Central character Rick Grimes (Andrew Lincoln) has left The Walking Dead, and no, he wasn’t killed by a horrific zombie maul, or in a protracted scene of human to human torment. Instead he left via a succession of in-episode accidents, before a last hurrah of heroism that will cement his position as leader-most-worthy, according to ‘his people’ anyway. Lincoln of course had his own reasons for leaving the show[1], but for The Walking Dead in its televised form, and for parent channel AMC, the departure of Rick Grimes ushers in planned growth and expansion of The Walking Dead.

Fig. 1: In his delirium, Rick has visions of the death of everyone

Fig. 1: In his delirium, Rick has visions of the death of everyone

The Walking Dead (I am always referring to the TV series, not the comic) has come a long way since the one-man-and-his-apocalypse that was pitched to the public when it first aired on Halloween night 2010. In industrial terms, the show has already survived so much. Before it even aired, upon announcing the green lighting of a zombie drama, critics in the trade and entertainment press were quick to question the move by AMC, asking where zombies would fit with the dramas that AMC were enjoying success with at the time (Mad Men, AMC, 2007 – 2015, and Breaking Bad, AMC, 2008 – 2013). The Walking Dead survived losing its links to film legitimacy when Frank Darabont was fired. It survived the strife of multiple and changing showrunners, leaving season 2 spinning its storytelling wheels. But eventually, the show got into its stride around seasons 4 and 5, and became an absolute juggernaut. At its peak, The Walking Dead was pulling 17.4 million views. With such huge numbers of viewers and advertiser coveted ratings that the broadcast networks could only dream of, The Walking Dead brought such noise that a TV horror boom ensued.

The critics were circling like vultures, just dying for The Walking Dead to stumble and fall. And stumble it did. Viewers and ratings started to decrease, the zombies themselves lost their potency and became mere beacons of generic fidelity. The cast swelled to include several new communities[2], and the show was criticised for fake out deaths and deaths that were too violent[3]. However, while the numbers did fall, the numbers were so high in the first place, that here we are in season 9, The Walking Dead is still according to Neilson, in the number 2 spot on US television, second only to the NFL. It is perfectly normal and expected that for such a long running television serialisation, that the numbers will fall. The Walking Dead is down an average of 11 million viewers than when it was at its peak in season 5. It has always seemed to me, that such glee is taken in the decreasing of The Walking Dead figures, because of residual disdain for zombie texts amongst the great and the good of the television press critics.

Fig. 2: Episode 5.01 'No Sanctuary' drew the highest views and ratings.

Fig. 2: Episode 5.01 ‘No Sanctuary’ drew the highest views and ratings.

Regardless, The Walking Dead staggers on and it is still AMC’s most successful and most lucrative show. But what of this expansion, post the exit of key character Rick Grimes? Will the loss of the central character whom we have been following for years herald the death of the show? Apparently not. In addition to the prequel spinoff Fear The Walking Dead (AMC, 2015 – ), the after episode chat show Talking Dead (AMC, 2011 – )[4], telefilms, new TV shows and digital content are all in the planning works. AMC are at pains to say what this digital content will be, but the films made for the channel will follow Rick Grimes after his helicopter ride at the end of episode 9.05 ‘What Comes After.’ The story of Rick Grimes and his apocalypse is far from over.

What does this mean for the original TV version of The Walking Dead? It means that with new showrunner Angela Kang at the helm, The Walking Dead is making moves to be a more female led show. In fact, I would argue that The Walking Dead so far has been an exercise in exploring all that is negative about masculinity and man’s desire for power[5] – but thats a topic for another post. With Rick Grimes gone, Daryl moodily mumbling in the corner, and Negan a sniveling mess in a prison cell, the violence and zombie kills in season 9 have so far fallen to the women. Maggie (rightfully) hanged Gregory and has dispatched dozens of walkers already. Carol has been leading what remains of Oceanside, Michhone is leading Alexandria, and the women of Oceanside have finally taken their due and bloody revenge on some of the Saviors. Lincoln’s departure from the TV show marks a new (female led) direction for the original TV serialisation of The Walking Dead, and an expansion more generally, into new territory of storytelling structure and digital platforms.

