With The Walking Dead season 8 (opens in new tab) just around the corner, fans have plenty to talk about, including the fact that the showrunners have been teasing one of two things in the run-up to the season; either a massive time jump featuring Old Man Rick, or a confirmation of the theory that Rick's been in that coma since the very first episode (more on that below).
One of those outcomes is a lot more plausible than the other, but it speaks to the wealth of elaborate and outlandish fan theories out there as to where The Walking Dead is headed, or indeed what it's all been about this whole time. With the premiere this weekend, what better time to run through 16 of the craziest fan theories so far. You never know, one of them might end up being true...
1. It's all one big game
What it means: Let's begin with one that really takes the biscuit. A wholly unique idea, this one was put forth by a Redditor (opens in new tab) who claims that all plot points in the show mirror the gameplay of a tabletop board game - The Walking Dead RPG game.
Each character on the show represents a token on the board and their moves are governed by some unseen players on the periphery of... rational thought, it would seem. Every season thus far is a series of plays taking place in the real world, with each player assembled around this hypothetical board responsible for their character.
Amusing parallels include things like "Partway through all of this, the person playing Andrea started to get fed up and started sabotaging the group so they'd be able to start over" and "Around this time, the person playing Beth gets sick of the game. The person playing Maggie is a terrible roleplayer who barely even knows she has a sister."
Another similar idea floating out there is that the show is a street game played by a bunch of children in a neighbourhood. Every time one of them dies it's because they've been called home for dinner. Now *that* is bonkers.
2. The zombies are solar-powered
What it means: Have you ever been watching a particularly gruesome Walking Dead scene wherein hordes of zombies are chowing down on a screaming human being in the throes of death, and wondered... but, what if there's no humans for the zombies to eat?
Wonder no more! This theory (opens in new tab) is unlike many others in that it's based on some of the shakiest ideas ever passed off as "science." Basically, the walkers survive and remain mobile through the energy transferred to their withered carcasses via the sun. One theorist (opens in new tab) reckons that they all run on solar power, like those garden torches everyone went mad for a few years ago.
The idea behind this is that the walkers require minimum sustenance to remain 'undead' and therefore the sun provides them with the necessary energy to keep functioning. There's a lot of talk about vital organs and whatnot, but seeing as they're dead, that seems a bit irrelevant, no?
3. Babies born post-apocalypse are immune - and we find out in a really horrible way
What it means: Most of the children on The Walking Dead have problems. Some more than others (oh, Lizzie.) But, according to a Reddit theory (opens in new tab), one thing they don't have to worry about is turning into zombies.
In the new world order, babies born after the outbreak are somehow naturally immune to the zombie virus. The theory goes that a child born to a positive mother acquires immunity while in utero. This makes them tougher as the fight against the virus is ingrained in them while they're growing. As fudged as the science might be, it's an idea that could prove to deliver a somewhat satisfying ending to the entire show.
What's particularly savage about this theory is the way that we find out: Judith dies, Rick discovers her decaying corpse and realises that she hasn't turned. Yikes - well, I did say somewhat.
4. The show tells the story of human history
What it means: Less of a prediction for things to come and more of an overarching allegory for what the series is actually about, this one's still a clever idea (opens in new tab). The past serves as inspiration for the show's broader story strokes. Each season mirrors major events in human history, i.e., in season 2 Hershel's farm stands for the rise of agriculture and the end of the hunter-gatherer period.
Woodbury, which happens in season 3, is said to represent the Roman Empire (Gladiator-style games, megalomaniac in charge), the prison epidemic in season 4 is modelled after the Black Plague, Terminus is a stand-in for the cannibalistic activities in the first American colonies, and Alexandria "represents the aristrocracy of the 17th century, living in luxury but oblivious of the harshness of the world 'out there'." Some of these might be a stretch but at least they follow a chronological order of historical happenings.
To be honest I'm a bit gutted this theory's not more widespread, hinting at a potential future development where the gang slay a horde of zombie dinosaurs.
5. Does Jadis turn into The Whisperers' leader, Alpha?
What it means: Jadis, the back-stabbing leader of the Junkyard crew, has made an enemy out of Rick thanks to her decision to side with Negan at the last minute. This has led some folks to speculate that it's all part of a character arc that will see her transform into a major villain from the comics.
The Whisperers are the next set of antagonists that our survivors encounter following the All-Out War with the Saviors. The group are led by Alpha, a woman who is not afraid to shed blood to get what she wants. What makes the Whisperers stand apart from previous baddies is their unique dress sense: they wear zombie skins. Presumably to disguise themselves and ensure they never experience human intimacy ever again.
We already know that Jadis can't be trusted - see: backstabbing - and her group have some seriously fucked-up ways of handling walkers. That one full of knives that Rick had to fight springs to mind. I doubt they'd be afraid to skin them.
