The Walking Dead star Andrew Lincoln says he was shocked when he first found out about the show's season 8 Old Man Rick "twist." Fans have been buzzing about the imminent appearance of Old Man Rick ever since season 8's Comic-Con trailer, which gave us our first glimpse of the bearded and bed-ridden apparent future incarnation of series lead Rick Grimes.
Fans of the Walking Dead comic know that after the books' "All Out War" arc, the story jumps ahead in time two years - and with Season 8 embarking on its own version of the same "All Out War" storyline, speculation is that the show too will execute a time-jump teased by the appearance of Old Man Rick. It's also possible that Old Man Rick could be a dream, a flash-forward to a much-later storyline that the show is not yet ready to embark upon, or some other kind of misdirect.
Speaking to EW, Walking Dead star Andrew Lincoln gave his own take on the Old Man Rick reveal, expressing his excitement about where the show is going with this particular development:
“I was shocked and kind of excited by it. My instinct was, what a great storytelling device. That was my instinct. I thought it was very interesting, and also gives us an opportunity to do something else a little ahead of the game, which I think is very, very neat.”
Lincoln confirmed what is already obvious: that Old Man Rick is a future incarnation of Rick. However, Lincoln tip-toed around the question of whether this older Rick appears in a flash-forward or is just a dream. Speculation about Old Man Rick has been flying fast-and-furious on the internet, fueled by comments from comic book and series creator Robert Kirkman suggesting that the grizzled, older incarnation of Rick would be explained as soon as the season 8 premiere. Showrunner Scott Gimple has already dialed back the excitement, saying that while Old Man Rick will appear in the premiere, we won't get a full explanation on what is going on there until about midway through the season. Lincoln himself kept it annoyingly vague when discussing how much Old Man Rick explanation we will get in the season 8 premiere:
“It will become somewhat clearer after the October premiere. Then again, it may not be. It maybe still is somewhat opaque. I think that that’s possibly all I can say on the matter.”
Lincoln's characterization of Old Man Rick as a "story device" may be the best clue yet about what is really going on. The first half of the new season is sure to be immersed in playing out the "All Out War" scenario set up at the end of season 7 and it's likely that a time-jump is coming at the midway point of the season, in keeping with the comic book. In order to prepare us for the time-jump, the show's writers may be employing a framing device, showing a glimpse of Old Man Rick in the season 8 premiere with the intention of coming back to him later as we skip ahead.
Ratings for The Walking Dead took somewhat of a dip in season 7 and fans overall were not thrilled with the way things played out after Negan's brutal slaughter of Glenn and Abraham in the season premiere - so a story reset via time-jump might be what the show needs right now. Then again, playing tricks with timelines can sometimes irritate audiences, so executing a time-jump could also be a bit of a gamble. We'll discover as season 8 plays out whether fans are as shocked and excited by Old Man Rick as Andrew Lincoln, or just feel manipulated as many did after the season 6 cliffhanger debacle.
The Walking Dead season 8 premieres Sunday, October 22nd on AMC.