The Walking Dead returned for season 8 last night, and the season 8 premiere threw fans for a loop when it was revealed that the current "All Out War" storyline is taking place over no less than four different timelines.
Ever since that reveal, Walking Dead fans have been speculating and buzzing about what this new multi-timeline approach could mean for the show and its characters - especially the man who started it all. Based on what we saw in the season 8 premiere, and what we heard leading into it, there's a certain possibility that's become more and more relevant for discussion:
Is Rick Grimes going to die in The Walking Dead season 8?
The first clue that The Walking Dead may be headed for the major milestone of killing Rick off, is how this latest premiere episode set up the major themes of season 8.
Throughout the episode, there are multiple references in big speeches about the survivors in the Alexandria/Hilltop/Kingdom alliance seizing control of the future - a future where those willing to live in harmony and cooperation will prosper, while violent parasites like The Saviors will perish. During these rousing scenes of resistance against oppression, we also get some conspicuous moments of dialogue in which Rick informs other characters (like Maggie) that they will be the future leadership of the new world being fought for, not him.
This theme extends even further into a line of dialogue in which Rick states out loud this war is "not about me." On the one hand, the line informs us that Rick's point of view has expanded beyond his own need for vengeance; on the other hand, it can be seen as a thematic motif and foreshadow, in which Rick (and subsequently, actor Andrew Lincoln) is informing fans that the show itself is not about Rick, but rather about the entire ensemble of characters (Daryl, Carol, Michonne, Maggie) that fans have grown to love.
These themes of season 8 may also be getting seeded early, in order to foreshadow and explain the meaning behind the four timelines that the story is now taking place in...
As we here at Comicbook.com learned when talking to the The Walking Dead showrunners, there are four distinct timelines revealed in the season 8 premiere:
- The present day timeline where the war against the saviors is taking place.
- A timeline seemingly in the very near future, where Rick and Carl encounter a mysterious new hunger-starved character, while out on patrol.
- An point of unknown time, in which we see a very haggard and seemingly grieving Rick, wandering aimlessly. It's here that we get another major theme of season 8, with the line about mercy prevailing over wrath.
- A point years in the future, in which we see "Old Man Rick" living happily with Michonne, Carl, and Judith, in a seemingly flourishing version of Alexandria.
Taking these four timelines into account with the thematic notions introduced during the season 8 premiere, we may be getting the first foreshadows of the major story arc in season 8, in the major turning point it may end on:
It feels as though The Walking Dead season 8 premiere went out of its way to set Rick on an arc that could be ending with his death:
- As explained, the talk about the future of the world, and how the battle for it is bigger than just Rick, could be taken as meta reference that the future of The Walking Dead show and franchise is bigger than the story of Rick Grimes, and we'll be exploring that notion sooner before later.
- The Rick/Carl near-future timeline could be after the war with the saviors, and demonstrates how Rick is a violent and cynical relic of the past, while Carl is a more hopeful and compassionate icon of a better future.
- The haggard Rick timeline could be Rick in his final moments, having suffered some kind of fatal wound (whether Walker bite, bullet or blade), and we're seeing his last rites and thoughts before he dies.
- "Old Man Rick" could just be the beautiful fantasy of a dying man, a technique The Walking Dead has pulled out before (see: that heartbreaking deleted scene from season 7). The Old Man imagery would then represent how tired, worn, and outdated Rick feels in the new world he helps create.
All of this is speculation, of course, but it's not without merit.
In the comic books, "All Out War" includes a dastardly move by Negan and The Saviors of coating their bladed weapons with zombie blood, so that anyone they cut or shoot with arrows is handed a death sentence, even if the wound is minor. A major point of suspense in the story comes when Dwight shoots Rick with a crossbow bolt, until it's revealed that Dwight's true loyalty to Rick (not Negan) kept the bolt clean of poison.
As we know by now: even when hewing close to the comics, The Walking Dead TV series still likes to change up the details of comic book events - sometimes with major impact (see: Andrea's death). It wouldn't be hard to imagine that The Saviors' poisoning technique is put to use in the show - only this time, Rick receives a poisoned cut, and the "haggard Rick" timeline we see is actually him taking in his last moments, as the zombie infection wracks his body.
Going a step further: The "All Out War" comic book story involves one final (and very brutal) fight between Rick and Negan, after Rick seemingly talks Negan down - and then slashes his throat. Negan breaks Rick's leg during the fight, but Rick ultimately shows 'mercy over wrath' (hint, hint...) when he has his people save Negan's life, and instead imprisons him in Alexandria, rather than continue the cycle of death and violence.
The clues the Walking Dead comics provide, could actually leave us in one of two places on the show:
- Rick and Negan have one last drag-out fight (possibly some time after The Saviors are gone), and Rick spares Negan, while Negan fatally wounds Rick (poison or otherwise).
- Rick is indeed poisoned, but his impending death is a fake-out by the showrunners. Instead, his body is left broken and/or maimed, and the recovery leaves him looking like "Old Man Rick," which is why other characters like Michonne and Carl don't look nearly as aged or haggard.
It's still very early in the season to know for sure what these multiple timelines could be leading up to, but as producer Greg Nicotero told us:
"They aren't just one-off visuals. The way that Scott [Gimple] and the writers like to unfold these stories is really to give the audience an opportunity to put the clues together for themselves. Sometimes you'll just get one or two shots of something, and then another episode or two later, you'll get another shot. And you start putting it together."
Most importantly, perhaps, is the increase in some ominous foreshadowing that has come from Andrew Lincoln himself. As the actor stated in a recent interview:
“There comes a point where there are too many gray hairs on your chin. I think the audience deserves an end game. It’s a lot of time to invest in a story without some kind of resolution."
If I was watching it I would want some answers, something, and if that means the demise of a central character or a principal character, then I’m willing to take the medicine.”
The Walking Dead season 8 is currently airing Sundays @ 9/8c on AMC.