The Walking Dead has been on TV forever, but it's been in comic book shops forever-ever. Since October 2013, the monthly series has run 166 issues, or 27 paperback volumes. It's been on AMC since October 2010—seven seasons, 99 episodes. Sunday's Season 7 finale took it up to #115 in the comic's plot.
So, like Game of Thrones before it, the televised Walking Dead will catch up to the print Walking Dead soon enough, right? Not according to creator/writer Robert Kirkman, who's also an executive producer with a few scripts under his belt. He tells The Hollywood Reporter:
"I don't know if anyone sat down to do the math, but if the show is gaining on the comic book, it's at a very slow pace. We're expanding storylines so every now and then we zip through the comic book, and then we slow down for a while and add a bunch of stuff that's not in the comics. There's not any danger of that happening in any way."
Fellow executive producer David Alpert chimed in with, "When we get to Season 20, then I think we'll be caught up. And at that point, we'll have to have Robert really pick up the pace." A couple weeks ago Scott Gimple, another EP, echoed that: “We are trying to do 20 years. The comic has certainly done it, and I look forward to every issue. ... The Simpsons has been on 26, 27 years, so that’s a challenge—so okay, challenge accepted. Done.”
Kirkman also says he and the TV team discuss the adaptation potential for all the happenings in the comics, "all the way up to the most recent issue," and that "being able to know these things years in advance is what helps us make this show possible." Which is a very different process from Game of Thrones', which took its independent streak and blew by George R.R. Martin's five books/4,000 pages in less than six seasons—and will now conclude with two abbreviated arcs.
Running some numbers, The Walking Dead has tackled about 1.16 issues' worth of content per episode. Obviously it runs at various speeds and that's totally just an average, but if we're running with it: With 16 episodes a season, that's 18.5 issues' worth of content adapted annually on AMC, during which time Image Comics publishes 12 new issues. With the show currently being 51 issues behind, these averages would have it passing the comic by the end of Season 15, in the spring of 2025.
Kirkman has said over the years that he hopes to keep the book going indefinitely, but also that he knows how it'll end, which would of course necessitate it...ending. In January he said, "No telling how long the show will last. Very hopeful we will last to Season 10 and beyond."
Now: there is a guaranteed, simple way the show could opt to never pass the comic. It involves discussing a huge spoiler from the comic. Here we go—spoilers.
So there's a time-jump. It happened off-page between #126 and #127 and spanned roughly two years in the story, possibly more. The TV show absolutely doesn't have to do it, and likely won't. "There are things that happen in that time jump that are referred to that are super interesting," Scott Gimple tells THR. "And thus we might see some of that stuff; it might not be the same sort of jump, or we'll do that two to five years in real time."