The Walking Dead is screwing with the wrong fans. The highly secretive show has been holding on to the identity of Negan's (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) victim — the villain killed one cast member offscreen at the end of Season 6 — for months now. Fans have combed through footage so hard you'd think their name was Jeffrey*, sent drones to film the set, begged, pleaded, bribed and more. But to no avail.
Enter the first piece of footage from Season 7, shown off at TWD's New York Comic Con panel, which shockingly seemed to indicate exactly who dies under Negan's barbed-wire baseball bat. You needed keen eyes and some additional clues (which TVGuide.com helpfully gathered together for you), but after piecing together the evidence, it was pretty clear from that scene which cast member was going from walking to dead.
But what if AMC is actually messing with us? What if that scene isn't from the Season 7 premiere? What if, in fact, it's a scene created precisely to misdirect the audience?
Spoilers, potential and otherwise for The Walking Dead past this point.
In the scene, we see that Rick Grimes (Andrew Lincoln) has blood splashed across the right side of his face. As the camera pans down, we see a pile of blood, bones and gore. In front of the gore? The blanket worn by a shot and beaten Daryl Dixon (Norman Reedus) in the Season 6 finale. Perhaps more tellingly, fans spotted the engagement/wedding ring Maggie Greene (Lauren Cohan) wore, the one given to her by her husband Glenn (Steven Yeun) way back in Season 3.
Given that Maggie was right next to Rick in the lineup, the blood is on the right side of Rick's face, and Maggie probably wouldn't be like, "laters, wedding ring!" it seemed pretty clear the last surviving member of the Greene family was about to go to that great big Hershel's Farm in the sky.
But with the massive veil of secrecy, and that we're still two weeks away from the Season 7 premiere, why — and how — could AMC drop the ball in such a major way? It clearly couldn't be that simple, right?
Here's my theory: we're about to watch a bunch of different variations of this scene.
First of all, AMC never said this was a broadcast-ready scene from the Season 7 premiere. It's called a "Season 7 Sneak Peek" on YouTube, and "Sneak Peek: Walking Dead Season 7 Premiere" on AMC's website. AMC did confirm to TVGuide.com that this is a sneak peek at a scene from the Season 7 premiere, but given that a sneak peek can be anything, who's to say this isn't a scene that was solely created for promotion?
Here's another piece of (possible, very tenuous) evidence: according to The Hollywood Reporter's (unnamed) sources, in order to preserve the secret even from the crew, The Walking Dead filmed 11 variations on the death scene, one for each cast member on Negan's chopping block. Granted, this "Sneak Peek" takes place after that death scene (and an unspecified time after that too), but if you're going to film so many death scenes, why not film a few variations of the aftermath as well? And if you're filming them, why not show them to the public?
Look, we know both Rick and his son Carl (Chandler Riggs) survive: Negan tells his group, the Saviors, to feed Carl's eyeball to Rick if anyone tries to stop him from killing his victim, and it's very hard to feed an eyeball to a dead guy, or vice versa. So that leaves nine possible victims. If there are two "clues" per variation on this scene (like Daryl's blanket and Maggie's ring), that's four, maybe five, different scenes that can be rolled out over the next two weeks to keep teasing fans with who's going to die.
Add in that the PR department created 11 different promos, one for each character, showing their first scene with the words "The Beginning" and the Negan scene with the words "The End," and you clearly have a network not afraid to hype this event up to the max.
Do I still think Maggie is going to die? Yeah, kind of, because the rest of the evidence is there too. But I don't think they were dumb enough to give it away totally, with the finish line so close. It's a misdirect. A swerve. They knew fans would analyze every bit of that new footage and would find Maggie's ring. There's another layer to this, because there has to be.
Even if the "Sneak Peek" is the real, broadcast-ready scene, I wouldn't put it past AMC to release other variations of the shot before the premiere, just to confuse/alarm fans.
Whatever is going on — and what we'll see as The Walking Dead enters this final stretch before the Season premiere — we're just getting started.
The Walking Dead returns to AMC on Sunday, Oct. 23 at 9/8c.
*Jeffrey Combs is an actor who has appeared in a bunch of Star Trek stuff. FYI.