The MCU, despite its name, spreads across movies, TV shows and web-only content - Black Panther, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D and Daredevil take place within the same fictional continuity, despite one being released in cinemas, one on the ABC network and one on Netflix.
It now seems that The Walking Dead might be about to go down the same kind of road. It worked magnificently for Marvel, of course, and everyone’s favourite nine-seasons-and-counting post-apocalyptic zombie deathfest could imminently go the same way.
There’s already the spinoff show Fear The Walking Dead, which launched four seasons after The Walking Dead, but was initially set several years before it (the timelines now roughly line up after a bit of juggling and crossing over during TWD season eight and FTWD season four), the discussion show The Talking Dead and multiple web-only short-form series.
But a new announcement suggests it’s all about to be taken up a notch in terms of, uh, let’s call it CROSS-MEDIA DOMINATION.
*Warning: Spoilers for the most recent episode of The Walking Dead lie ahead*
The buildup to ‘What Comes After’, the latest episode of The Walking Dead, made it very clear that this was Andrew Lincoln’s final appearance as Rick Grimes. Love Actually’s felt-tip enthusiast has been with the show since the get-go, and has frequently spoken of the toll the show’s production schedule has had on his family life.
It seemed inevitable that Rick Grimes would die. Fellow cast members wrote tearful quasi-eulogies for the time they’d spent working with Lincoln, and the whole thing seemed like a done, dead, deal.
But, at the last minute, as Rick seemed about to go out heroically, he was rescued in a helicopter and whisked away, and the show jumped years forward in time. This has divided audiences somewhat (with The A.V. Club calling it “idiotic”), but it’s certainly happened: Rick Grimes is alive, but no longer in The Walking Dead.
AMC told Variety that Lincoln and Grimes are set to return in three feature-length films.
“We’re starting with the first part of the continuing story of Rick Grimes,” said Walking Dead Chief Content Officer Scott Gimple. “And there is much more on the way, featuring yet-unseen worlds of The Walking Dead and faces from the show’s past, as well as new characters we hope to become favorites, told by TWD veterans and emerging voices.
“We want to break new ground with different, distinct stories, all part of the same world that’s captured our imagination for nearly a decade of the Dead.”
Gimple, a former writer on the show who announced when becoming CCO that he wanted to expand it to different platforms, described the films as “big evolutions of what we’ve been doing on the show, with the scope and scale of features”.
This, of course, raises the question of where they will be seen. The scope and scale of features immediately makes one think of a theatrical release, but Gimple isn’t trying to compete with the cinema, but something closer to home: Netflix.
He told Entertainment Weekly: “They’re going to be on AMC, most probably. They’re centered around Rick Grimes (…) and these are going to be big, epic entertainments. Each are quality films. That’s what’s been happening in the industry. We’ve seen Netflix make these, basically, studio films for people to watch in their homes, and we’re going to be doing the same sort of thing here. (…) Also they’re probably not going to be the only movies that we tell.”
He also used the all-important U-word: “We’re going to be doing a number of different Walking Dead things over the next few years. A universe of stuff. We’re not going to release it all at once. We’re going to be putting things out over the years for maximum effect. We don’t want to overwhelm folks with it.”
AMC programming president David Madden told the Hollywood Reporter: “We’re trying to expand into as many different places as the show fits. We think this is a franchise that could live across formats. (…) There is a multiple-year plan that could include additional series, digital content and specials. We’re looking to broaden this into a universe where the movies that Andy will be in are the highest-profile things that we do.”
This could just be the beginning: the huge amount of characters seen in the show over the years, and the sheer scale of the situation they’re dealing with, means they could keep spinning off and spinning off almost endlessly. Andrew Lincoln himself, who has no idea what will happen in the three films, told the Hollywood Reporter that he’d love to see a prequel series about Merle, played by Michael Rooker in the show for three seasons.
“Why not?” he says. “I think the possibilities are endless. It’s an extraordinary environment and landscape. (…) With these kinds of shows, we are afforded the opportunity to bounce around narratively and be able to play with time.”
Anything could happen, and as long as they’re making money, probably will.