The Walking Dead returns to AMC for its season 8 premiere on Sunday, and we have an idea of what to expect from the newest season: war.
Season 8 is officially adapting volume 20 of creator Robert Kirkman's comic books, "All Out War," which saw Negan's "subjects" finally rise against the extortionist dictator. In the show, Negan (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) brutally murdered Abraham (Michael Cudlitz) and Glenn (Steven Yeun), kidnapped Daryl (Norman Reedus) and terrorized the Alexandria, Hilltop and Kingdom communities for all of season 7. The season finale saw Rick (Andrew Lincoln) and co. make their first strike against Negan and the Saviors, with Maggie (Lauren Cohan) and King Ezekiel (Khary Payton) leading a cavalry charge that united Alexandria, the Hilltop and the Kingdom as one righteous force, fighting back against Negan's rule — the war had officially begun.
And with war comes...
Fun fact: the "All Out War" volume of the comic book has the most deaths than any other volume.
The Walking Dead has never shied away from killing its characters, with season 7 taking out two big characters — Abraham and Glenn, the latter being one of the group's longest surviving members, having been part of the crew since Atlanta — in its first episode. The season 7 finale also saw the loss of Sasha (Sonequa Martin-Green), who sacrificed herself in an attempt to prevent any of her friends from dying during Negan's visit to Alexandria. Season 7 was also a blood bath for supporting characters, like Spencer (Austin Nichols), Olivia (Ann Mahoney), Benjamin (Logan Miller), and Richard (Karl Makinen), which is keeping in line with The Walking Dead's high body count each season. (Comes with the territory when you're an apocalyptic zombie show where the major threats are merciless humans and cannibalistic corpses.)
You're thinking, "Well, no sh—t, characters are going to die on this season of The Walking Dead." Yeah, but this is war. We can probably expect a lot more deaths this season, seeing that five groups — Alexandria, the Hilltop, the Kingdom, the Saviors and the Scavengers — are all battling it out. Many of those deaths will be "red shirts," to borrow a term from Star Trek — usually nameless characters who bite the dust — and we can expect to see Rick and friends take out a good number of Saviors and Scavengers now that he's got his badass swagger back.
You can count on a few big name deaths this season, too — you can never go an entire season without a few of those — and expect to see losses on all sides.
"Well, war has its casualties, so, I think it's safe to say that a couple people will go on each side," director and producer Greg Nicotero told ComicBook.com. "You just have to wait and see," he said, "because I don't want to ruin it."
Only a few characters on The Walking Dead can be considered "untouchable" — even series lead Rick Grimes isn't considered completely safe — but each season sees the loss of some major characters, and the show has spent seven seasons whittling down its core group of original survivors: so far, only Rick, Carl (Chandler Riggs), Daryl and Carol (Melissa McBride) have been with the group since Atlanta, with the only other surviving character from season 1 being Morgan (Lennie James).
Comic book readers have an idea of what to expect — show runner Scott M. Gimple adheres to the original source material pretty closely, not adapting page-to-screen word-for-word, but remaining mostly faithful — but with the constant "remixes" of comic book deaths and the influx of new characters, season 8 could be the perfect opportunity to shake things up and off a major character, especially one who wasn't around during the All Out War arc in the books.
Characters like (book spoilers) Carol and Morgan, who never made it this far in the comics. Key characters shouldn't be killed off for shock value, but with a war at hand, people die — and that death will carry even more weight if its a character that's been around for a while. Characters like...
Fan-favorite Carol has been one of the series' strongest characters since season 3, and actress Melissa McBride has only gotten better with Carol's constant evolutions. Carol's status as seemingly unrepentant den mother has come with a cost, however, and all the claimed souls on her conscious finally caught up with her come season 5 — and now that she's actively part of a war, the ever-rising death toll could take a toll of its own on the housewife-turned-killer.
Continually evolving ever since the death of her young daughter Sophia (Madison Lintz) in season 2, Carol grew into one of the group's most efficient survivors, often doing the dirty work that, in her mind, helps everybody see another day. While the world's apocalyptic situation transformed Carol from a self-admitted timid victim to a hardened survivor and heroine, the cost of survival weighs heavily on her soul.
