"Old Man Rick" Will Be Explained in The Walking Dead Season 8 Premiere

The Walking Dead unleashed its season 8 trailer at San Diego Comic Con last week, teasing all out war between the Alexandria, Hilltop, Kingdom, and Savior communities — as well as a glance at Alexandrian leader Rick Grimes (Andrew Lincoln) looking decidedly older. Confused? According to The Walking Dead creator Robert Kirkman, fans won't have to wait much longer for answers:

"I'm pretty sure you'll learn in the first episode what that means," Kirkman told EW, referring to the final moments of the trailer that see a room filled with flowers and light, and its occupant — Rick Grimes, with a beard that would make Hershel jealous — lying in a bed, a cane nearby. The imagery invokes The Walking Dead's premiere episode from 2010, when Rick awoke from a coma in a world that had already gone bye.

Comic book readers were able to guess "old man Rick" is the result of a time jump, in which the comics skipped past about two years of time following Rick's battle with bat-wielding sociopath Negan (Jeffrey Dean Morgan). Confirming that this tease will be addressed in the first episode back (the series' 100th), Kirkman fielded questions from reporters following an AMC panel at the Television Critics Association summer press tour, saying, "Or was it the time jump? I don't know, maybe it was Rick waking up from his coma. Wouldn't that be weird?"

Rick Grimes The Walking Dead
(Photo: AMC)

The show, which has largely followed Kirkman's narrative as laid out in the comic books but with unique deviations, could even be throwing book readers off, playing on their expectations. "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."

Viewers are questioning and buzzing about the upcoming eighth season, with the record-breaking first footage surpassing its Comic Con competition as well as The Walking Dead season 7 trailer with 31 million views in its first four days online.

Season 8A promises a quicker pace than usual, Kirkman says, adding, "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."

After 100 episodes and eight seasons and counting, how does one of the biggest shows on TV stay fresh? "We've got all these different factions, all these different locations, we've got the Hilltop, we've got the Sanctuary, and I think [we're] getting all these people together and continuing to expand the scale in a cool way, but really using all these pieces to their fullest," Kirkman answered.

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"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. 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.