Being a Walking Dead fan means that, in some respects, you’re willing to suffer a lot. Because you have to wait half a year between each season. Because sometimes you have to wait weeks or months to learn your favorite character’s fate. But you do it, because you love AMC’s zombie megahit — or because you can’t bear to give up on it just yet.
The suffering feels even worse this time around. Most of us will spend the summer speculating over who Negan (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) killed in the powerful (and frustrating) sixth season finale. So it’s easy to forget that there will also be a whole season worth of episodes to watch after the big premiere reveal. And given how much is at stake for Rick (Andrew Lincoln), Carol (Melissa McBride), and the rest of the gang, we’re likely in for some truly exhilarating stories once the series picks back up in October. Here are six big predictions for what we’ll see in the seventh season of The Walking Dead.
1. Negan’s big finale kill won’t be the last
Anyone even remotely aware of The Walking Dead knows that Season 6 ended on a maddeningly vague note. Eventually, we will find out who was on the other end of Negan’s barbed wire bat. But sadly, this loss will likely be the first of many.
There are many reasons to suspect that more than one core character will bite the dust in Season 7 at the hands of Negan or the other remaining Saviors. For one, TWD‘s cast and crew have gone out of their way to let us know that his brutality is on another level. So unless we see some serious mayhem from him, his presence in Season 7 is going to feel like a huge letdown. Plus, aside from one poorly executed fake-out and the aforementioned finale death, our favorite survivors emerged from Season 6 relatively unscathed. If The Walking Dead is going to maintain its reputation for mercilessly killing off major players, it’s unfortunately going to have to up the ante in Season 7. [Update, 10/24/16: Click here to read more about the Season 7 premiere (Warning: spoilers!).]
2. Rick will be a changed man
Rick Grimes has had to make some tough sacrifices over the past six seasons of The Walking Dead. He’s also made his share of mistakes. As the natural leader of his band of survivors, he’s lost his wife, his girlfriend, and countless friends to walkers and human enemies alike. Like, he’s been through some stuff. When we see him again in Season 7, he’ll likely be facing a new wave of guilt. That’s because he more or less called Negan’s bluff, only to come face-to-face with the reality of how truly brutal he can be.
Rick is used to taking charge — but it’s very likely we’ll find him beaten into submission. Don’t expect much bravado. Don’t expect him to rally the troops and try to take the Saviors out again. More than likely, we could see him quickly fall in line with Negan’s “give me everything I want and I’ll let you live” way of thought. That’s not to say he won’t eventually be up for a fight — but we’ll probably see him struggling to reconcile his decisions and their consequences before he gives it a try.
3. The group’s dynamic will change significantly
Season 6 saw more than a few role reversals for The Walking Dead‘s core group. Carol‘s mercilessness transformed into a shaky introspection and unwillingness to kill. Morgan’s “clear” mentality has mostly given way to a live-and-let-live approach. Father Gabriel is actually useful now. As we move into Season 7 — and the group deals with the loss of one of their vital members — it will only be natural to watch their dynamic shift even more. They’ll need to adapt to accommodate the new baby, regardless of whether both of its parents survived Negan’s bat. Someone could step up to fill the void if Rick can’t get it together. And they’ll need to face a new reality, in which they are no longer a part of the most dominant surviving group on the block.
4. Jesus will play a crucial role
When we met Paul Monroe, aka Jesus, in Season 6, he certainly looked and acted like another bearded messenger we’re all familiar with. His band of survivors? They’re an interesting crew. But ultimately, Rick’s encounter with the Hilltop gang’s best ambassador did little more in the bigger scheme of the series than lead him down the path toward that fateful encounter with Negan.
That doesn’t mean we’re done with Jesus and the Hilltoppers, though. His skills, both as a con-man and as a duck-and-dash master, could come in extremely handy in Season 7 — especially in the wake of Negan’s more extreme conditions for his captors’ survival. Moreover, Rick’s friends at Hilltop are well-versed in the Saviors’ brutal ways, and could offer up both wisdom and backup when the need arises.
5. The Kingdom will come
Given the events of the Season 6 finale, it’s easy to forget that one of the biggest clues we got about Season 7 actually came in the penultimate episode. In “East,” Morgan and Rick met a mysterious spear-wielding man covered in protective armor — but he bailed before they could figure out where he came from. Rick automatically assumed he was a Savior, but Morgan surmised that he could be from somewhere else.
Fans of the Walking Dead comic series have a pretty good idea where that somewhere else might be — the Kingdom. It’s another group of survivors, led by the charismatic and eccentric Ezekiel, who rules over his people with the aid of his tiger (yes, tiger) Shiva. They’re allies with the Hilltop — and all card-carrying members of the “We Hate Negan” club. Given Rick and Morgan’s brief encounter, and the appearance of those armed dudes on horseback in the finale, it seems inevitable at this point that we’ll formally meet the Kingdom in Season 7.
6. The Saviors are going down
They’re ruthless. They’re not all that bright. They make the Governor look less like a viable nemesis and more like a neighbor yelling “Get off my lawn!” The Saviors played a major role in the second half of Season 6, and though Daryl, Carol, Maggie, and Rick have all tried their best to take them out, they’ve proved themselves to be a serious threat.
But over the last six seasons of The Walking Dead, we’ve seen just how hard these characters are willing to fight to protect their lives. And now, all signs point to a major confrontation between our protagonists and the Saviors. Sure, they might be shaken by Negan’s presence in their lives, and what he will take from them. Yes, our original group of survivors will likely suffer some major blows over the next season. But they’ve amassed some potentially amazing allies since they’ve settled in Alexandria.
They have the Hilltop gang. They might have the Kingdom. And together, these groups could wage a pretty major war against Negan’s crew. One thing’s for certain — the Saviors won’t go down without a fight. So a fight is what they’re going to get.
Follow Katherine Webb on Twitter @prufrox.
Check out Entertainment Cheat Sheet on Facebook!