[This story contains spoilers from the season eight finale of AMC’s The Walking Dead and the comic book series the show is based on.]
The Walking Dead creator Robert Kirkman used his time on Talking Dead to address the surprising end to the “All-Out War” arc in the AMC zombie drama’s eighth season.
After two seasons of battles, the clash between Rick (Andrew Lincoln) and Negan (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) came to a game-changing end during Sunday’s season eight finale. Rather than killing the man who murdered Glenn (Steven Yeun) and Abraham (Michael Cudlitz), among countless others, Rick opted to honor his late son Carl’s (Chandler Riggs) dying wish and not kill the ruthless leader of the Saviors.
Instead, Rick ended season eight with an impassioned speech to the remaining Saviors: help rebuild civilization and fight the common enemy — the undead.
While the decision to keep Negan alive followed Kirkman’s comic series, it was a twist for the show that tends to take a “remix” approach to its source material.
What’s more, it was one of the rare finales — midseason or otherwise — in which none of the show’s large cast of series regulars were killed off.
“This is a huge turning point in a long series of turning points for Rick,” Kirkman said on Talking Dead. “This is him finally realizing that he has to choose a different way.
Every major conflict in the history of The Walking Dead has ended with a huge death or someone dying and this is him choosing life and turning over a new leaf and deciding that there’s a different way forward.
To have that moment where he’s slashing a throat and saving a guy’s life, to have it so heightened, it marks time in a very important way and shows that from this point on the stories are going to be very different.”
For his part, Lincoln said Negan’s reveal that he did not pick Glenn and Abraham at random — but instead selected them because he didn’t want to kill a father in front of his son — was a tipping point for Rick.
“When Negan says the kid didn’t know a damn a thing, he realizes where he’s about to go and what he’s about to become,” Lincoln said on the AMC post-show. “In that fleeting moment, that’s when he decides, ‘If I continue with this and don’t try to save this man’s life, it’s over.’
It ultimately is a story about restraint rather than revenge and love rather than hate, which has always been integral to our show.”
Lincoln and Kirkman’s comments come as outgoing showrunner Scott M. Gimple — who was promoted to oversee all things Walking Dead at AMC — told source that Sunday’s season eight finale was the “end of a chapter of the show.”
He echoed Kirkman’s remarks that the series would be very different in season nine, which will see Angela Kang take over as showrunner.
“The show evolves. They’re facing different problems, different problems with each other and the world itself will be very, very different,” Gimple said on Talking Dead.
As for Morgan, the actor appeared on Talking Dead with a sizable beard as production on season nine begins in a few weeks.
That provides a solid clue that the series could feature the larger time jump reflected in the comics following the end of the “All-Out War” arc.
Click here to read our full analysis on the season eight finale and here to see how the finale set up Maggie’s story as star Lauren Cohan remains without a contract to return for season nine.