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'The Walking Dead' comic series comes to unexpected end with latest issue

The cover of 'The Walking Dead' issue #193, drawn by Charlie Adlard. The final issue of the series hit comic book stores on July 3. (Image Comics)

A month after Robert Kirkman unexpectedly killed off his best-selling book’s lead character, the writer delivered an even bigger shock in “The Walking Dead” #193: killing off the series.

The end came without warning in the 72-page issue of the Image Comics series that hit stores Wednesday, written by Kirkman and drawn by Charlie Adlard, closing out the zombie survival drama that ran for 16 years and spawned a mini-empire of TV series, novels, and video games.

“This is the end of The Walking Dead,” Kirkman wrote in an essay in the back of the issue. “That’s it... it’s over we’re done. I’m sure you have a million questions and I’m sure you feel as emotional about all this as we do... if not more so. I’m completely willing to bet some of you are angry over this. I get it... I do. I mean... WHY didn’t we announce this so that fans would have some time to prepare? Well... personally... I hate knowing what’s coming. As a fan, I hate it when I realize I’m in the third act of a movie and the story is winding down. I hate that I can count commercial breaks and know I’m nearing the end of a TV show. I hate that you can FEEL when you’re getting to the end of a book, or a graphic novel.”

He argued the unannounced finale was consistent with the approach he took throughout the book’s run, with big plot twists and major character deaths coming when they were least expected. Most recently, that includes the death of Rick Grimes, who the series had followed since he woke from a coma in a land overrun by the dead in issue #1 in 2003.

After being shot in issue #191, Grimes died and turned into a zombie in issue #192 and was shot in the head by his son Carl. Image Comics had solicited two more issues to follow #193, but those books apparently are never coming.

Rumors of the series’ cancellation spread Monday after images of the final pages leaked on social media. AMC assured fans Tuesday the TV series inspired by the show and its spin-offs will continue.

The Rick Grimes character, played by Andrew Lincoln, was written out of “The Walking Dead” TV show last season, with plans to feature him in three stand-alone movies in the future. The series enters its 10th season this fall, and spin-off “Fear the Walking Dead” is currently in the middle of its fifth season. A untitled second spin-off is scheduled to launch next year.

“This extraordinary comic created a world that already lives in multiple forms, and in the hearts and minds of millions of fans around the world, and will for many years to come,” AMC said in a statement to The Wrap.