At the end of the trailer for the upcoming season of The Walking Dead, there's an intriguing glimpse of Rick looking practically nothing like himself. His hair is cropped shorter than usual and he's got a bushy, gray beard. It's definitely a hard pivot into a post-apocalyptic Santa look that no one would have ever expected from Rick. But why is Rick old in The Walking Dead Season 8 trailer? There are a few potential explanations, but the most plausible is that there's a time jump at some point in the season — and that's especially likely if the show follows the comics.
In the comics, it goes like this: the tension ramping up between Alexandria (plus everyone else) and the Saviors leads to a war. Both sides use some dirty tricks to try and win. Negan coats all his weapons in zombie goop to infect his enemies. Rick utilizes Dwight (the double agent) to fake his own death and throw Negan off. At the last moment, it comes down to Rick vs. Negan. Rick ends up with a broken leg, Negan gets his throat slashed, but everyone lives to tell the tale. Negan is jailed and the comics jump forward in time.
But the comics only jump forward a few years — two at minimum. I know a zombie dystopia can be tough on a guy, but in the Season 8 trailer Rick looked like he'd aged another 15 years. He even had a cane leaning up against one wall. So what gives?
It could be a dream sequence or a flash forward. The show has never dealt much with either of those narrative devices, but there's a first time for everything. There's been a vision or two on the series before, so why not a quick look at the future? Still, when Andrew Lincoln spoke to Entertainment Weekly, he definitely made it seem like the scene was a jump forward in time. "I mean, it's a gray Rick," he said. "It's an older Rick. So by virtue of the fact that you see that means it's in the future. It will become somewhat clearer after the October premiere. Then again, it may not be. It maybe still is somewhat opaque."
A time jump is the outcome that would make the most sense, but the show could differentiate itself from the comics in other ways to keep the audience guessing. Perhaps it will be more than two or three years between the end of the war and the story picking up again; it could be a decade or more. That would allow some characters, like Judith and Maggie's baby, to be aged up enough that they could really take part in the story. It would also change the stakes in a different way, with the heroes a little bit older and wiser and more jaded.
But there's no reason to jump the gun, either. Rick going gray and needing a cane isn't necessarily an indication that more than a few years have passed. People go gray at any age, and Rick could just have an injury that requires the use of a cane — like getting his leg broken in a fight with Negan.
Showrunner Scott Gimple told The Hollywood Reporter that the writers had considered every possibility, especially in relation to the comics, but came short of officially confirming that the time jump would happen on the show. "For the people who read the comics, they're going to be expecting [the time jump]," he said, adding:
We're doing the book, we do all sorts of variations on it, and then we do things that are inspired by it and then we change things up with a remix. But I will say there are things that happen in that time jump that are referred to that are super interesting. And thus we might see some of that stuff; it might not be the same sort of jump, or we'll do that two to five years in real time.
The glimpse of older Rick in the Season 8 trailer is almost definitely a hint at the time jump, but fans should still expect the unexpected. If the show deviates from the comics, then there's no way of knowing just when the time jump will happen — or what it will mean for the show.
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