AMC’s The Walking Dead has had unparalleled success since its launch in 2010, managing to glue the eyes of millions of fans to their TV screens every Sunday night. It revolutionized zombie-storytelling by making the dead the core setting, but not the primary focus; more than anything, TWD is about ordinary humans and how they behave in the most extreme of situations, how they interact with one another, and how they manage to preserve or not preserve their humanity. That, in my eyes, is TWD‘s greatest strength and what sets it apart from World War Z or other zombie material.
One of the show’s very first villain-characters, Merle Dixon, was one of those ordinary humans. He wasn’t a hero by any means; a drug addict with a rough childhood, a racist, and a sexist. Played by Michael Rooker, Merle met his demise in season three at the hands of his own brother, Daryl. While at Walker Stalker Con this past weekend, Rooker was asked to describe his vision for how The Walking Dead should end, and in my opinion, it is a beautiful one.
“A railroad track…going on forever, into the setting sun. From behind camera, a single individual walks down the middle of the track…into the setting sun. You realize that individual is Carl…all grown-up, a man of his own. No one else is with him—just him. And as he does his voice-over, you realize that all the seasons that you’ve seen is him reliving his past. So everyone on the show is dead. He’s the only survivor, and he’s on his own and walks off into the sunset. And that’s the end of the show.”
I love this vision for one particular reason. It perfectly fits the show’s tone. Over the years, its mantra has always been “No one is safe” and for that reason, a Happy End doesn’t seem like the right choice to me. It’s an apocalyptic world, and an open ending with no real hope of going back to how things were (rebuilding civilization, cleansing the world of walkers) perfectly compliments that setting.
As The Walking Dead is based on a comic book series of the same name, its ending will likely be based on that, however, the comics are still very far ahead of the show. Robert Kirkman, if you happen to be reading this: take Rooker’s vision as inspiration.