-- Warning: SPOILERS for The Walking Dead season 8 premiere (and the comics) lie ahead --
The Walking Dead has exploded back onto the scene with an action-packed season 8 premiere, one that we think explains the Old Man Rick that was glimpsed in the Comic Con trailer several months back. The peaceful looking, long grey beard-sporting Rick Grimes has been the subject of significant debate amongst the fan base, with folks wondering if this was some sort of flashforward of the character's distant future, a dream sequence, or simply a direct adaptation of the comics. TWD creator Robert Kirkman stated back in July that things should be cleared up in the premiere, though showrunner Scott Gimple later refuted that claim, saying that the mystery wouldn't be solved in its entirety until the midseason finale. (Thankfully, Gimple has also dismissed any possibility that the series would fall back on the intensely lazy "it was all a dream" storytelling trope. Hurray!)
So now that the premiere has aired, where do we stand? The answer: somewhere in between.
It's important to note that neither Kirkman nor Gimple were outright misleading fans with their seemingly contradictory statements. The Old Man Rick mystery could certainly take a left turn in the coming weeks, though tonight's premiere heavily implies that it's our hero's idyllic vision of the future. In order to make this vision a reality, Rick firmly believes that he'll have to eliminate Negan and the Saviors -- as well as anyone else that would seek to make their world any more dangerous or claim what is not theirs by right. As a result, as his group launches an assault on their enemies, Rick is completely consumed by the idea of eliminating Negan once and for all. He's assured that his people cannot move forward toward a happy and healthy future with that sort of evil lurking in the shadows, and the premiere sees Rick's obsession with killing his nemesis put their entire plan in danger.
Thankfully, Father Gabriel manages to snap our hero out of it - reminding him that their mission is not about Rick, it's about getting rid of the Saviors so that the good guys can rebuild the world the right way. Gabriel may end paying a terrible price for staying back to help Rick and the terrible, horrible, no good, very bad Gregory, but that's a cliffhanger for another day.
The biggest question that remains here is the actual role of the Old Man Rick vision in the show's narrative. In the source material, we see a similarly seasoned-looking Rick when the comics take a two year jump into the future following the events of All Out War, which has led to a concern amongst the fan base that the groups' major confrontation with the Saviors will be viewed through a retrospective lens. Glossing over the action in flashbacks (through future Old Man Rick) doesn't seem to align with anything folks involved with production have promised about season 8, however. Regarding the time jump, Kirkman himself has stated that it “doesn’t seem like we would be getting to that just yet,” implying that this vision is a ways off from being fully realized, if at all.
When asked if we'd be seeing more of Old Man Rick, executive producer Greg Nicotero confirmed to EW that “it’s definitely not a one-time thing,” though, so keep your eyes peeled for more glimpses in the episodes to come, as they could contain major reveals. For now, it seems that fans can rest easy knowing that we'll be getting a full-on, unabbreviated All Out War -- with a few F-bombs for good measure.
The Walking Dead returns on AMC next Sunday @ 9 PM EST.