Walking Dead Creator Answers Criticism of Franchise 'Formula'

Sometimes it’s the little things that get on one’s nerves, and despite being co-creator of two incredible indie franchises, The Walking Dead writer Robert Kirkman recently made the decision to (in purely lighthearted fashion) respond to a certain nagging criticism that gets lobbed his way. While manning the helm of both the TWD and Invincible franchises and also being the chairman of his own imprint (Skybound Entertainment) likely would be an unassailable mark of success in a person’s professional trajectory, it appears there is one persistent attack on his writing technique Kirkman will not bear in silence a moment longer: that TWD suffers from an obvious reliance on formula, especially as the series progresses.


The Walking Dead is among the most meteoric success stories in the realm of comic-dom, becoming a household name overnight with the hit 2010 television adaptation on AMC. This success is largely due to franchise-wide adherence to Kirkman’s realism-tinged tone in a world battling for survival against a terrifying plague of zombies. However, it has brought along its detractors as well, who often point to the series’ predominant bleakness, leading to an at-times joyless ride. While this criticism is one that could be levied at any horror genre work, another criticism, that The Walking Dead repeats the same exact arc of the survivors finding shelter and then being attacked and eventually forced to leave that shelter by a villain over and over again, is a more pointed one.

Related: Walking Dead's Writer Perfectly Explains Why the Series Needs Negan

In The Walking Dead Deluxe #43, a color reprint of the original 2007 issue that largely features nefarious sadist The Governor, Kirkman at last addresses the longstanding controversy in his commentary. Referring to a set of notes he made at the time of writing in which he revealed his original plots beats for the story-arc, Kirkman elucidates that he had planned to have an extended battle in the prison between Rick’s group and The Governor. However, he eventually decided that this would be too “repetitious” and had The Governor destroy the prison outright “so the characters could move on.” He then humorously adds parenthetically:

 (Creating what some people thought was a never-ending repetitious loop of the characters finding a place, losing it, and finding another... but that didn't last the full series, critics! And each one was different! And the characters grew along the way, which is what is important! I'm not defensive. What?!)

The criticism, that The Governor story arc began a repetitious series of battles between protagonist Rick Grimes’ group and other, progressively authoritarian invader groups—such as the Alexandria Safe-Zone battle against Negan’s Saviors, the subsequent campaign against The Whisperers and eventual insurrection at The Commonwealth—is one he receives a lot from the fandom. Ultimately, the likely reason this is a pattern within the world of TWD, is because the post-apocalyptic setting lends itself well to realpolitik-style conflicts, and Kirkman’s adherence to realism necessitated this plot-style.

Though surely meant as a humorous side note, this new insight from Kirkman about The Walking Dead does acknowledge a structural critique in his work. It’s only natural that Robert Kirkman would be defensive of his series The Walking Dead, it is his creation, after all.