The Walking Dead season 8 premiere will not provide a definitive answer about what's going on with the Old Man Rick scene teased in the season 8 San Diego Comic-Con trailer from earlier this summer. This is somewhat contrary to previous comments made by series creator Robert Kirkman, indicating that the series would waste no time clearing up the mystery about Old Man Rick, addressing it almost immediately upon the show's season 8 return.
With season 8 ready to depict all out war between Rick's group and Negan's Saviors, fans of the Walking Dead comics immediately speculated that the appearance of a bearded Rick in the Comic-Con trailer meant the show was about to execute a time jump like the one in the comic book right after its own All Out War arc. This theory seemed to lose some credence when Kirkman seemingly promised a quick resolution to the mystery of Rick's apparent rapid aging.
Walking Dead showrunner Scott Gimple has addressed the Old Man Rick situation (via TVLine) and clarified that, despite how it was made to seem from Kirkman's comments, the Season 8 premiere does not provide a definitive explanation for the sight of Rick bearded and advanced significantly in age:
“We will not get the definitive answer as to what that’s about in the premiere. That won’t come until about halfway into the season.”
Kirkman's remarks seemed to shoot down the possibility of a time-jump, making it seem more likely that Old Man Rick appears in a flash-forward or a dream sequence. But with Gimple saying the scene won't really be addressed until later in the season, it again seems very possible that the show means to leap forward in time much like the comic books. It's possible that the plan is to devote the first half of season 8 to all out war, then leap forward in time after the season's halfway mark.
After the mess that was the cliffhanger between seasons 6 and 7, a cliffhanger that was resolved in the series' single most nerve-shattering and controversial scene, it seems everyone involved with The Walking Dead is on pins-and-needles trying not to create false expectations that will then lead to disappointment. With the ratings dipping last season, there is more pressure than usual for The Walking Dead to get off to a fast start and not do anything that ticks off long-time fans.
After season 7's bloody and twisty finale, all we know for sure is that things are about to get very serious between Rick's group and Negan's army. The Walking Dead season 8 premiere will also be the show's 100th episode and fans have been promised a number of Easter eggs that pay tribute to seasons past. About halfway through the season, we will apparently get a full explanation about Old Man Rick, and it's possible that could come with some huge surprises of its own.
The Walking Dead season 8 premieres October 22nd on AMC.