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The Walking Dead has a mystery for comics readers this season

So about that trailer tease ...

The Walking Dead season 7 episode 4 AMC

The Walking Dead is about to enter its eighth season and, based on all the trials and tribulations the gang went through last season, war with Negan is the number one priority.

[Warning: The following contains spoilers for The Walking Dead comic and possible spoilers for The Walking Dead’s eighth season.]

Except that might not be the case after all. In a trailer for the upcoming season shown at San Diego Comic-Con in July, Rick is shown sporting a greyish beard and lying down in a hospital bed. Like any good storytelling device on television, the message showrunner Scott M. Gimple was trying to communicate came in clear: this is an older version of Rick.

Rick in The Walking Dead’s season 8 trailer. AMC

Time hopping in itself is an interesting story tool. It suggests that we’ll learn the outcome of Rick’s war with Negan at some point this season — but the question is when. In The Walking Dead comics, it’s revealed in issue #127 that two years have passed since Rick’s war with Negan. That war left Rick with a nasty battle scar and an injured leg. If you didn’t catch it in the trailer before, the cane sitting near Rick’s hospital bedside is circumstantial evidence that the show’s storyline will borrow from the comic’s.

Possibly Rick’s cane in The Walking Dead season 8. AMC

Based on the comics, we know that Rick’s new injury and facial hair occur after the war with Negan, but the show is really only just beginning to address the impending battle. So when will futuristic Rick come on scene? It seems very unlikely that Gimple and the rest of The Walking Dead team will just jump over everything that’s been set up in the prior season. Not to mention that Jeffrey Dean Morgan, who plays the despicable Negan, is set to return for the eighth season.

During a television conference this summer, The Walking Dead creator Robert Kirkman said the scene will be explained this season, but it will throw avid readers of the comic book for a loop.

“That is an intriguing tidbit that we did throw out there on purpose, and we’re hoping that people continue to question how it is that fits into the story line and what it is,” Kirkman said, as reported by Entertainment Weekly. “Comic book fans know where a scene that kind of looked like that would fall, but it also doesn’t seem like we would be getting to that just yet if you were a comic book fan, so there’s a mystery to that.”

Kirkman also confirmed that viewers will have an idea of what’s going on with Old Man Rick by the end of the very first episode. That makes us believe we’ll see a bit of back-and-forth storytelling happen in the eighth season. Battle scenes might occur in fragments as Rick is getting better.

Or we could be way off base! We don’t know how the eighth season will unfold, only that Old Man Rick will be a part of it from the get-go.

The Walking Dead’s eighth season premieres on Oct. 22 at 9 p.m. ET on AMC.