When Frank Darabont was fired as the original showrunner of The Walking Dead back in 2011, there was some speculation that it was because Robert Kirkman — the show’s creator and the author of the graphic novels — was concerned that Darabont would stray too far from the source material. Whether true or not, Kirkman has always had a reputation for being a purist, and with some minor variations here and there, the television show’s storylines have usually played out identically to the comic series.
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That’s why it came as such a huge shock to viewers when Carl Grimes was bitten by a zombie in the midseason finale of the eighth season. Not only does that not happen in the comics, but there’s not even an equivalent storyline where another character is killed in a similar fashion. Carl’s death, like the existence of Daryl Dixon, is wholly unique to the television series. If viewers thought that Carl’s impending death might have given Kirkman some pause, they’d be absolutely right, as he tells Entertainment Weekly:
“I think [showrunner Scott Gimple] first brought it up to me as a possibility probably about a year ago at this point. At first, I was kind of like, ‘Well, that’s a big one, you know?’ I might have had a little bit of trepidation.”
When Gimple provided him with more details, however, Kirkman changed his tune. “Once he laid out to me exactly what his long-term plans were, and the things that come out of it, and the things that it leads to, it was something I got on board with.”
Fans of the series, however, do not yet have access to those details, so many obviously remain concerned (some even launched a petition to have Scott Gimple fired). Carl, after all, is one of only five cast members remaining from the first season, and another one, Lennie James, is leaving the show at the end of this season to appear in Fear the Walking Dead. Kirkman understands and even appreciates that concern. “We are supposed to be worried about what comes next,” he told EW. “And anticipating what comes next, and stressing about what comes next. That just shows that you’re engaged and you’re interested. Our job is to now pay that off and fulfill that interest, and prove that this was a decision worth making. That’s what we’ve got to do.”
While Kirkman, Gimple and even Chandler Riggs — who plays Carl — insist that the midseason premiere will give fans some peace with Carl’s departure, there’s still the matter of future storylines, specifically the Whisperer War, in which Carl Grimes plays a major role. Kirkman, however, doesn’t seem to be too concerned.
“There are big, huge stories coming up that you might think will be massively altered because of the absence of Carl,” says Kirkman. “But we have known these story lines have been coming for years. There are plans in place to make it all work. The loss of Carl doesn’t necessarily mean that we’re going to be losing big swaths of the comic book story. It means that there will be some differences to them. The goal is that those differences will be as exciting to the audience as they are to me.”
Kirkman’s statement also seems to preclude the possibility that The Walking Dead might skip the Whisperer War altogether, as a popular theory suggests. That’s almost too bad because it means we may actually have to wait until season 11 before we see the biggest game changer on the series since the arrival of Negan.
In the meantime, The Walking Dead returns to AMC on February 25th.