The Fake Plot Twist That Sold 'The Walking Dead'
In 2003, when Robert Kirkman was pitching his The Walking Dead comic book, the century's zombie craze was almost upon us, but not quite. We can note a couple huge movies that had just come out (28 Days Later and Resident Evil) and a few others that were in the pipeline, but it'd be a few more years till, say, zombie video games swarmed the market—and a few years more till The Walking Dead's own TV adaptation really ushered in the obsession across all media.
So when Kirkman had the idea of a zombie apocalypse comic, his publisher wasn't so into it. Zombies were just popular enough at the time that his idea seemed clichéd but not a sure win. The gimmick he suggested (setting the series in the '60s, as a sort of follow-up to Night of the Living Dead) wasn't enough to get them interested.
Then he revealed his plan for the series. It would seem like a story about the zombie apocalypse, sure. But in time, the books would show that the zombie plague had actually been unleashed by aliens, who used the zombies to weaken Earth's defenses. Following this reveal, the story would switch gears, and it would turn into a sci-fi story of humans versus aliens. This idea, the publishers liked, and they greenlit the series.
One book in, his editor Eric Stephenson looked over the comic and marveled at how it featured no hint whatsoever about the upcoming twist, not even any foreshadowing when you look for it. And so Kirkman revealed that, haha, he'd lied. He had no plan about introducing aliens. It really was just a zombie apocalypse series. And so the comic would go on for another 15 years with no revelations about the plague's origins whatever, just a series of encounters with more and more communities of survivors, till the writer finally was done, threw in a time skip, and ended the story by saying, "Uh, humans finally controlled the zombie threat, mostly."
Aliens were never a part of the Walking Dead story—at least, not the canon story. In 2010, around when the TV series first debuted, aliens popped up as a bonus non-canon ending of one issue. Then last year, with the original comic wrapped up, Kirkman did a spinoff series called Rick Grimes 2000 building off that joke ending, which did feature aliens ... and lightsabers.
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Top image: Skybound