Both based on beloved source material by iconic creators, both arguably the top television shows in the world, Game of Thrones and The Walking Dead have redefined genre television for a new generation, adding dramatic weight and heft in telling a human story in fantasy worlds, whether the world is Westeros or post-zombie apocalypse America. The difference and excellence of these shows can be best summarized by this: Game of Thrones has dragons and The Walking Dead has zombies . . . but neither is even close to being about either. Both are barreling trains of commerce, storytelling, and . . . they’re running out of track.
Game of Thrones already seems destined to outstrip the books on which the series is based, A Song of Ice and Fire by George R.R. Martin. With the upcoming fifth season beginning to dovetail away from and add new material to the books-to-show translation (it will be primarily based on both Martin’s fourth and fifth books, 2005’s A Feast for Crows and 2011’s A Dance with Dragons), even book readers are finally at a deficit, no longer aware of a climatic Red Wedding or nice Joffrey suffocation.
That means that the already-confirmed Season 6 will cover at least of some of the yet-unpublished sixth volume The Winds of Winter, and the seventh and final book A Dream of Spring is only an title. At last report, Winter will maybe probably not be published in 2015, putting an early 2016, pre-Season 6 release likeliest. Speaking as an author, I can say for certain Martin wants to avoid as much as possible the show catching up. Something he backs me up on. A late 2015/early 2016 roll-out prior to said novel’s adaptation airing in spring 2016 would have an ideal sense, for him and for marketers. This all of course is speculative. Until it turns out to be right. Then I knew all along.
The Walking Dead is based on Robert Kirkman’s ongoing monthly comic series, which the series loosely follows with many differences and variations. To put that kind of prolific work in perspective, Kirkman published 24 volumes (each consisting of 24 issues) of material since he began the series in 2003 and is in the midst of writing the 25th. These motherfuckers really are comic books.
But as huge as that is, the show has already burned through to, roughly Vol. 13 and 14. The show began following the comic much more closely with a remix approach beginning in Season 4, when the last in a series of showrunner upheavals left Scott M. Gimple at the helm of the show. Many fans and critics have called it a creative renaissance and ratings have increased. From that point the series has chewed through more material than in the first three seasons combined. Now, on the course it has charted, it is gaining on Kirkman by a year each year.
Kirkman has made it clear the ongoing part of the series is to be taken literally; this is not a novel, this is a grand experiment in serial storytelling and we will follow this apocalypse all the way through. In addition, the only person Kirkman considers even remotely safe is Carl. No, not even his protagonist father Rick, whom we have followed for the entirety of the story, is safe. Indeed, only 2 characters besides our primary father-son duo from the first 6 issues are even still alive. From dozens.
Kirkman’s plotting usually involves writing rough 24 issue arcs. Combining this with Gimple’s loyal remix approach from Season 4 and 5 – which have seen some of the most direct comic-to-TV moments of the whole show – we can roughly chart out the show’s course, story and time wise, for the next few years.
|The Walking Dead (Comic Book)||The Walking Dead (TV Series)|
|S1||2003-04||Vol. 1: Days Gone By||2010||Season 1|
|S2||2004||Vol. 2: Miles Behind Us||2011-12||Season 2|
|S3||2004-05||Vol. 3: Safety Behind Bars||2012-13||Season 3|
|2005||Vol. 4: The Heart’s Desire||Vols. 3-6|
|2006||Vol. 5: The Best Defense|
|2006-07||Vol. 6: This Sorrowful Life|
|S4||2007||Vol. 7: The Calm Before||2013-14||Season 4|
|2007-08||Vol. 8: Made to Suffer||Vols. 7-10|
|2008||Vol. 9: Here We Remain|
|2008-09||Vol. 10: What We Become|
|S5||2009||Vol. 11: Fear the Hunters||2014-15||Season 5|
|2009-10||Vol. 12: Life Among Them||Vols. 11-14|
|2010||Vol. 13: Too Far Gone|
|2010-11||Vol. 14: No Way Out|
|S6||2011||Vol. 15: We Find Ourselves||2015-16||Season 6|
|2011-12||Vol. 16: A Larger World||Vols. 15-17|
|2012||Vol. 17: Something to Fear|
|S7||2012-13||Vol. 18: What Comes After||2016-17||Season 7|
|2013||Vol. 19: March to War||Vols. 18-21|
|2013-14||Vol. 20: All Out War – Part 1|
|2014||Vol. 21: All Out War – Part 2|
|S8||2014||Vol. 22: A New Beginning||2017-18||Season 8|
|2014-15||Vol. 23: Whispers into Screams||Vols. 22-25|
|2015||Vol. 24: ????|
|2015-16||Vol. 25: ????|
Because apparently the opportunity cost of NOT making this chart was greater than the opportunity cost of, say, enjoying the beautiful weather while it lasts in Athens, well, I welcome you to the contradiction that is me.
On the Game of Thrones side, all parties weighed in. The creators and HBO in an EW article tackle the question head-on. The show’s masterminds David Benioff and D.B. Weiss have said seven is the magic number but Martin – ever the optimist – has made it clear he thinks the show could go 10 if they wanted. Now HBO’s progamming president Michael Lombardo has said the subscriber-based network would also like the show to go the decade-length, making it their longest and most expensive dramatic production ever.
Benioff confirms to EW they know the ending of the series and roughly how many hours they need to get there, but stop from being specific, indicating that the final number is still a yet-to-be-negotiated amount. That said, I can’t see the producers extending beyond eight seasons, due to the story they are telling and the exhaustion of the year-round workload it takes to write and produce this global phenomenon.
Martin weighed in on his LiveJournal Not a Blog, saying HBO has always wanted the series to go a decade, a move he unsurprisingly is fully on-board with, as he is with an epic feature film to wrap up the series (something HBO’s president throws cold water). He however confirms that the show is still only technically renewed through Season 6.
More likely according to these reports? We’ll be looking at a split-final season plan a la Breaking Bad and Mad Men, so Season 7 could contain as many as 20 episodes split in half over two years. This is also the strategy HBO used to conclude their previous defining program, The Sopranos.
2011-2018, 8 years, 7 seasons, 80 episodes? Sounds like the right compromise. Anything longer would require massive re-negotiation with cast and crew and you can bet your ass they would hold out for a gazillion dollars. After all, stars like Emilia Clarke (conquering queen Daenerys) and Kit Harington (noble bastard Jon Snow) know they can’t just end the show without them.
For The Walking Dead, from our chart’s extrapolation, turn’s out it doesn’t have to worry about catching up until past 2020, especially if Kirkman keeps to his current word of at least 300 issues of the comic. Executive producer David Alpert claims the show’s makers know what Season 10, 11, and 12 would look like as well, based on said hypothetical issues. To answer the question posed in the title, does The Walking Dead have to worry about the TV show catching up? No, not really.
So the title of my post is hyperbolic. Sue me.