On TV, not all twists are created equal. There have been plenty of series that offered up disappointing explanations for their storylines. And some Walking Dead fans got nervous when they first saw Old Man Rick in the Season 8 trailer.
With its no-holds-barred approach to violence and the numerous brutal deaths of major characters, the hit AMC series is no stranger to shocking moments. But the idea of seeing a much-older Rick — complete with a long white beard — has thrown fans off in a different way.
There have been many fan theories about how the series will integrate Old Man Rick into the fray. Here are a few of the more extreme theories, as well as an exploration of one that could actually help improve The Walking Dead.
1. Maybe Rick has actually been in a coma this whole time
Some Walking Dead fans were angry when they saw Old Man Rick in the Season 8 trailer. That’s because they assumed the series was teasing a cop-out ending: Rick has actually just been in a coma the entire time.
That would mean, of course, that the whole zombie apocalypse never really happened. And that Lori and Shane are still alive, and he never met Morgan, Michonne, Daryl, or any of his myriad of enemies. In at least some small way, that would be great news for Rick. But it would be terrible news for fans who’ve become genuinely invested in these characters’ survival.
The theory became so popular, in fact, that The Walking Dead‘s showrunner had to address it in a recent interview — and his response was surprisingly candid.
2. That theory has been (thankfully) debunked
The “Rick was in a coma” theory would have certainly sent fans into a fury. But luckily, The Walking Dead’s creative team seems to understand that. In an interview with Entertainment Weekly, Scott Gimple put the kibosh on that idea. The series’ showrunner confirmed, “I can say that that is not him waking up from the coma in the hospital.”
But if the zombie apocalypse wasn’t a Dallas-like dream, then we still don’t know why we’re seeing a much older Rick. Unless, of course, the person we saw in the trailer wasn’t Rick at all.
3. Maybe we’re seeing Old Man Carl
One of the most popular fan theories about the end of the show is that we’ll meet Carl, not Rick, as an old man. And that the entire series has actually been him telling his family about everything he went through as a kid. It’s probably as close to a happy ending as anyone in the series could get.
It’s possible, but unlikely, that the old man we saw in the trailer was actually Carl. And if it is Rick (and it probably is), then it unfortunately makes the Old Man Carl theory nearly impossible. After all, would the series really push us forward twice? Rick would have to be really, really old to be hanging out with Old Man Carl.
There is one fan theory, though, that would allow for Carl and Rick to be wizened and gray together.
4. Maybe Rick is immortal
Another popular fan theory is that Rick Grimes can’t die. Or that he’s already died, and come back to life, and can’t die again (still with us?).
Fans on Reddit have long postulated that The Walking Dead’s apocalyptic virus somehow resurrected Rick, but as a non-Walker. No, the science doesn’t really check out, but we are talking about a TV show about zombies here.
If we’re seeing Rick as an old man, it could be after the reveal that he will never actually die. That would definitely change the stakes for the rest of the series’ run. But it might also be TWD’s version of jumping the shark.
Luckily, there’s one more plausible, and likely, theory for why we’re getting to see Rick as an old man.
5. We know The Walking Dead comics had a post-war time jump
The Walking Dead’s behind-the-scenes players are usually pretty tight-lipped about what we’ll see in the series. But fans who’ve already read Robert Kirkman’s comics know that there was a two-year time jump after Rick’s war with Negan. And they’ve been anticipating something similar as Season 8 approaches.
The Old Man Rick reveal definitely called the length of the time jump into question. After all, Rick would have to age pretty rapidly in two years to look like he did in the trailer.
But there could still be room for the series to flash forward not just once, but twice, in the eighth season.
6. We also know we’ll be seeing Old Man Rick more than once
Gimple has hinted that Walking Dead fans should get used to seeing Old Man Rick. He told Entertainment Weekly that we’ll first see him in the Season 8 premiere. But the series won’t explain why we’ve seen him until several episodes later.
Andrew Lincoln, who plays Rick, told EW that he thinks the way the characters’ arc plays out in Season 8 makes for a “great storytelling device.” And Gimple and Lincoln’s comments make it pretty clear that Old Man Rick’s presence in the upcoming episodes will help reshape the series’ narrative — and maybe in a way fans don’t expect.
7. Could The Walking Dead be setting us up for multiple timelines?
In the last seven seasons of The Walking Dead, we’ve had a handful of flashbacks. These moments have given us insight into what shaped the series’ characters. But some fans and critics have grown frustrated with the way TWD has dragged on, seemingly with no end in sight.
One plausible way to fix that problem is to shake up the storytelling. And if the series introduces multiple timelines into the fray, it could help re-up the suspense while still giving us a glimmer of hope.
Series like This Is Us, Westworld, and Lost have introduced multiple timelines into the fray with varying degrees of success. If The Walking Dead does the same, and lets us simultaneously see stories from the present and one or more future points in time, it could help re-engage its lagging fan base.
The downside to multiple timelines would be that some of the mystery surrounding who lives or dies would be gone. But after seven years of watching our favorite characters perish, that may not be a bad thing.
The Walking Dead returns to AMC on Oct. 22, 2017.
Follow Katherine Webb on Twitter @prufrox.
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