(Caution: mild spoilers about Season 8 of The Walking Dead ahead!)
Rick (Andrew Lincoln) became kind of a drag in the last season of The Walking Dead. Negan's (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) rise to power in Season 7 — inaugurated with the gory annihilation of Glenn (Steven Yeun) and Abraham (Michael Cudlitz) — meant the complete stripping of Rick's, forcing the hero to spend a lot of time wandering in a metaphorical forest trying to find himself again. Against other characters' more action-oriented stories, Rick's internal turmoil seemed boring, making Maggie (Lauren Cohan), Ezekiel (Khary Payton) and literally everyone else on the show more interesting. Going into Season 8's war though, Rick is set up to win (in the minds of viewers at least): he's got conviction, a clear agenda he's willing to die for with a whole lot of people on his side. Producers have promised to swing the emphasis back in his direction, although that's no guarantee it won't be a swing and a miss. Can Rick get his swagger back in Season 8? TV Guide has seen Sunday's episode, and the answer is: Hell Yes. Here are five (relatively) spoiler-free reasons why.
1. Rick is all guns and glory in the season premiere. Rick doesn't hold back AT ALL in the premiere, having fully dispensed with hemming and hawing to instead rock out with his guns out. He opens the episode with a totally Rick-ian inspirational speech that makes it clear he did not come to play with his foes. He came to slay.
2. Rick is leveraging the communities he's already united. Having already proven he's a savvy negotiator just by bringing The Heapsters, the people of Hilltop, and Ezekiel's Kingdom to an agreement, Rick now has to do the brass tacks work of leading them and keeping everyone on the same page. So far so good in the premiere but, The Walking Dead being what it is, there's bound to be a defector whom Rick has to turn into an example. And this time, he won't hesitate.
3. He's showing zero empathy for his enemies or any traitors. You're either with Rick or you're not - none of this gray ambiguity business and, without giving away too much, Rick won't let feelings stop him from firing shots. Rick's unflinching and resolute demeanor looks good on him, which dials his sexy up by like, a thousand points.
4. Rick and Michonne are still at it. Still awkward, sure, but Rick-in-a relationship is much more grounded and likable than Single Rick and in scenes, he's much more confident with Michonne (Danai Gurira) — one of the most ride-or-die baes on TV — by his side.
5. There's actually potential for a happy ending on the horizon. Those much-anticipated "Old Man Rick" scenes The Walking Dead is teasing still require a lot more unpacking to completely figure out but in the peek in the premiere, Rich is in a happier, hairier future with a cane, green pastures and loving embraces from Michonne. How exactly that time jump plays out remains opaque, but it of course means Rick has survived the war. Given all he's up against, the happy (or at least non-fatal) ending can mean only one thing: Rick shut Negan's nonsense ALL the way down, and that is certainly worthy of much respect.
The Walking Dead returns for Season 8 on Oct. 22 at 9/8c on AMC.