Warning: Possible spoilers ahead for The Walking Dead season 8
By now, most fans of The Walking Dead would have seen the first trailer for the show's eighth season released at this year's San Diego Comic Con. After showcasing a bevy of action sequences between the forces of the Saviors and the alliance of Alexandria, The Hilltop and The Kingdom, the clip threw a curveball of almighty proportions and revealed an older Rick Grimes waking up in bed with a walking cane near by.
Comic fans got the reference instantly. In the print version of The Walking Dead, the battle between Rick and Negan is immediately followed by a two-year time skip, with the protagonist now walking with a cane thanks to a particularly nasty injury sustained during the battle. Assuming the Old Man Rick scene in the trailer isn't part of a dream sequence - because let's face it, that would be terrible - it seems as if the comic time skip will be coming to the AMC adaptation of The Walking Dead in season eight.
And for some, this will come as potentially very good news. The show's most recent season had plenty going for it with an exciting new villain, a selection of fantastic action set-pieces and all the usual gripping drama fans have come to expect. Yet critical reception to The Walking Dead season seven was decidedly mixed and, perhaps more importantly, viewership drop-off between the season's premiere and finale episodes was significant. With a time skip seemingly on the horizon (potentially as early as the season premiere), can a leap into the future turn around The Walking Dead's fortunes and bring back lost viewers?
Old Man Rick
Our current best guess about what the trailer's final scene means is that, at some point in season eight, The Walking Dead's narrative will jump forward a few years. It's perhaps also worth noting that Rick looks quite a bit older in the scene than just the two years skipped in the comic books, so the TV show may possibly be heading even further into the future.
In either case, the leader of Alexandria being older and permanently injured could have a sizeable impact on the whole nature of the show. No longer will Rick be the all-action ex-cop of old, and the character's days of kicking down doors, assault rifle in hand, and redecorating rooms with the entrails of the resurrected dead look very much numbered. But if Rick can't be on the front-lines of battle, a new role surely awaits.
Rick has often struggled with leadership in The Walking Dead, taking such positions either reluctantly or forcefully but once the battle with the Saviors is settled, the time skip could see the character become a more traditional leader, somewhat akin to a politician. No doubt fans will see Grimes Sr. turn up the aggression when the situation calls for it - the comic books have shown as much - but for the most part, the older Rick will likely be involved more in power struggles and keeping his community together than in zombie killing and all out war.
This could be positive news for those unsatisfied with season seven of The Walking Dead. One of the foremost criticisms from fans was that the cycle of "enemy group appears - Rick defeats them - live in peace - repeat" was wearing a little thin and taking Rick away from his usual role as a fighting leader will surely help break up that repetition. And with characters like Daryl, Carl and Michonne on hand, the show's overall action levels wouldn't need to drop as a result.