Warning: Potential SPOILERS for The Walking Dead season 8 ahead
The reveal of the trailer for Season 8 of the AMC series The Walking Dead featured plenty of action and drama, as well as a surprisingly optimistic tone regarding the war with Negan and the Saviors, but perhaps the most intriguing moment in the trailer came in the closing shots, with the appearance of an older version of Rick. While this may have been a bit baffling for fans who only watch the TV show, it carried a little more meaning for those who have been keeping up with the Walking Dead comic books.
The scene begins with a close-up of a cane leaning against a wall. We then get a glimpse of Rick, who looks noticeably different than he does in the current timeline, and the rest of the trailer. Rick, now sporting a longer and thicker beard, has much more gray in his hair than we're used to, indicating that a considerable amount of time has passed when this scene takes place. We see "Old Man Rick" lying on a bed next to an arrangement of flowers. As Rick opens his eyes, the scene begins to echo a particularly memorable moment from the pilot episode when Rick awakens from his coma.
Needless to say, fans are wondering what the purpose of this scene could be, and what meaning it holds for the character. The most likely answer to this question can be found in the source material. In the comics, Rick's leg was broken by Negan during the final confrontation of their "All Out War." When the story picked up again in Issue #127, two whole years had passed and Rick was walking with a cane due to his old injury. Some fans think that this is the direction the show must be taking, but the series has been known to stray from the comics in the past and could do so again. The showrunners may not be willing to jump that far forward in time because it would disrupt the storylines of so many characters. This part of the trailer may simply be a misdirect: setting the comic book fans up so that they think they know what's coming, only to subvert those expectations in season 8.
If the "Old Man Rick" scene isn't from a full jump forward in time, it could perhaps be from a flash-forward instead - a glimpse of what's in Rick's future. Flash-forwards became a popular way of drawing viewers into a TV show when they began to appear in the hit ABC series, Lost. It's a storytelling technique that can be effective when used well, since showing viewers the end of a journey can make seeing how they get there even more interesting.
A potential problem with flash-forwards is that once they show us what happens to our favorite characters, we no longer have to worry about whether or not they survive through each episode. As a show that thrives on suspense, The Walking Dead relies heavily on using fans' uncertainty concerning the fates of the characters in order to create tension. The series is known for killing off characters at the most unpredictable times, while other shows reserve important deaths for season premieres and finales. The show is even willing to off key characters like Glenn to reaffirm to viewers that no one, no matter how important or beloved by fans, is safe. The level of suspense the show has generated from this is integral to the series, so telling the audience that Rick will definitely survive his war with Negan would lower the stakes somewhat.
You could argue that since Rick is the main character, fans wouldn't be concerned about his fate anyway. However, this has never been what the show or its creator, Robert Kirkman, wants us to think. It's been stated several times that Rick isn't safe, and could easily die at some point on the show. If The Walking Dead really wants us to believe that Rick can die just like anyone else, it wouldn't make sense for them to pre-determine his fate with a flash-forward.
Another theory for the scene is a simple one: it's just a dream. Rick's goal in the series is to protect his people and keep them together, so perhaps this shot is from a scene where he envisions a happy future for them (the soft lighting filter does make it look somewhat dream-like). However, it would probably annoy fans if a moment given such prominence in the trailer turned out to be taken from a dream sequence, since "it was just a dream"is the ultimate cop-out.
Whatever the explanation is, we're hopeful that The Walking Dead won't disappoint.
Season 8 of The Walking Dead premieres on AMC on October 22.