‘The Walking Dead’s Secretive Helicopter Mystery Has Been Unfolding for Years

The helicopter mystery now unfolding on The Walking Dead was planned for years and proved so secretive even new showrunner Angela Kang was in the dark until Scott Gimple, the former five-season showrunner turned chief content officer, informed her of its true purpose when she assumed his old position.

“Scott Gimple knew what the helicopter was for a long time,” Kang told THR.

“He was a little secretive, even with [the writers’ room], about what it was. He did let me in on some of it at some point last year. We went into this season with a pretty good knowledge about the intention behind the helicopter and where it would lead.”

A helicopter was first spotted in The Walking Dead 710, “New Best Friends,” glimpsed in the background behind Rick Grimes (Andrew Lincoln) during a trip to the junkyard overseen by Jadis (Pollyanna McIntosh).

The flying object was written off as an apparent error until Rick watched a helicopter fly overhead in full view in 805, “The Big Scary U,” before former Savior right-hand man Simon (Steven Ogg) grilled Jadis about the junkyard’s hidden solar panels and a helipad in 810, “The Lost and the Plunderers.”

The mystery deepened in 814, “Still Gotta Mean Something,” when it was learned Jadis was in contact with the helicopter and intended to use a captured Negan (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) in some sort of trade.

Jadis, now living as Anne as part of Alexandria, saw the helicopter fly overhead in 902, “The Bridge,” before returning to the junkyard in 903, “Warning Signs,” where she was caught red-handed by new lover Father Gabriel (Seth Gilliam), who was also once a captive of the Scavengers.

When Gabriel realized Anne had dealings with an unseen voice over the radio, who told her it would take an “A” — not a “B” — to pick her up and take her away to someplace better, she knocked Gabriel out and took him prisoner before he could alert Rick Grimes.

While the designated classification system largely remains a mystery, a hint came in Anne’s parting words to Gabriel when she told him, “All this time, I thought you were a ‘B.’”

“Without giving away what it is, we know Rick was an ‘A,’ and Negan was an ‘A,’” Kang said. “She thought Gabriel was a ‘B,’ and she’s since changed her mind. Take that and extrapolate from there.”

Speculation has run rampant that the helicopter could be tied to Georgie (Jayne Atkinson), the little-seen benefactor of Hilltop who entrusted Maggie (Lauren Cohan) with a key to a future that helped build up the Hilltop into the most well-off of the communities, or the Commonwealth, a massive network of survivors currently playing a major role in the ongoing comic books.

Whoever the helicopter belongs to, its emergence in recent seasons and involvement in the front half of The Walking Dead Season Nine has raised suspicions it will be used to explain Lincoln’s exit from the series, allowing Rick Grimes to leave the show without being killed off.

Kang hinted Rick could survive his quickly approaching final episode when she told the BBC, “Who knows what time will bring?”

“This is a show with dead in the title. There are going to be losses,” she said. “Not all of them are deaths, sometimes there are departures of different kinds, but this is really a show about how people survive.”

We also know Gimple has been quietly prepping Lincoln’s exit as far back as Season Four, when Gimple and Lincoln began working an exit strategy that, at the time, would have seen Rick leave in Season Eight.

“It was a possibility that we talked about,” Gimple explained of Lincoln’s departure at New York Comic Con.

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“There were things that you build things into the story, maybe it’ll go this direction, maybe it’ll go that direction. Things started moving in that way and we followed the story threads that were laid out. We were able to fulfill it this season. There was a plan. There were little turns here and there but it generally stayed with the plan.”

The Walking Dead airs new episodes Sundays at 9/8c on AMC. Lincoln’s final episode, 905, “What Comes After,” airs November 4.