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Jeffrey Dean Morgan finally got to stretch his legs again for The Walking Dead Season 10, with Negan arguably earning a new lease on a life that's free from imprisonment. It'll be interesting to see how long the villain can maintain his new moral center, since the character's behavior will likely dictate just how long Morgan will be around as a Walking Dead star.
While he's not necessarily talking about Negan's shelf life in particular, Jeffrey Dean Morgan has some ideas about when The Walking Dead should and could bow out as a whole. Here's how he put it:
You don’t want to run it into the ground. Me personally, I’d say let’s go out on top. Let’s go out still being the number one show in the world. Whether or not that happens, I don’t know. I think if we just stuck with the comic book, we’ve still got another three years. We do deviate a lot, but I think there’s probably a good three years of material there.
Let's pull out both of his main points separately. First, Jeffrey Dean Morgan thinks The Walking Dead should follow a path that relatively few TV shows are able to utilize, in which the creative team purposefully pulls the plug in the midst of a show's crest in popularity. It's certainly an admirable enough idea, with no show pulling the feat off more successfully than Seinfeld back in 1998.
However, one has to really stretch the definition of "going out on top" for that to be the case if The Walking Dead producers made Season 10 its final season. It's true that the AMC drama still has a pretty good hold on the 18-49 age demographic ratings, but The Walking Dead hit some serious series lows in Season 9, in part due to exits from leads Andrew Lincoln and Lauren Cohan.
Unless things turn around in a huge way when Season 10 starts, current broadcast shows such as The Voice (8.93 million viewers, 1.7 rating) and 9-1-1 (7.14 million viewers, 1.6 rating) are already toppling The Walking Dead's stats for the latter episodes of Season 9. It's certainly possible that there will be an uptick in fans tuning in to see how Danai Gurira gets written off, but it's not entirely likely.
The second point Jeffrey Dean Morgan made Variety was his guess on how many years The Walking Dead has left in terms of adapting Robert Kirkman's comic book narratives. At this point, the actor thinks there are about three years worth of episodes left that would essentially run parallel with the source material, which came to a shocking conclusion earlier this year after 194 issues. It was made clear (as if it wasn't already) that the TV show's fate wouldn't be affected by the comic's swan song, but tons of fans are wondering just how close the adapting will get when those final issues are broached.
In any case, The Walking Dead EP Scott Gimple and current showrunner Angela Kang have been building the show out so that there are a growing number of ways for the TV series to divert storylines both so audiences can remain on their toes, and also so that the creative team isn't so tethered to established story beats. Season 10 will arguably showcase the biggest comic-to-TV disparity yet, especially after the changes that were made to the Whisperers' big fair massacre in Season 9.
That said, Angela Kang doesn't necessarily share in Jeffrey Dean Morgan's three-year foresight, and offered up her own answer about the show's future.
Depending at the pace we go, it could be very fast at the end or it could be very slow. We always fill in with original material. Robert said to me and Scott Gimple, 'Look at all these threads that I set up for you,' so the story could go a million different ways.
Not only is the TV show splintering off its narratives, but the franchise's future will explode soon thanks to development on the third standalone Walking Dead TV show. Plus, it wasn't long ago when Jeffrey Dean Morgan was talking about there being discussions surrounding a Negan-centered feature similar to the Rick Grimes movies that Andrew Lincoln will be starring in. Will we get one of those in the next three years? Will The Walking Dead's AMC series still be on the air at that point? (Definitely on the latter, so long as AMC calls the shots.)
The Walking Dead will kick off its Whisperer-filled Season 10 on AMC on Sunday, October 6, at 9:00 p.m. ET.