The Walking Dead returns for Season 8 on Oct. 22 with "Mercy," the show's hundredth episode. This season of AMC's postapocalyptic thriller series will follow the comics' "All Out War" storyline, where the Alexandrians and their allies rise up against the totalitarian Saviors. Here's what you need to know about what's shaping up to be The Walking Dead's biggest season yet.
It will refocus on Rick Grimes. The show's heart — Rick Grimes (Andrew Lincoln) — wasn't pumping as hard in Season 7, and as a result The Walking Dead became the Negan (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) show. But the old Rick is all the way back in Season 8. "We start Episode 801 on a close-up of Rick Grimes, and we really get a sense that he's driving our story, not Negan," executive producer and premiere director Greg Nicotero told TV Guide.
Speaking of old Rick... The Season 8 trailer closes with a scene of Rick Grimes, clearly older, with a big gray beard and a cane. Fans of the comics recognized this as the time jump that comes after the end of the war with Negan that will be tracked on the show this season. Showrunner Scott Gimple said that the "Old Man Rick" scene will be in the premiere and will be explained by the middle of the season.
There will be Easter eggs for fans. Since the premiere is the show's hundredth episode, the episode itself will be a celebration of the fans who helped the show get so far. There will be references to earlier events that longtime fans will get a kick out of. "There's gonna be some moments that people who have watched the show from the beginning will see and be like, 'Oh, okay, I see what they're doing here' by paying tribute to specific moments over the last seven years," Nicotero told TV Guide. And that sense of history will run through the rest of the episodes, too. "In a lot of ways, this whole season pays direct references to the past stories," Gimple said, adding that there are subtle visual references and even exact replicas of older scenes scattered throughout the season. "It very much has to do with the cumulative nature of the story."
Maggie will not have her baby this season. Gimple confirmed that Maggie (Lauren Cohan) will not deliver in this run of episodes. Which means that all the non-time-jumped action will take place in a pretty compressed timeframe. She was revealed to be pregnant in the Season 6 premiere, so not a lot of time has passed since they found the walkers in the quarry — in fact, the events of Season 7 took place in just 19 days.
There will be less Rosita due to a real-life baby. Christian Serratos gave birth May 1, the first full day of shooting on Season 8, so she was on maternity leave for a good chunk of the season. "There will be a notable sort of Rosita-lessness early on," Gimple told EW. "She did get shot at the end of the season, so she was recovering from that, but she's back and she got back actually pretty soon, and she's terrific. So, timing-wise, we missed Espinosa a little bit, but she was healing up from her wounds at the hands of the Saviors."
Heath will return...but not in Season 8. Corey Hawkins left the show in Season 7 to star in 24: Legacy, but his character didn't die, he just disappeared. So he's out there somewhere. 24: Legacy has been canceled, so Hawkins is free to come back, right? Not so fast, says Gimple. He told EW that it's unlikely Hawkins will appear in Season 8, "But we definitely have not seen the last of Heath, period."
Daryl's feeling of guilt for his role in Glenn's death will be addressed. In the Season 7 premiere, Daryl (Norman Reedus) took a swing at Negan after the new villain killed Abraham, and in response to Daryl's impudence Negan killed Glenn (Steven Yeun), too. Daryl has felt responsible for Glenn's death ever since. But it's not really his fault and hopefully he'll be able to put it behind him in Season 8. Creator Robert Kirkman confirmed that Daryl's grief over Glenn "will be a plot point for Daryl at some point in the next season. It's something that will get addressed." But it's not like Daryl's gonna be moping around all season; "He's seeing red right now... He wants f--king revenge," Reedus told TV Guide.
There will be fewer single-character-focused episodes. Much of Season 7 was structured so that each episode would follow a single character (or a group) or storyline and stay in one location for a whole episode (or close to it). Fans found it frustrating, because long stretches would go by without checking in with other stories, and the season often dragged as a result. But Season 8 will follow a different structure. "Because of the narrative that we're following," Gimple told TVLine, "the story this season is really spread out among all of the characters. And the story shifts quite a bit in single episodes between lots of different characters on a consistent basis, which is a little more unusual for the show."
It will get its first Muslim character. Silicon Valley's Avi Nash has reportedly been cast as "Abbud, an innately likable Muslim-American whose nerves are, let's say, jangled, because he's flown solo for too long in zombieland," according to the casting call.
Stuntman John Bernecker's death didn't change any plots on the show. Bernecker died tragically from an on-set accident in July. Surely the aftermath of Bernecker's death is being felt in other ways, but it didn't change the show's Season 8 creative plans. "No storylines were changed. That was a tragic accident," Kirkman said. "It wasn't story-related, it was just a freak accident that happened on set, and it's something we're dealing with, but it hasn't affected the storyline in any way."
"All Out War" will end in Season 8. The "All Out War" storyline will be contained to a single season, Gimple told EW. So Season 8 promises to be tightly-focused and action-packed.
Action-packed. They mean it. Nicotero told Comicbook.com that Season 8 is going to be different than others with the amount of action stuffed into it. "Traditionally, the way The Walking Dead works is we kind of set up our first half of the season to lead us into this second half," he said. "Usually the second half of the season kind of shoots us off into space, so when we lay these little seeds and as things start to germinate, something that happens in Episode 2 may not pay off until Episode 13. I feel like this first half is going to feel like the second half of most of our seasons where we're already kind of taking off and I think people are going to be blown away by it."
We can't wait.
The Walking Dead Season 8 premieres Sunday, Oct. 22 at 9/8c on AMC.