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The Walking Dead finally returns Sunday night with its season 8 premiere (which also happens to be the show’s 100th episode — and if you want to read some incredible anecdotes and memories from the cast about their first days ever on set, I highly recommend you do that at the link above).
The cast and producers are notoriously stingy when it comes to spoilers, but through our interviews with all 20 cast members as well as producers Scott M. Gimple, Greg Nicotero, and Robert Kirkman, we’ve managed to get some clarity on what is to come. So let’s cut through the clutter and get to the 5 Things You Need to Know About Season 8.
1. Action! More Action! And Even More Action!
Fans have been yearning to get to the heralded “All-Out War” arc from the comics on which the show is based, and that arc is finally here. No more being separated and subjugated for our heroes. No more moping around and turning over their food, guns, and supplies to the Saviors. The time for Rick vs. Negan is now, and that means we are headed into the most sustained stretch of straight-up action the show has ever seen.
Just ask Austin Amelio who plays Savior-turned-spy Dwight. “It’s a f—ing in-your-face action-packed IV of adrenaline,” says Amelio. “Season 7 was the ramp-up and now this is the blastoff. The stuff that’s happening is insane!”
“We’ve been knocked clear off our feet,” concurs Danai Gurira (Michonne), who says the pacing and intensity of the first four episodes are “like nothing before.” Ross Marquand (Aaron) compares season 8 to Die Hard, while Seth Gilliam (Father Gabriel) continues the throwback theme by describing it as “a Schwarzenegger versus Stallone action thing from the ’80s. I think there are, like, 10 explosions an episode. Every time you turn around, somebody’s shooting something or blowing something up. There’s some serious action that I don’t think we’ve seen on television since The A-Team went off the air.”
The action spectacular will begin in the premiere with a huge battle at the Sanctuary, but look for it to continue throughout the first four episodes, according to showrunner Gimple, leaving neither the characters nor the viewers with much of a chance to catch their collective breath.
2. The War Will End in Season 8
The walk-up to the armed conflict was a long one, extending over a season-and-a-half from when Rick first made his deal with the Hilltop in season 6 to take out Negan, all the way to the Kingdom and Hilltop soldiers showing up en masse to drive off the Saviors in the season 7 finale. So, yeah, it took a while.
But now that we’ve finally reached the celebrated All-Out War arc from the comics on which the show is based, the question shifts from “When will the war start?” to “How long will the war last?” After all, some felt the first huge Walking Dead villain, the Governor, overstayed his welcome when he was not dispatched by the end of season 3. The Governor eventually showed up with a second army and was defeated (and killed) in the season 4 midseason finale — taking Hershel and the prison down with him.
So keeping the show’s history in regards to how long they keep their big bads around as well as the ever-changing pace of the program, we couldn’t help but wonder: Could the war between Rick and Negan extend past season 8? We posed that question to Gimple and got a very definitive answer. “The war will absolutely be resolved by the end of season 8,” says Gimple. “Absolutely.”
How the war will be resolved remains to be seen, of course. Without spoiling too much from the comic book, just because the war ends this year does not necessarily mean we will see the end of Negan in season 8 as well.
3. Old Man Rick
The admission by Gimple that the war will end in this next season also brings the focus back to the mysterious “Old Man Rick” scene from the season 8 trailer that appears to mirror a time-jump from the comics that happens after the war.
Are these Lost-like flash-forwards that will show current and future events at the same time, or are we being purposefully misdirected? Apparently, star Andrew Lincoln was as stunned by the plot twist as we were. “I was shocked and kind of excited by it,” he told us. “My instinct was, what a great storytelling device. That was my instinct. I thought it was very interesting. And also gives us an opportunity to do something else a little ahead of the game, which I think is very, very neat.”
Of course, Lincoln won’t confirm that it is the time-jump from the comics, even if he admits to certain visual clues. “I mean, it’s a gray Rick,” he says. “It’s an older Rick. So by virtue of the fact that you see that means that it’s in the future. It will become somewhat clearer after the October premiere. Then again, it may not be. It may still be somewhat opaque. I think that that’s possibly all I can say on the matter.”
Lincoln’s comments seem to indicate that we will get our first — but not our last — look at Old Man Rick in the premiere, with more scenes and clarity to come later. Executive producer Greg Nicotero confirms to EW that, “it’s definitely not a one-time thing,” while showrunner Scott M. Gimple also says that an early look will lead to a later reveal. “I will say that we won’t know exactly what that’s about after the first episode,” hints Gimple. “But we will know it about halfway through the season. We won’t quite know what it’s about, and then we’ll get an answer to that about halfway through. It’s something that’s going to play out.”
Gimple does shoot down one popular fan theory, however: “I can say that that is not him waking up from the coma in the hospital,” says the showrunner about the guess that the entire series so far had all been a Rick Grimes dream. “Some people thought that, and it’s not that.”