Fig. 3: The key females for the future

Fig. 3: The key females for the future

Ex-showrunner Scott Gimple, is now Chief Content Officer for The Walking Dead and Fear The Walking Dead. A title that serves to in of itself point to the expansion plans that are afoot, if just the one property needs its own Chief Content Officer. Gimple said that The Walking Dead is more than the TV serialisation, it is a franchise. Talking to The Hollywood Reporter, Gimple said that the trio of telepics he is currently writing which will follow Rick Grimes, will mark the start of AMC’s “long term plan to grow its multi-billion dollar franchise (Goldberg, The Hollywood Reporter, 2018). AMC plan to ride the zombie wave for many years to come, with Chief Executive Officer Josh Sapan saying AMC intend to rinse another 10 years out of The Walking Dead (Saw, Bloomberg, 2018). Thats a lot of Walking Dead, even for committed fans (like me). There are to be more TV shows – the rumor mill is turning with whispers of a Walking Dead located somewhere else in the world; finally answering the question as to whether “we’re all infected” only relates to the United States, or a global infection. The Walking Dead has been a worldwide success thanks to AMC’s partnership with FOX International Channels [6] A Walking Dead set outside the United States then, could indeed have milage and be highly lucrative.

All this expansion will come at a cost. With rising cast wages and special effects that need to keep pushing the skill level. As the storyline timeline keeps on, the zombies themselves have gotten grosser as they rot and succumb to the environment[7]. With films for television, new TV series and digital content, AMC needs to find the money. Sure, The Walking Dead has made mega bucks; it has thousands of rabid fans, and makes more money on merchandising at its popular Walker Stalker Conventions, than it does from the sales of reruns (Saw, Bloomberg, 2018). The only question remaining is as to whether AMC will continue to weather the zombie apocalypse alone, or partner up with some of the bigger players. While owning all the rights to The Walking Dead has so far proved highly lucrative, with such plans for the franchise spanning the next decade and beyond, it might be a better plan for AMC to forge a partnership with other media companies. How much The Walking Dead will continue as the TV show we know it to be, remains to be seen. But whatever happens, wherever the apocalypse takes Rick Grimes and the zombies, I know I will be sticking around to find out.

Stella Gaynor is an Associate Lecturer at The University of Salford in the Arts and Media Department, teaching on the BA(hons) Television and Radio programme. She has submitted her thesis titled Made For TV Monsters: How has the rise of horror on US television affected the spectacle and acceptability of the genre? She has written a chapter on the global spread of The Walking Dead and FOX International Channels in the forthcoming book Global TV Horror, edited by Stacey Abbott and Lorna Jowett.




[1]   Lincoln cited the grueling shooting conditions and wanting to spend more time with his family in the UK.

[2]   Alexandria, Hilltop, The Saviors, Oceanside, The Kingdom.

[3]   The brutal killings of fan favourite Glenn Rhee and Abraham Ford sparked hilarious moral outrage. If it ain’t the zombies making the gore then its all a bit too much.

[4]   There have also been various webisodes that appeared on the AMC website.

[5]   See Shane, The Governor, Gareth of Terminus, Gregory of the Hilltop, Negan, Simon: all men whose desire for power and ownership has caused Rick and his people no end of trouble.

[6]   FOX International Channels distribute The Walking Dead around the world, have encouraged the global success via its day and date tactic of showing new episodes globally with 24 hours of the US airing, The Walking Dead is one of the most popular shows internationally.

[7]   We have had water logged zombies, sand preserved  mummy – like zombies, moldy zombies, and melted by napalm into the asphalt zombies.