Pop-Ed: Walking Dead Spin-Off, Good Idea or Bad Idea?

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Only a few short days ago, AMC officially announced that a spinoff series for Breaking Bad titled Better Call Saul was happening. The idea of doing a spin-off of this award-winning show has been rumored for quite some time, so when it was confirmed some people actually saw it coming. It makes sense that they’re doing a spinoff too. The series is ending but there is still so much story left within the Breaking Bad universe. Personal opinions aside, it’s hardly a surprise that the creators behind the show aren’t exactly ready to say goodbye for good. Little did we know that this was only the beginning of the spin-off announcements for a popular television series. On September 16th, AMC announced that The Walking Dead will also get the spinoff treatment in the form of a “companion” series. Instead of following along with the comics, this new series would be about a completely different group of survivors having their own adventures somewhere away from Rick Grimes (Andrew Lincoln) and his group.

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I don’t think I need to tell you how “out of left field” this announcement was. Out of all the shows that needed a spin-off, The Walking Dead was probably at the bottom of my list. It is already a spin-off of a popular comic book series after all, making this a spin-off-ception of sorts. The show isn’t ending either, which is usually when spin-offs get the green light. I also can’t imagine anyone really begging for this spin-off to exist. Hell, some people are even tired of the current iteration if The Walking Dead regardless of its record breaking numbers in the adults 18-49 category. But as long as The Walking Dead stays on television, once 2015 comes around we’ll have two shows stemming from the same comic book series. After a lot of thought, I came to the conclusion that there are really two completely different ways to view this announcement.

Scenario 1: Robert Kirkman Gets to Flex His Creative Muscle

At this current time, there is one singular connection between every successful iteration of The Walking Dead: Robert Kirkman, the creator himself. Under Kirkman’s guidance The Walking Dead has grown from a small indie comic book to one of the most bankable franchises on the market. The comic books have received huge awards and critical acclaim, the novels have developed a devoted fan base, the television series has broken viewing records, and the video game won over 80 Game of the Year awards. It’s undeniable that Kirkman knows how to both tell a story and keep a brand popular regardless of medium.

Photo Credit: Megan Mack
Photo Credit: Megan Mack

This alone can spell success for a spin-off. Kirkman will be intimately involved with this show’s creation as well which will give it that extra touch he seems to bring. It’s also a huge boon for this new series that it will focus on a complete separate group of people, which opens up an unimaginable number of doors. As The Walking Dead: The Game proved with immense praise, there is plenty of room for new stories to be told in this universe not tied to the main protagonist Rick Grimes and his survival adventures. I’d also love for Kirkman to take this series out of Georgia as well like he is currently doing in the comic series. Every form of The Walking Dead has had the Georgia countryside as its backdrop and it’s time for the series to go somewhere else. Placing this series into a new setting like New York, California, Colorado, or any other locations that can provide a richly different experience than the Southern feel of Georgia would be outstanding.

The spin-off also has to be able to exist on its own and absolutely cannot just be a cut and paste of what we’ve already seen. I don’t want to see a hero named Rich Grant with his son Chris and his wife Laura fighting a man named the Senator who runs a town called Woodridge as they live in an Abandoned Mental Institution. There can’t be a badass ATV rider named Derek who uses a bow and a sword wielding woman named Melissa. I don’t want this series to take cues from the comics as well. I want it to be completely independent and unique which is the supposed purpose of this whole endeavor. Something tells me that with Kirkman involved this won’t be an issue, but who knows. Not having showrunners leave after a season would help too.

Scenario 2: It’s a Shameless Cash Grab

As I said before, most spinoffs happen because the creators refuse to let the universe of a popular series go away forever. There are a lot of reasons why this is the case, but it’s easy to imagine that money is right up there at the top. The Walking Dead is an insanely hot franchise right now and this is the time to capitalize on it. From a business perspective, this is an extremely brilliant but risky move. How many advertisers will jump on the opportunity to get their content tied to the sterling Walking Dead name? Now they’ll have two chances, which will lead to double the money. However, the history of television hasn’t exactly been kind to spinoffs. Most fail despite being attached to big names, and no advertiser will want to be connected to a sinking ship.

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Take a look at The Walking Dead: Survival Instinct for a perfect example of this. No one wanted a FPS (first person shooter) game based on The Walking Dead. Not even Kirkman himself thought this was a good idea at the onset. We were all happy with The Walking Dead: The Game from Telltale Games. Yet Activision decided to make a FPS game around the most popular character from the television series Daryl Dixon (Norman Reedus). It received the buzz and attention a game with this brand deserved. Kirkman even warmed up to the idea a little bit but wasn’t directly involved with the creation of the game, unlike every other form. Survival Instinct ended up receiving unanimously negative reviews and is widely regarded as the prime example of a lazy cash grab.

Perhaps it was the lack of Kirkman’s involvement, but Survival Instinct was everything that is wrong with trying to branch off a popular name. That is the very same pitfall this new spin-off could fall into also. No one wanted another game just like no one wanted another television series. This spin-off will be compared to the original form with such fervor that people will probably go crazy. It will be put under the microscope and will receive a lot of attention, meaning that if it doesn’t deliver it will absolutely implode. Bottom line, if this spinoff is made with the biggest goal being more money and not telling a compelling story, it will become a huge dark spot for this franchise. Just like Survival Instinct.

Final Thoughts

I can honestly see both of these scenarios happening with near equal probability. I will without a doubt give this spinoff an honest shot, as AMC clearly expects, but my feelings about its existence is definitely middle of the road. I love the idea of exploring a new story like in The Walking Dead: The Game but was perfectly content with only one television series. It’s very likely that this spin-off has put the franchise at critical mass and it’s time to stop the growth. I mean, what’s next? A movie? I am, as with Better Call Saul, cautiously optimistic about this spin-off’s chances for success, but the thought that this is a step too far will not leave my head.

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