Polygon put a couple big finales on our list of Most Anticipated Comics of 2019, but it turns out we missed the biggest one: The Walking Dead. This week’s The Walking Dead #193 was the final comic in the series, a fact that writer Robert Kirkman and artist Charlie Adlard managed to keep a secret until the day of its release.
In order to disguise that the comic was coming to an end, Kirkman and Adlard arranged with Walking Dead publisher Image Comics to advertise three more issues, complete with cover art, to retailers. This created the illusion that the series would continue until at least The Walking Dead #196, and presumably longer.
“Personally ... I hate knowing what’s coming,” Kirkman said in a letter at the end of The Walking Dead #193. “As a fan, I hate it when I realize I’m in the third act of a movie and the story is winding down. I hate that I can count commercial breaks and know I’m nearing the end of a TV show. I hate that you can feel when you’re getting to the end of a book, or a graphic novel [...]
“The Walking Dead has always been built on surprise. Not knowing what’s going to happen when you turn the page, who’s going to die, how they’re going to die ... it’s been essential to the success of this series. It’s been the lifeblood that’s been keeping it going all these years, keeping people engaged. It just felt wrong and against the very nature of this series not to make the actual end as surprising as all the big deaths ... from Shane all the way to Rick.”
The Walking Dead #1 hit shelves in 2003, and since then the series has bloomed into a true trans-media empire, spawning multiple TV shows, video games, and more. The comic may not have been as popular today as it once was, but was still a top seller for Image Comics, ranking in the top 30 best selling comics every month of 2019 so far.
So this is surprising, to say the least. But fans —on Reddit, at least — seem to be taking it well, though they differed on whether keeping it a secret enhanced or detracted from their enjoyment.
“While I wish the ending wasn’t a surprise,” Domand2002 shared (link contains spoilers), “and not exactly a fan of it ending around this time in the story (especially after what happened last issue) I definitely like how it ended. [...] Wish it went on longer and we could still have this series continue for many more years but if it is it’s time to end, well I appreciate everything that went into The Walking Dead! This series was amazing, emotional, and awesome! Thank you Robert Kirkman! ”
However, the second most upvoted comment on r/TheWalkingDead’s official thread on The Walking Dead #193, from TheGent316, reads:
“I’ve gotta say that while I respect Kirkman’s intent I’m glad I got spoiled that this was going to be the last issue. If I spent the whole issue thinking this was an amazing set up to a whole new storyline I’d have been pissed when I saw “THE END” rather than just enjoying the story.”
Meanwhile, other folks were just having a good time with jokes about the surprise ending. From Jonathan Hickman, soon to be the writer on Marvel’s X-Men:
I have no idea what’s next for all those Walking Dead dudes, but having your book cancelled unexpectedly is always tough.— Jonathan Hickman (@JHickman) July 3, 2019
Hang in there, guys. One day it’s going to happen for you! Fingers crossed!!!
From Chip Zdarsky, writer of Spider-Man, Howard the Duck, and Jughead:
I think my new Image book, "The Walking Dead #194," is going to do QUITE well— Let's Talk Chip Zdarsky (@zdarsky) July 4, 2019
Others riffed off of a CNN tweet that mistakenly referred to The Walking Dead as a Marvel Comic:
Can't believe Marvel closed Vertigo and ended The Walking Dead in the same month. End of an era. https://t.co/1TRADHHYve— David Harper (@slicedfriedgold) July 3, 2019
This isn’t right. The truth is people petitioned Netflix to end Good Omens, and they said they would if Amazon ended Stranger Things, Amazon said they would if I ended Walking Dead, and I said I would if Kirkman ended #DCeased. Pretty simple. https://t.co/q5vYgB25Ia— Tom Taylor (@TomTaylorMade) July 3, 2019
See, the joke here is that a petition was drawn up to ask that Netflix cancel Good Omens, when Good Omens is actually an Amazon Prime show — so the Amazon Prime Video twitter account joked that it would “cancel” Netflix’s Stranger Things if Netflix canceled Good Omens — and Tom Taylor is writing the DC Comics zombie series DCeased.
Kirkman himself has not tweeted since the news hit. But in his final letter, he seemed positive, saying “Oddly, as unsure as I feel about ending the story, I feel confident in how I ended it. I’ve been building to this for years, and it does feel good to end on [Ed. note: We’ve omitted the end of this sentence to keep from spoiling you].”
You can read the entirety of Kirkman’s letter at The Hollywood Reporter (though the post contains some spoilers), or pick up a copy of The Walking Dead #193.