"I think, you know, in a very diplomatic, politician type of way, I can say I think anything is possible in this universe we're inhabiting right now," Pollyanna McIntosh, the actress who plays Jadis, told Digital Spy (opens in new tab) when asked about her becoming Alpha, "and that's one of the really strong points of the show because I'm not going to tell you anything!"
6. It takes place in the same universe as Lost
What it means: Lost's various twists and turns make it easy to imagine it being part of... well, *any* movie or TV universe. It's already tied to everything JJ Abrams has made, so why not The Walking Dead?
In Lost, the DHARMA Initiative's main goal was to somehow disrupt scientific laws surrounding the Valenzetti Equation, represented by the numbers 4, 8, 15, 16, 23 and 42. Yes, those numbers that appeared *everywhere*. That sequence is connected to a date marking the end of humanity. A zombie apocalypse, perhaps?
After Dharma was shut down, two employees went to work for the Hanso Foundation, a corporation researching ways to preserve human life and promote wellbeing. Uhh, doesn't that sound like something that could go hideously wrong and turn into a zombie virus? That's what one Redditor (opens in new tab) believes. This theory even goes so far to link characters; a mechanic (opens in new tab) Kate meets in the flash-sideways just so happens to be played by Joe, one of the Claimers (opens in new tab) from The Walking Dead.
7. The virus is a dental hygiene warning
What it means: No-one likes having their oral cavity poked and prodded by a pair of latexed hands, and so one Redditor (opens in new tab) suggests that the zombie virus is a result of poor dental hygiene. And that recipients of a zombie bite are doomed. Which, we already sort of knew. However it's well argued that walker blood doesn't appear to faze the survivors one bit; but what about their gnashers?
Think about it, Michonne's two leashed walker pets have their jaws removed and the Governor's sadistic walker fight club includes toothless zombies. On this evidence, it seems the virus cannot be transmitted through the fetid flesh dangling from their decaying corpses but their teeth are deadly. Why? Because, according to ThirstyOne, "the zombie apocalypse infection is actually a highly virulent form of gingivitis or other oral disease, no doubt caused by poor oral hygiene in the world the story takes place in. The condition of the zombies is caused by the proximity of the rotting teeth to the brain." Might be time to schedule that check-up...
8. Rick's not in his coma - but he's madder than a shithouse rat
The whole "Rick's totally in a coma, still!" concept picked up traction in 2014 when the folks at Uproxx (opens in new tab) collated a bunch of interrelated theories suggesting the same outcome for the show. In short? Rick is still in his coma. None of the series has actually taken place in reality, the characters we've seen him meet along the way are merely other patients he met during his intake at the hospital. The Wizard of Oz meets Dawn Of The Dead if you will.
Thankfully fans were not short-changed by the "it was all a dream!" rug pull as creator Robert Kirkman promptly debunked the rumor. “Rick is NOT still in a coma," he tweeted (opens in new tab). "The events of TWD are definitely happening." He did set another intriguing idea into circulation. “But Carl and everyone else are all imagined," he tweeted moments later. "He actually NEVER found his family. He’s been crazy since he killed his first zombie. #joking?”
9. The survivors we know and love are all cold-blooded killers
What it means: Cast your minds back to Tyreese's final moments. He either hallucinates or manages to somehow tune in to a never-before-heard radio station that basically says Rick and everyone are psychos. The content of the broadcast -- delivered by Andrew Lincoln in his true English accent -- chronicles the events of a certain pack of people roaming the country and leaving behind a trail of destruction.
Mentions of late-night village raids with machetes refers to what went down in Woodbury, the cannibalism points towards the events in Terminus and mutilation of children would strike a chord with Tyreese after what occurred with Lizzie and Mika. There's plenty more parallels to the group's activities in the full theory rundown, (opens in new tab) yet the most interesting observation is that of the Survivors' moral leanings. The author suggests that while we viewers have a bias toward the group and their actions, it could be that the world -- and Tyreese himself -- sees them very differently. They're murderers.
10. The series finale will be an alien invasion
What it means: In order to get the go-ahead from Image Comics -- who were unsure about another zombie serial seeing as so many had flopped -- creator Robert Kirkman told a little white lie. “I forgot to tell you that this is actually a big setup for an alien invasion,” he jokingly explained to the Image bosses. Yes, the whole zombie angle is just a lead-up to a much larger alien invasion event. An extraterrestrial race hellbent on taking over our planet seeds a virus on Earth that makes us... well, compliant I suppose. The zombies are walking weapons, carrying out the work of another race to keep human beings as slaves.
Obviously Kirkman was rallying support for his comic and it's unlikely this will pan out. That's not stopped fans from theorising about the origin of the zombies. Many believe that an extraterrestrial race keen to reap the benefits of our planet's extensive natural resources enacted plans to colonise Earth. How? By sending down a bioweapon to wipe out humanity that's untraceable.