AMC’s The Walking Dead, which redefined the definition of ratings success for basic cable and became a cultural phenomenon, will end its storied run after 11 seasons, the network announced Wednesday. But it will be a long good-bye: The zombie drama will not wrap for another two years — most likely in late 2022 —and only after production of 30 more episodes spread between the previously announced 6-episode coda to season 10 and what will now be a supersized, 24-episode season 11. And even then, the franchise isn’t anywhere close to fading, with AMC today green-lighting a new TWD series revolving around the characters played by Norman Reedus and Melissa McBride while also putting into development an episodic anthology series set in the Dead universe.
The slow-motion send-off of TWD isn’t completely unexpected, considering the show’s age and declining (yet still impressive) Nielsen ratings. Still, it represents a major watershed for AMC, which morphed into a powerhouse network during the last decade on the strength of three tentpoles— Mad Men, Breaking Bad, and TWD. While Mad Men hasn’t been revisited, AMC successfully spun off Better Call Saul from Breaking Bad (Saul ends next year) and has already produced two scripted offshoots of TWD (Fear the Walking Dead and the new World Beyond, which debuts October 4). “The Walking Dead made television history, and is one of those rare creative works that has given life to an entire content universe that is still in the early stages of growing and entertaining both new and established fans,” Ed Carroll, chief operating officer of AMC Networks, said in a statement announcing the end of the show’s run.
Dead chief content officer Scott M. Gimple and other producers have been playing coy in recent months about when the original series would end, but he and showrunner Angela Kang will have plenty of time and creative space to wrap up the show. Most TWD seasons run for 16 episodes, but season 10 will now essentially go for 22 episodes (including next month’s one-off episode and the 6 bonus episodes of season 10 in 2021), while season 11 will have 8 more episodes than usual (essentially an extra half-season.) “I look forward to digging in with our brilliant writers, producers, directors, cast and crew to bring this epic final chapter of Robert Kirkman’s story to life for our fans over the next two years,” Kang said via press release, while Gimple said there was “a lot of thrilling story left to tell on TWD” between the final season and the spin-offs. “This end will be a beginning of more Walking Dead – brand new stories and characters, familiar faces and places, new voices, and new mythologies,” he said. “Evolution is upon us. The Walking Dead lives.”
AMC isn’t offering too many specifics about the new TWD projects, though it did say Kang will serve as showrunner and co-creator (with Gimple) of the untitled spin-off starring Reedus and McBride; that the two will be reprising their roles as Daryl and Carol; and that it is expected to premiere in 2023. “In playing Carol, and as a viewer of the show, I’ve also long been intrigued with ‘Daryl and Carol’,’’ McBride said via press release. “Their shared history is long, and each’s own personal fight to survive, even longer – the more obvious aspect of what has kept them close and loyal. But there is also a rather mysterious aspect to their fondness for one another that I enjoy, and their playfulness when the world permits.” Added Reedus: “Daryl’s relationship with Carol has always been my favorite relationship on the show (sorry Rick). I love the way these characters interact and relate to each other on so many levels and can’t wait to see where their ride goes from here.”
Meanwhile, the new anthology series still in the development stages will be called Tales of the Walking Dead and will feature “individual episodes or arcs of episodes focused on new or existing characters, backstories or other stand-alone experiences,” per an AMC release. AMC hasn’t yet given a production green light to the project, which is being developed by Gimple, who is also working on several other ideas for the franchise, the network said.
At its peak five years ago, TWD was averaging 14 million same-day viewers (with millions more watching on a delayed basis), with some episodes surpassing 20 million viewers (including delayed viewing.) And for five seasons, the series was the No. 1 show on all of television (broadcast or cable) in key demographics — an unprecedented feat for a basic cable series. While its linear audience has shrunk dramatically in the years since, it remains the No. 1 show on cable among adults under 50 (with Yellowstone recently surpassing it in terms of overall viewership.)