Walking Dead creator Robert Kirkman has said for years that he knows how the comic book ends; it's just a matter of building toward that end. I have no doubt that's true. It's inconceivable to have been working on something for nearly 15 years and not have figured out where it's going by now. But even as a fan who holds the comic near and dear, I'm starting to tap my foot and look at my watch. Even in the comics, this impressive feat of longform storytelling is starting to hit a narrative plateau. The show is hitting that same wall, but faster.
Comic books have to walk a delicate line between character development and arrested development. Batman may never reach a point where he decides to retire from punching the mentally ill so he can play 18 holes every day. That's not necessarily because that's who he is, it's because there's too much money to be made from keeping him exactly the same. When a new creative team takes over a book, Batman resets to relative zero, with only a few narrative threads carried over that have become part of the new status quo. Batman is still Batman, but now a Robin is dead until he finds a new Robin, and then- look out! Dead Robin is alive! And pissed! Rinse and repeat for 10,000 years. Comic book characters are often locked into their own version of Groundhog Day, and the only thing that changes are the little boys they hang out with. No, wait ...
The Walking Dead comics found success in keeping its characters mostly the same (assuming they're alive for long enough to experience change) while allowing them to evolve just enough to keep narrative momentum flowing into the next story arc. When The Walking Dead began, Rick was a reluctant leader whom people followed because they assumed that a guy with a sheriff's badge would know what to do. Now he's George Washington -- the battle-hardened general who has to figure out how to lead a nascent society that's been ravaged by death. His growth was earned over 14 years and nearly 200 issues.
TV doesn't have that kind of time. Stories have to be lean and efficient. That's why in its translation from books to TV, Game Of Thrones tossed out tons of storylines which spanned hundreds of pages. There are dozens of characters vital to the book series' endgame who will never be introduced in the show. That's why in its penultimate season, characters were traveling hundreds of miles by boat between scenes. The showrunners know their medium. They're sacrificing frivolous things like the logic of travel times for the benefit of character development and story progression. R.I.P. Laws of Nautical Excursions. You will be truly missed.
We aren't seeing characters develop on The Walking Dead as clearly, since everyone at AMC seems to think the show will outlive us all, and it's finally becoming the kind of shambling rotting husk it warned us about. The show feels unwilling to decide where it wants to go, so it just keeps shuffling through the same story beats. Rick and the gang don't change all that much in the face of all their adversity. The zombie apocalypse began, everybody shifted to survival mode, and they've stayed that way ever since. It's plotting by way of cruise control.
The only person to get a real arc is Carol, who goes from the group's weakest link to a badass who might be too badass for her own good. Every other character's definition of change is just being more of what they were when we first met them. It's especially evident in Carl, who feels stunted by the show's painfully slow character development. Show Carl isn't ready to follow in his dad's footsteps. At the same point in the story, Comic Carl had seen so much shit that he had the soul of an immortal wizard.