So it sounds like while we’ll get our first taste of Old Man Rick in the season 8 premiere, the midseason finale (or right around there) could be a time when full answers will be delivered — although Nicotero may offer up a clue with his comments. “It’s always fun to get a chance to think about where the show is going and where the characters are going,” says the EP. “And that’s a really big moment in the comic book when we sort of jump forward and realize what’s in store for the future. So to just to be able to give a little bit of a hint to that, I think it’s exciting. It shows the audience that we’re committed for this fantastic long-term storytelling and that Rick’s got his sh– together.”
4. Maggie Will Not Give Birth in Season 8
Maggie (played by Lauren Cohan) first revealed she was with child back in 2015 during the first half of season 6. Yet, still, no baby. Not only that, but when I asked Gimple whether we should expect Maggie to give birth in the season 8, he was pretty blunt in his reply. “We shouldn’t,” replied Gimple.
What gives? For how long can this woman actually be pregnant? Well, if you take a look at the timeline of the show, it has actually not been all that long. The on-screen timeline of events for season 7 was actually only 19 days according to co-executive producer Denise Huth on the most recent Blu-ray release, and Gimple tells EW that season 8 picks up just a few days after that — meaning Maggie still has a way to go before her and Glenn’s child arrives. “It’s quite early in, as it was in the book,” says showrunner Gimple about the pregnancy.
So Gimple says that unless something radical changes in the last month or so of filming, that there will be no birth, meaning a span of over two-and-a-half seasons from when we found out Maggie was carrying. But because of the show’s considerably slowed down timeline, the character is not even at the point of showing yet. “I always want to put a little ticker tape along the bottom of the episode saying how far into the apocalypse and into the pregnancy we are,” laughs Cohan. “Because I’m playing newly pregnant for a really long time. But the truth of the matter is it’s only been a matter of weeks since Negan killed Glenn.”
Of course, there’s also that possible time-jump to consider. If The Walking Dead is going to go all Lost-style and give us some flash-forwards that happen simultaneously with the current timeline, then it is entirely possible we will see future Maggie with her child in season 8 without seeing her actually give birth. Regardless, Cohan also says there is no need to worry about Maggie slowing down to protect her unborn baby, and that she’ll be out there on the front lines whenever necessary.
“She’s in a mindset of doing everything she can to inspire at Hilltop and to inspire the people that she’s encouraged to join the forces,” says Cohan. “The symbolism of her being with her troops is really essential. And she needs to inspire confidence not just in the Hilltoppers, but in Rick and Daryl and Ezekiel, and to be somewhat fearless and say I have this group’s strength on my side and that’s what’s going to keep me safe, and so I’m not afraid to go up to a reasonable point with you all to set this plan in motion and really fine tune the wild bunch planning. So she does that, and I think honestly she does that to instill the confidence in herself that this will work and it’s pretty reasonable.”
5. Heath Will Be Back… But Probably Not in Season 8
Remember Heath? We know the Alexandrian (played by Corey Hawkins) is out there somewhere after getting separated from Tara during a super-unproductive supply run. Tara and Heath were sent out on said supply run because Alanna Masterson was pregnant and going to miss some time on the show while Hawkins had landed the lead role on Fox’s 24 reboot, 24: Legacy.
Hawkins was able to film a few scenes in one episode last season to help explain his disappearance, but that was it. However, we couldn’t help but wonder: Now that 24: Legacy has been canceled, might we see Heath again?
We asked Gimple what the chances were we might come across the missing Alexandrian in season 8, and there was both good news and bad news. “Not a huge chance,” says Gimple on the odds of seeing Heath. “But we definitely have not seen the last of Heath, period. I will say that. I don’t mean to disappoint the Heathies. He will be on the show. He will be within The Walking Dead again.”
While we have all sorts of questions about where Heath has been and what he’s been up to since he and Tara lost each other on the bridge, keeping Heath sidelined, for now, may make sense. After all, this is already an overstuffed cast filled with 20 regulars. Perhaps after the herd is thinned courtesy of the All-Out War arc, Heath will make his triumphant return.
Plus, the fact that Gimple says unequivocally that “We definitely have not seen the last of Heath…. He will be within The Walking Dead again” seems to confirm that Heath is at least alive out there. (Unless the gang just happens to stumble randomly across his zombified remains, although that would be pretty brutal, even for this show.) So it looks like those prayers for Heath will most likely have to continue until at least season 9.
Not enough Walking Dead intel for ya? We’ve posted over 100 stories leading up to the season premiere and you can read them all right here. Also, check out our The Walking Dead special, starring Andrew Lincoln, Norman Reedus, Danai Gurira, Lauren Cohan, Melissa McBride, and your truly! And for more TWD scoop, follow me on Twitter @DaltonRoss.
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The Walking Dead airs Sundays on AMC.