back to that point in The Walking Dead's storyline and discovering that the death of Rick and all of civilization happened between the panels and away from readers' eyes. That would have been a gut punch by way of the throat.
And it's not just because of all the amazing characters, locations and plotlines that followed Rick taking over Alexandria. But because even by that point, Rick Grimes had already established himself as the post-apocalypse's biggest hero, and he only got more wise and strategic in the years after first calling Alexandria home. It would have been devastating to discover that Rick's stellar leadership was still short of what was necessary for humanity to win out over the dead.
Okay, yes, it also would have been devastating in hindsight to never read the phrase "fucking fuck fuckity fuck fucker" or even be aware that it could exist. I wonder if Negan would have also gotten a statue in that original ending's timeline.
The Walking Dead's comic book series is now over, but Robert Kirkman definitely has more exciting books for fans to check out. (Invincible is downright superb.) Plus, the franchise will keep going strong for years in live-action, and Fear the Walking Dead is seemingly carving out its own road to the comic's mega-location The Commonwealth, assuming that's where all the helicopter people are coming from.