When The Walking Dead returned for Season 8, many of the things that happened in the premiere were easy to predict based on all the setup in the Season 7 finale. Audiences knew Rick and his people were going to be gearing up for a war against Negan. What they didn't know was that the episode would feature scene after scene of a happy, older Rick walking around Alexandria with the help of a cane. These Walking Dead theories about Old Man Rick try to explain what those scenes could have possibly mean.
Are they a jump forward in time that reveal the settled future that awaits Rick after his uncertain present? Are they a fantasy Rick is turning to in troubled times to get him through the day? The scenes certainly feel unreal, complete with hazy camera filters and domestic bliss. They also seem to reference a time jump that happened in the comics after the battle against Negan was won. In the current timeline of the comics (which is two or so years away from the current timeline of the show), Rick had a bushy gray beard and walked with a cane — just like Old Man Rick on the show.
But even with the comics to go off of, it wasn't clear what purpose these scenes serve, so it's no wonder fans started to theorize.
A Time Jump Is Coming
There's a chance that there's nothing twisty here at all: maybe the show is just planning to follow the lead of the comics by introducing a time jump at some point this season, and the Old Man Rick scenes were foreshadowing. It would be the most expected outcome, but it is possible.
There's No Place Like Home
Some fans came up with a wilder theory to explain Old Man Rick in the Season 8 trailer: Rick had never actually come out of his coma in the pilot, and the entire series has been part of his dream. The shot of Old Man Rick was him finally waking up, back in his old life. Unfortunately, showrunner Scott Gimple shut this theory down.
Another One Rides The Bus
But Reddit user fifthchevron held fast to the dream theory, just in a different way. They speculate that the Old Man Rick scenes could be dreams, visions, or hallucinations — or even a glimpse into Rick's afterlife. Their main piece of evidence for this is that the show used a Weird Al Yankovic parody song in the background. "I was thinking since a theory being thrown around is Old Man Rick might be in a dream or hallucination, that the Weird Al song choice is signifying that?" fifthchevron wrote. "As in, it's not real, the way his songs aren't 'real' songs." It would be a subtle hint, but could be a telling one.
Redditor slain1134 suggests that Rick is using the fantasy of Old Man Rick — who is safe, content, and untroubled in a way Rick hasn't been for years — to keep himself going through the war. It gives him something to hope for, which was a topic of conversation between Rick and Maggie in the premiere.
"I think he's trying to envision the life he WANTS after they are victorious," slain1134 wrote. "The theory is, the more you envision what you WANT your life to look like, this solidifies it in your mind and drives you. Its [sic] the basis of any kind of self-help or motivational tactics you can read about in books and blogs pertaining to this strategy."
All Life Is Precious
Two users on Reddit (moose_dad and MushroomBot) approached a similar theory in different ways. They both noticed that the speechifying Rick of the present day was gunning hard for Negan's death, which didn't make sense because in the comics Rick decided to cool it on the bloodshed and imprison Negan instead. Morgan has been one of the characters closest to Rick who struggles with violence the most, so both users speculated that Morgan's death will result in Rick's change of heart. Rick will imprison Negan to honor Morgan.
The only difference is, moose_dad theorized that Rick's actions will directly lead to Morgan's death, adding a layer of guilt to his ultimate decision to spare Negan. All of this could be revealed through recurring Old Man Rick scenes, which take the viewers through his day bit by bit until it's revealed that Negan is locked in a cell in Alexandria in the future.
The introduction of Old Man Rick is currently the show's biggest mystery, and one that fans hope will be solved by the end of Season 8.
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