The cable network has handed out an early renewal for zombie drama The Walking Dead, picking up the Robert Kirkman entry for an eighth season due in late 2017.
The news, announced Sunday at the top of a two-hour retrospective, comes a week before season seven premieres with the franchise's most highly anticipated episode yet.
Season six of the series, based on Kirkman's comics of the same name, ended with a massive cliffhanger. Negan, perhaps the franchise's biggest villain thus far, was introduced in the season six finale as the character (played new series regular Jeffrey Dean Morgan) was on the verge of killing at least one of 11 core characters lined up before him. The show heads into its seventh season with its highest number of series regulars ever with 20.
Season eight — which likely will debut in October 2017 — will kick off with The Walking Dead's landmark 100th episode. Also returning is Chris Hardwick-hosted aftershow Talking Dead. The early renewal comes as little surprise, given the Scott M. Gimple-led drama's ranking as the No. 1 show on TV among the advertiser-coveted adults 18-49 demographic. The series, starring Andrew Lincoln and Norman Reedus, has held that ranking for the past four seasons.
Season seven debuts Sunday, Oct. 23, at 9 p.m. ET/PT, followed by a special 90-minute Talking Dead broadcast live from Hollywood Forever Cemetery with all 11 castmembers.
"Eeny, meeny, miny, more,” AMC president Charlie Collier said in a statement with a nod to Negan's famous line from the comics and season six finale. “What a joy to partner with Robert Kirkman, Scott Gimple and some of the hardest-working people in television to bring The Walking Dead to the fans. And, most important, thanks to those fans for breathing life into this remarkable series right along with us."
In addition to showrunner Gimple and Kirkman, The Walking Dead is executive produced by Gale Anne Hurd, Dave Alpert, Greg Nicotero and Tom Luse.
The Walking Dead is one of multiple series Kirkman has on his roster. He also co-created prequel Fear the Walking Dead, which has already been renewed for a third season in 2017, and has unscripted entry Heroes and Villains: The History of Comics‚ both at AMC, where he is under an overall deal. Beyond that, he has Cinemax'sOutcast, which the premium cable network renewed for a second season before its debut earlier this year. Kirkman's Skybound Entertainment banner also is developing multiple titles for TV, including his comic Thief of Thieves for AMC and Chronicles of Amber, which has yet to find a network.
The Walking Dead ranks as AMC's longest-running series. Its roster of original scripted fare also includes Fear the Walking Dead, Better Call Saul, Into the Badlands, Humans, Preacher, The Terror, The Son, Lodge 49 and the upcoming fourth and final seasons of Turn and Halt and Catch Fire.