The Walking Dead season 8 (opens in new tab) is back and, better yet, surprisingly half decent! Following a string of tiresome instalments over the Autumn, this week’s mid-season premiere suggests AMC are getting The Walking Dead train back on track (read my episode 9 review (opens in new tab) for a full breakdown), but Honor was not the resolutory bean spiller that many viewers might have hoped for.
For the most part, the loose ends remain loose, and we’re left swimming in a sea of potential red herrings. It’s hard to know whether the following questions are being left intentionally open by The Walking Dead’s showrunners, or if they’re just a symptom of shoddy structure and lousy editing. Either way, I’m going to try and answer them, before I lose count of how many times I’ve shouted at the screen in bemusement.
What are we supposed to make of Old Man Rick?
After being starved of Old Man Rick scenes since the season 8 premiere, Honor gave us three separate insights into the dream-like future that looks a far cry from present events. Plus, we finally got confirmation of where all this ethereal imagery has come from. It turns out that this wasn’t a flash forward, or even a figment of Rick’s imagination, but Carl’s own fantasised hopes for the future of Alexandria. So does that mean that none of it’s going to come true? Well, I doubt Alexandria could ever look as peaceful and heavenly as what was playing out in Carl’s head, but there’s reason to believe the show is promising something close to it.
Take, for example, the fact that Rick has now promised to fight for the future that Carl was longing for, and I believe he’s now capable of pulling it off. Whether that includes growing a beard and using a cane to hobble around like a makeshift Moses is anyone’s guess, but my general takeaway is that peace, in some form or another, is on the horizon for Rick and his friends. So yes, Old Man Rick as we currently know it was nothing more than an abstract fabrication, but I think we can also interpret it as a vague omen for The Walking Dead’s future. And before you say anything, I know what you’re about to ask next, so let me ask it for you.
Is Negan really going to become a good guy?
The very last shot from the Old Man Rick scene featured an equally older, bearded Negan, who proceeds to embrace Judith with open arms as though he were a familiar uncle, with no sign of Lucille in sight. We’ve established that these scenes are all going on in the minds of Carl and Rick, but is The Walking Dead suggesting something more? There is a comic book precedent for Negan crossing the fence and joining sides with Rick, after all, so the idea isn’t completely out of the question.
On the other hand, it’s very difficult to imagine this TV version of Negan living beyond season 8, let alone finding redemption after, oh I don’t know, brutally murdering several members of Rick’s gang before his very eyes. If Negan somehow turned a new leaf and was accepted as a law abiding Alexandrian, after all that he’s done, it would be a very hard pill for the audience to swallow, and I can’t even conceive of a natural character arc where AMC makes that turnaround look plausible. Nah, let Rick hit Negan where it hurts, and deliver that satisfaction for everyone around him, audience included.
And what about that other (much more depressing) flash forward?
There it is again. Just when you thought The Walking Dead had forgotten about the teary-eyed Rick scene from the season 8 premiere, he’s back, sitting under a tree near that stained glass sign (a church, maybe?), muttering something about mercy and wrath to himself over and over again. We’re still as clueless to the details of the situation as we always have been, but the fact that it’s showed up again clearly confirms its significance for the next collection of episodes.
Unlike the Old Man Rick visions, this very much looks like a confirmed time jump rather than a made up daydream, and doesn’t spell good news for how things are about to play out. Has someone died? Has everyone died? Or is this just a few hours later on from Carl’s death scene, and Rick’s still processing from the grief? I need answers, AMC!
How will Carl’s death affect the war?
It’s worth remembering that not every character knows about Carl’s bittersweet demise at this point, and there’s a good chance that the next episode will show us the fallout that follows once news spreads. Could this tragedy make different parties begin to reconsider their intentions in the same way it’s affected Rick, who’s now decided to pursue a path to peace instead of winning at all costs?
Maybe the trauma will reignite tensions between Jesus and Maggie at Hilltop, for instance, but I’m not just talking about Carl’s old friends. Think about it: Negan had a genuine soft spot for little Rick Junior, and his death - even though it technically had nothing to do with him - might leave The Saviour’s head honcho reeling, wondering whether this war is really worth the human cost. If both Rick and Negan are no longer in it to win it, then that could drastically change the dynamics of the war, and the prospect of peaceful negotiations could be brought to the table. Carl’s death was tragic, but his departure might just be the catalyst that brings resolution to zombified Atlanta’s ongoing conflict.
Is Henry turning into Lizzie 2.0?
Well would you look at that? After repeatedly showing clear signs of emotional instability and alarming behavioural traits, it turns out that Henry is perfectly capable of poking out a grown man’s throat with a pointy stick. Shock, horror, yawn. The big question is whether we’ve got another Lizzie on our hands, but I’m certainly not hoping for one.
That’s because The Walking Dead has a severely unreliable track record when it comes to examining the children of the zombie apocalypse. For every Lizzie and Mika, the pair responsible for the show’s best episode to date (The Grove), there’s been a Sam, an Enid, and a season 2 Carl. I doubt many viewers are all too excited about the prospects of another tiny terminator in Henry, then, but there’s still a chance that AMC has something more unconventional in store for Carol’s new best friend.