Carol murdered a couple of colleagues in order to prevent a sickness outbreak in season 4, the same season that Carol executed Lizzie (Brighton Sharbino) after the mentally ill girl murdered her younger sister, Mika (Kyla Kenedy). Carol then Terminator-ed her way through Terminus, single-handedly rescuing Team Family from the literal mouths of cannibals. After masking her true personality when joining Alexandria, putting an act of a submissive and unassuming pastry maker, Carol again steps up to save the day in the fight against the Wolves' brutal siege on the unprepared suburban community. It's around this time that Carol begins to unravel, taking part in a strike against a Saviors outpost. Captured by a small group of Saviors alongside the pregnant Maggie (Lauren Cohan), the pair fight their way out, with Carol burning a room of Saviors alive, adding to her kill count of 20 lives.
Carol eventually sneaked away from Alexandria ahead of another upcoming battle with the Saviors: all the killing became too much. She didn't want to kill anymore, but a run-in with Saviors on the road forced her hand, and Carol killed again. Tracked down by a lone Savior, Carol pleaded for death — a request that was denied when she was rescued by Morgan. Choosing to spend much of season 7 isolated in a house on the outreaches of the Kingdom, Carol eventually worked through her crisis of conscious and took part in the battle against Negan and the Saviors within the Alexandria walls.
Does Carol resume her old stone cold killer ways? Or does the war take her out?
The war could also see the end of Morgan, who has done away with his vow against killing the living. As teased by the season 8 trailer, Morgan is once again a man of action and of violence. This season will see Morgan as a killer, whether he's taking out the living or the dead.
The first ally Rick made in the new world overrun by Walkers, Morgan has been around since the pilot, making his loss another death that would carry major weight — especially after his time served as a moral conscious for Rick, Carol and the group as a whole.
After having a mental break following the loss of his young son, Morgan parted ways with Rick in season 3 before having a lifestyle change put into motion by forensic psychiatrist-turned-cheesemaker Eastman (John Carroll Lynch). Morgan eventually caught up with Rick in Alexandria and became a member of the community before forming deep ties with the Kingdom and its welcoming band of survivors.
Morgan struggled with morality, taking up a "no kill" rule despite the continued conflicts Alexandria and the Kingdom found themselves facing. Taking yet another cue from Eastman, Morgan erected a jail cell in Alexandria that would, he hoped, be used to imprison enemies. By end of season 6, Morgan was forced to break his no kill code to save the life of Carol, who had become Morgan's moral antagonist. He knows he has to kill, and it makes perfect season for season 8 to see Morgan confront his old mentality to continue to survive in a world where you either kill or you die, or you die and you kill.
Morgan's hand built jail cell will get used. He just won't be around to see it occupied.
Rick Grimes has been in a constant state of evolution.
He went from a naive King County Sheriff Deputy who had an aversion against killing the living to a hardened survivor who killed his best friend before doing away with his "we don't kill the living" mentality entirely in season 3. Rick has been a non-violent farmer, a cutthroat and bearded savage, a shattered leader and a confident, badass leader. The earliest moments of season 8 tease a new Rick Grimes, not just in appearance — he has a new haircut, a new beard and uses a cane — but in mentality: if Rick is disabled, that's going to change his worldview and the way he interacts with people.
If the "Old Man Rick" glimpsed in the season 8 opener is a flash forward and not just a possible future envisioned by Rick, season 8 just may be the last audiences see of Rick Grimes as we know him. In the comics, All Out War lead to (spoilers ahead) a two-year time jump, with a nearly unrecognizable Alexandria and an even more nearly unrecognizable Rick Grimes. That was a Rick Grimes living in what was effectively peace time, and his attitude had changed: he went from a killer to a man trying to rebuild civilization, choosing to bring back some kind of law and order, choosing to imprison a hated enemy instead of simply putting his good 'ol Colt Python to use.
Anxious fans need not worry: season 8 will address Rick's grizzled appearance, even if the answers don't all come at once. If the show catches up to a more docile Rick Grimes this season — one who walks with the assistance of a cane and one who takes on the role of a more peaceful leader — season 8's All Out War could be the last we see of a more traditional Rick Grimes. And with that, we'd enter an entirely new era of The Walking Dead.
The Walking Dead airs Sundays at 9/8c on AMC.