On Oct. 22, 2017, The Walking Dead aired its 100th episode. It’s no small feat for a genre show on AMC, and it pulled out all the stops to celebrate. The Season 8 premiere, “Mercy,” featured an intense battle between Rick, Negan and their respective allies.
But the most compelling development in the episode didn’t come from gunfire or explosions. It’s either a flash forward to or a dream of a time after the war is even over.
In the Season 8 premiere, we got our long-awaited first look at Old Man Rick. It turned out to be more tantalizing than revealing, since little was revealed about how he arrived in his circumstances. Still, the premiere’s flash-forwards did give us some substantive clues about what to expect in the future on The Walking Dead.
1. Old Man Rick isn’t that old after all
When The Walking Dead’s Season 8 Comic Con trailer premiered this summer, it set the internet abuzz. And it was mostly due to the last-second reveal of what fans dubbed Old Man Rick. In the trailer, he appeared to be really old — like, white hair, long beard, maybe decades in the future.
But we learned, with our introduction to Rick’s imagined-or-real future self, that he’s probably not all that old after all. His beard is considerably grayer. And he’s sporting a wicked flat top haircut that definitely makes him look different — but still not like a wizened old man.
All told, he likely isn’t more than five years older than the Rick we know now. In other words, Old Man Rick seems to have aged more due to the toll of a hard life rather than the years passing.
And given what we learn about his overall health, it seems like the years haven’t been particularly kind.
2. He is dealing with some kind of permanent injury
The first glimpse we get of Old Man Rick also reveals a cane, propped up against his bedroom door. In the future, it seems Rick is dealing with some kind of a chronic leg injury. We see him relying on the cane and limping in spite of it.
It seems highly likely that Rick’s injury is a result of his battle with the Saviors. After all, it became clear in “Mercy” that Negan will not go down without a long, hard fight. But it’s also possible that Rick’s leg injury could come from another traumatic event some time between the war and the moment we first meet him.
3. Old Man Rick is in a pretty good head space
You might think that the man capable of assembling an army of allies and rousing them with a powerful inspirational speech would be really into, like, heavy metal, or power ballads. But If your name is Rick Grimes, your musical taste is apparently a bit more irreverent.
In “Mercy,” when Old Man Rick is lying in bed, he’s listening to Weird Al Yankovic’s “Another One Rides the Bus.” And the addition of the comedic song makes the introduction to the future feel all the more surreal. Sure, the post-apocalyptic musical selection is probably a little bit slim. And there’s absolutely nothing wrong with Yankovic. But given the beard and the pared down existence, maybe “Amish Paradise” would have hit home a little more for Old Man Rick.
It’s not just the song that’s a little off-putting, though. Throughout the Old Man Rick sequences, the man we’ve seen go through hell multiple times has a decidedly cheery disposition. It’s strange to see a carefree Rick. And it’s hard not to wonder how much has changed for him to be so at peace that he’d elect to listen to pop music parodies first thing in the morning.
4. Rick’s not the only person who survived the war
One of the most intriguing reveals that came from our glimpse into Old Man Rick’s life is whom we get to see him interact with. If the scenes we saw in “Mercy” do reflect some future point, then we know that Rick isn’t the only main character to survive.
Rick hobbles into the kitchen (in a really snazzy bathrobe, no less). A grinning Michonne is there to greet him. A few moments later, we see Carl (who’s playing hooky from what we can only guess is school). And finally, Judith (no longer a toddler, but nowhere near a preteen) runs into the room to greet her dad.
It’s a genuine relief to think that Rick’s little family could still be in tact when it’s all said and done. But the flash forwards in “Mercy” stop short of telling us anything else about the rest of the group. We do, at least, get a chance to see what has become of the place they call home.
5. Alexandria is still standing (but it looks a lot different)
The house that Rick wakes up in seems to be the same one he, Carl, Judith, and Michonne have called home since Season 6. So that tells us that Alexandria probably won’t be completely destroyed in the impending war with the Saviors.
But that doesn’t mean the Safe Zone will be unscathed, either. Rick steps out onto his front porch with Judith, who wants to show him a large owl that’s been constructed for a festival. And we see that across the street, there’s a new cobblestone building that seems to serve as some kind of a Town Hall.
The new building mean that Alexandria has been permanently settled and has some kind of functioning government. But it could also mean that parts of Alexandria are destroyed, and have to be rebuilt, during the war.
Though the Old Man Rick reveal is certainly enticing, it isn’t the only glimpse we get into the future in The Walking Dead Season 8 premiere. And the other clues we get paint a considerably less rosy picture for what’s at stake for Rick and his friends.
6. Rick in the future again, but with 100 percent more crying
The lead-up to Season 8 of The Walking Dead teased a big time jump in the premiere with Old Man Rick. But they also managed to hide a big surprise – that “Mercy” features two time jumps.
The second is every bit as jarring, but also a lot more cause for concern. That’s because it features another version of Rick, this one younger than he is in the other future sequences.
He’s also in a completely different mental state than the happy-go-lucky Old Man Rick. He’s seemingly alone and incredibly distraught. And he looks and acts much more like the Rick we saw in Season 7, immediately following Glenn and Abraham’s death. He’s been crying, and his eyes are red-rimmed and bloodshot.
This future version of Rick has obviously been through a lot. And, it seems, he’s weighing his options very closely.
7. Rick will have to choose between two difficult paths in the future
We don’t get to see much of anything that’s going on around the other future Rick. Every glimpse we get of him is shot very close, so that we can only see his face, and that he seems to be outside.
But we do get a feeling for what going on inside his head. Rick is mumbling to himself, almost as if in prayer. And he says, his voice choked, “My mercy prevails over my wrath.”
It’s a statement that offers more questions than answers. But it’s also a subtle callback to earlier in the episode, when Carl encounters Siddiq, a young Muslim man who is reciting the same line.
This could mean that Siddiq teams up with Rick and influences his belief system. But even if that holds true, we still don’t know who or what Rick is intending to inflict either his mercy or his wrath upon. Or, most importantly, we don’t know what has happened to bring him to a point where he would have to decide between the two.
It’s unclear whether we’ll see more of this version of Rick in flash forwards, or if the series will catch up to him soon. We do know that we’ll see more of Old Man Rick before Season 8 is through. And hopefully, the connections between these two specific threads in his life will become clear.
The Walking Dead airs Sundays at 9 p.m. on AMC.
Follow Katherine Webb on Twitter @prufrox.
Check out The Cheat Sheet on Facebook!