AMC's first airing of The Walking Dead 8x07, "Time for After," concluded with a promo for Sunday's "epic" 90-minute mid-season finale and a special message to fans.
"Watch live next Sunday to experience the moment that everyone will be talking about when the episode ends," said AMC's deep-voiced promo guy in a message accompanying the action-packed trailer for the conclusion of the first half of All Out War and season 8.
Chris Hardwick, host of live after show Talking Dead, reiterated the episode "will feature a shocking moment that everyone will be talking about next week."
"I asked the producers, 'If we tell people it's going to be shocking, is it really going to be shocking?'" Hardwick said. "They said, 'Yeah, it's really shocking,' so you can trust me on that."
The Walking Dead's biggest developments typically occur in its season premieres, mid-season finales, mid-season premieres and season finales — and with AMC openly teasing an "epic" and "shocking" mid-season finale, something big is happening.
"If Daryl dies, we riot."
So goes the battle cry of Daryl Dixon's biggest fans, who give the bowman a kind of plot armor usually reserved strictly for characters whose names are in titles. But Daryl has long been the face of the show, both in terms of merchandise and recognition — would he ever really be on the chopping block?
“He’s just got revenge on his mind this year,” Norman Reedus said of Daryl's trajectory in season 8. “He’s ready to kill everybody, no matter what the group says, no matter what anybody says. He’s just like, ‘Nah, screw it. Everybody dies.’ He’s very focused on revenge.”
Daryl has veered far off course in his continued defiance of Rick: despite Rick's warnings to stick to the plan, Daryl just inadvertently gave the Saviors a leg-up in the war. Negan and the Saviors were cut off, confined to the Sanctuary by a horde of walkers — a situation Rick masterminded and took advantage of, rallying the troops of Alexandria, the Hilltop and the Kingdom to attack and destroy Savior outposts, dwindling their forces once and for all.
Daryl is acting out in retaliation and revenge against the Saviors, and he let emotion get in the way of Rick's plan — and Alexandria's going to pay for it. If he's responsible for yet another death of someone close to him — or if he at least feels responsible for those deaths — Daryl's going to be further ridden with guilt. He just might wish he doesn't make it to the back half of season 8.
Losing Daryl would be the biggest shock of the show, and his emotionally-charged decisions have lead him towards a path of destruction before. This time could be the last time and would stun an entire viewership.
The Walking Dead 8x05 saw a surprising development of its own in the form of a fully operational helicopter that Rick Grimes saw fly overhead, clear as day.
The helicopter could belong to the Saviors, who had an RPG and a powerful .50 cal gun among the tools in their arsenal. Or, maybe, the helicopter belongs to a new group soon to be introduced in The Walking Dead comic books.
The Walking Dead hasn't bothered to explore the origins of the walker virus or the possibility of any kind of cure since the end of season 1, where the group of Atlanta survivors briefly holed up in the CDC. Could the helicopter belong to an official government installation that would suggest the infrastructure of the old world isn't completely gone?
"I'm gonna kill you. Not today. Not tomorrow. But I'm gonna kill you."
Those were among the first words Rick told Negan in 7x01, words a defiant Rick reiterated in 7x16 when Negan threatened to bludgeon Carl to death.
"I'm gonna kill Carl. And then Lucille here," Negan threatened, twirling his barbwire-wrapped bat, "she's gonna take your hands."
"You can do it right in front of me. You can take my hands. I told you already, I'm gonna kill you. All of you. Maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow. But nothing is gonna change that," Rick growled. "Nothing. You're all already dead."
Rick tried to kill Negan in 8x01, opening fire on the villain during an attack on the Sanctuary. Rick most recently reiterated his plans to Jadis, leader of the Scavengers, telling her the Saviors are almost finished and he's going to kill Negan himself.
Rick following through and ending Negan would be one hell of a shock, especially for comic book readers. Rick's arch foe has an interesting trajectory following the conclusion of the "All Out War" volume in the books, and letting that story go unexplored would be a shame — especially with many fans pointing to Jeffrey Dean Morgan's Negan as a bright spot in the show.
Negan's death at this point would be frustratingly premature, but the show frequently deviates from the comics — it's never been a direct page-to-screen translation. Losing Negan a season and a half after his introduction wouldn't be ideal, especially with the treasure trove of material that belongs to his comic book counterpart that's just dying to be adapted to live-action, but it would be a shocker.
"My mercy prevails over my wrath."
A red-eyed and devastated-looking Rick Grimes greeted viewers in the season 8 opener, also the show's landmark 100th episode, titled "Mercy." A colorful glass wind chime swayed in the breeze.
"My mercy... prevails... over my wrath."
The episode jumped around, exploring multiple timelines, including a possible time jump into the future that saw a grizzled Rick Grimes looking wildly different. His hair was trimmed, his beard was long and gray, and he walked with a cane.
"It's definitely not a one-time thing," director Greg Nicotero said of the flash forward. The flash forward hasn't been revisited since 8x01, but according to past comments from showrunner Scott M. Gimple, the mid-season finale should provide more context to the "Old Man Rick" scene.
“I will say that we won’t know exactly what that’s about after the first episode,” Gimple revealed ahead of the season 8 debut. “But we will know it about halfway through the season. We won’t quite know what it’s about, and then we’ll get an answer to that about halfway through. It’s something that’s going to play out.”
It's unclear if it was a genuine flash forward or some kind of idyllic fantasy envisioned by Rick, but the scene — which briefly included Carl, albeit off screen — could hold some hints as to Carl Grimes' future. The scene was spliced with a distraught Rick, who said "My mercy prevails over my wrath."
8x01 also saw Carl attempt to help a lone traveler — a stranger known as Siddiq, who he would come to befriend in 8x06 — who was scared off by warning shots fired by Rick. "I shot above his head," Rick told a disappointed Carl. "If he isn't [one of the Saviors], I hope he makes it."
"It's not gonna be enough, dad," Carl said, walking off.
"Enough what?" Rick asked.
Carl inducted his new friend Siddiq into the group, with the two making their way back to Alexandria. As seen in the preview for the mid-season finale, Carl steps up to help lead the Alexandrians in defense of their home. Siddiq, who believes in putting down walkers to "free their souls" — a belief passed down to him by his mother — isn't spotted in the brief promo, but as a lone traveller, he has nowhere else to be.
If Carl meets his end protecting his home in 8x08, the religious Siddiq could be the tie to Rick's utterance of the phrase "my mercy prevails over my wrath" — a quote out of the Koran, and one that is uttered by Siddiq in his first appearance.
Rick quoting the same phrase as Siddiq — who was first introduced through Carl, and who will now be integrated into the group by Carl — is the biggest clue that Carl Grimes is the next major death to provide a big shakeup in The Walking Dead.
Chandler Riggs recently cut his hair, fueling speculation his time with the show has come to an end.
"People are gonna die," Rick told a much younger Carl in season 2. "I'm gonna die. Mom. There's no way you can ever be ready for it. I try to be, but I can't. Best we can do now is avoid it as long as we can, keep one step ahead."
Rick and Carl avoided it as long as they can, but the young Grimes just might make his last stand — and that's just how it's gotta be.
The Walking Dead airs its 90-minute mid-season finale, "How It's Gotta Be," Sunday, December 10 at 9/8c on AMC.