(Spoiler warning for The Walking Dead through the end of season 7.)
The Walking Dead season 7 took plenty of twists and turns, seeing the loss of major characters Glenn (Steven Yeun), Abraham (Michael Cudlitz), and Sasha (Sonequa Martin-Green) to newcomer villain Negan (Jeffrey Dean Morgan). Rick Grimes (Andrew Lincoln) and the Alexandria safe zone were subjugated and oppressed by Negan and his loyal followers, the Saviors, until joining forces with the Hilltop and Kingdom communities to oppose Negan’s protection racket.
With the three communities finally united and ready to fight by season 7’s end, season 8 will unleash all out war, as teased in the explosive San Diego Comic Con trailer — which also offered a peek at a decidedly different looking Rick Grimes…
After having their weapons collected by Negan, Rick and co. were forced to relieve the isolationist Oceanside community of their cache of guns. In partnership with the Scavengers, Alexandria plans to ambush Negan on his next collection rounds — until Jadis (Pollyanna McIntosh) and her stinky band of bandits flip, having struck a deal with Negan and the Saviors. Outgunned and outmanned, Alexandria is given a respite by way of Sasha's sacrifice, her reanimated corpse giving Rick, Carl (Chandler Riggs), Michonne (Danai Gurira), Daryl (Norman Reedus), and the others the chance to make their first strike.
The bloody battle escalated with the arrival of the cavalry: the Hilltop joined the fray, commandeered into action by Maggie (Lauren Cohan), as the Kingdom provided swift relief, King Ezekiel (Khary Payton) leading the charge with Carol (Melissa McBride) and Morgan (Lennie James) in tow. "Alexandria will not fall," says Ezekiel with his rallying cry. "Not on this day!" With Negan and the Scavengers forced to flee, the real battle has just begun. Rick, Maggie, Ezekiel and their communities stand united, committed to stand together against what comes next, as Negan addresses his army: "We are going to war."
In The Walking Dead, (almost) no one is safe, meaning (almost) anyone can go at any time. With seasons 6 and 7 expanding the world around our core cast of characters by way of the introduction of four new territories — the Hilltop, the Kingdom, the Sanctuary, and the junk yard — the series' cache of characters is bigger than ever. Jeffrey Dean Morgan's Negan, Daryl-wannabe Dwight (Austin Amelio), snakelike Gregory (Xander Berkeley), and kung fu ninja Jesus (Tom Payne) were promoted to series regulars since coming aboard, while season seven introduced new players Jadis (McIntosh) and toady Brion (Thomas Francis Murphy), Oceanside's Cyndie (Sydney Park) and Natania (Deborah May), and King Ezekiel's loyal ally, Jerry (Cooper Andrews), while expanding the roles of supporting players Aaron (Ross Marquand), Eugene (Josh McDermitt), Enid (Katelyn Nacon), Gabriel (Seth Gilliam), Rosita (Christian Serratos), and Negan's right hand man, Simon (Steven Ogg).
With the larger world outside of the Alexandrian gates continuing to expand, season 8 is also set to bring aboard even more new characters: as reported in April, the upcoming season will introduce Dillon, "a sexy, blue-collar twentysomething whose survival skills include sarcasm," and Abbud, described in the report as "an innately likable Muslim American whose nerves are, let’s say, jangled, because he’s flown solo for too long in zombieland." Season 8 might even bring back Heath (Corey Hawkins), who disappeared under mysterious circumstances, leaving only an odd note (reading "PPP") for his unfortunate scouting buddy Tara (Alanna Masterson).
With new blood on the way, we can probably expect some spring cleaning to take place...
The Walking Dead loves killing main characters as much as Negan loves Lucille and the "F word." With so many characters in play (and because this is The Walking Dead), it's not hard to guess the upcoming season will see the loss of at least one major character. Of the original Atlanta Five (Rick, Carl, Daryl, Carol, and Glenn) the Atlanta Four, the only real possibility may be Carol, who as of late has struggled with the fact that she's killed more people than the Terminator. She (finally) got her mojo back in season 7, and it would be a real loss to send off both McBride and Carol, but when The Walking Dead one-two punched Glenn and Abraham in a double knockoff in its season opener, it gives the impression almost anything can happen.
Another big possibility is Morgan who, like Carol, ended up adopting a "no kill" rule only to ultimately realize that in this world, you kill or you die, or you die and you kill. "I don't die," Morgan is heard saying in the trailer, which are probably the exact words that have signed his death warrant. After bringing Morgan and Lennie James back in season five, it would be another big blow to lose an OG character, but an actual, full scale war could mean the end of Morgan, who has spent much of his journey on the show teetering dangerously on a path towards self-destruction.
But, hey. That impressive jail cell Morgan built could come in handy...
Sometime over the course of The Walking Dead season 8, the show will look a little different, and one of those changes will be present in Rick. At the end of the Comic Con trailer, we see Rick in a dreamy, glowing room, the soft focus making note of a cane next to a bed — the bed of Rick Grimes, now noticeably older and with more of a "hobo Santa Claus" look.
“I’m pretty sure you’ll learn in the first episode what that means,” The Walking Dead creator Robert Kirkman said of the trailer's big "what the hell?" moment. "Was it the time jump?" Kirkman asked of the comic book series' jump forward in time, that skips over a handful of years. "I don’t know, maybe it was Rick waking up from his coma. Wouldn’t that be weird?”
“That is an intriguing tidbit that we did throw out there on purpose, and we’re hoping that people continue to question how it is that fits into the story line and what it is,” Kirkman teased. “Comic book fans know where a scene that kind of looked like that would fall, but it also doesn’t seem like we would be getting to that just yet if you were a comic book fan, so there’s a mystery to that.”
In addition to the mystery of that stinger, The Walking Dead season 8 will be quicker to deliver on the action. “We all know it’s the All Out War storyline, so season 8 we’re trying to do a more fast-paced season, a more action-packed season, really focusing on momentum and we feel like, over the first seven seasons, we’ve set all the characters into place. Now it’s time to break them, to a certain extent," Kirkman said.
Showrunner Scott M. Gimple is on record as saying the show reinvents itself every eight episodes (season premiere to midseason finale, midseason premiere to season finale), and Kirkman adds that the "different factions" of the universe will mean a shifting and evolving show. “We’ve spent a lot of time setting these characters up, and now we’re going to bash them against each other and see what happens. One of the things that really keeps The Walking Dead going is that every season feels like a different show," he said. "As we start to show more promotional material, and as you guys get to see episodes, you’ll see this is another continuation of that, this is a very fresh take on the world of The Walking Dead, and we’re going to be breaking a lot of new ground this season.”
The Walking Dead returns to AMC Sunday, October 22nd, to air its season 8 premiere — the series' 100th episode.