This Walking Dead article contains spoilers.
It’s been a rough season for Rick and his coalition. The plan to oust the Saviors has gone spectacularly awry and lives have been lost in the process (R.I.P. Eric, Shiva, and Carl Grimes). The Saviors have taken the battle to Rick’s front door and virtually destroyed Alexandria.
If this season of The Walking Dead were Star Wars, “How It’s Gotta Be” is for sure The Empire Strikes Back. Still, when we read the Walking Dead tealeaves, otherwise known as Robert Kirkman’s original comic series, there is some hope on the horizon.
Dark times are certainly ahead for Rick and friendsnand with them will come more death. But if The Walking Dead comics are any indication, a decisive victory for Alexandria/Hilltop/Kingdom is right around the corner. And shortly after that, something that the survivors of this story have not experienced in a long time: peace.
What follows is a breakdown of what we can likely expect from The Walking Dead season 8’s second half based on the comic source material. Since Scott Gimple’s elevation to Walking Dead showrunner, the show has followed the comics fairly closely, with only a few notable exceptions (Eugene, what has gotten into you?).
If everything goes according to plan, The Walking Dead season 8.5 is likely to adapt Volume 21 of the comics, “All Out War – Part Two,” which covers issues #121-126.
And if only 6 issues seems like a small number for 8 hour-long episodes of TV, congratulations, you just diagnosed all the current problems with the show. But we digress. Here is your helpful (and again: INCREDIBLY SPOILER-FILLED) guide for what’s to come on The Walking Dead.
He Who Controls the Bullets…
Eugene Porter is the aspect of The Walking Dead show that has diverged the most from the comic. In the books, Eugene may be a coward but he is also Rick’s man through and through.
The show presents a more three-dimensional view of Eugene or maybe just a more realistic one with varying levels of success. Regardless, the changes in Eugene’s character beg some questions as to how the second half of the season is going to deal with certain plotlines.
Namely: who is Eugene going to make bullets for? Eugene really comes into his own after his buddy Abraham’s death in the Walking Dead comic universe. By the time “All Out War” rolls around, Eugene realizes that it’s time to put his intellect to good use and start manufacturing bullets for Alexandria.
Eugene has already filled this role within the show’s universe, making bullets for the survivors before defecting to the Saviors. Now that the Saviors have cleared out the Walkers surrounding the Sanctuary and there appears to be a greater need for ammunition, expect Eugene back at the factory cranking out munitions.
One concept that The Walking Dead season 8 has stealthily introduced from the comics is the inherent danger of rotting guts. It turns out that covering oneself in the decaying flesh and viscera of long-dead zombies may not be the healthiest choice as Father Gabriel tragically finds out.
In the comics, Negan makes a similar discovery but in a much safer way. As the Saviors prepare for their assault on the Hilltop, Negan introduces them to a new strategy they will use to win the war. They will coat their weapons in walker guts so when they pierce their enemies’ flesh, the victim will become infected and die.
Negan and company put this into practice when the Saviors storm the Hilltop. Negan has one of his snipers shoot and kill the guard Kal and then they breach the gates and attack the citizens. The survivors are able to repel the Saviors back but not before some of the survivors are struck with the contaminated weapons.
Nicholas, who was still alive at this point in the comics, develops a mysterious fever that mystifies the Hilltop doctor, Harlan (currently taken hostage by the Saviors in the show), because it is from a normal wound. Nicholas’ condition eventually worsens and he dies, leading Harlan to recognize the biological warfare strategy the Saviors have employed. This naturally freaks out the survivors as Rick has been struck in the side by a crossbow bolt from Dwight. When Rick doesn’t develop a fever, however, he realizes that Dwight is fully and truly on their side.
The Walking Dead show will almost certainly adapt the Savior assault on the Hilltop and their contanimated weapon strategy. For one, there is nowhere else for the Saviors to attack now that Alexandria is off the map and all the survivors are slowly gathering at the Hilltop. There’s also the matter of Maggie’s Savior prisoners. She’s finally decided to execute one and send his corpse back to the Saviors, which will undoubtedly cause a visit from Simon.
Since Nicholas isn’t around to become a casualty however, look for another Alexandrian to bite the dust. Smart money is on Tobin since his comic book counterpart is already long gone.
In the comic, Negan assumes that Rick is dead because he was struck by one of Dwight’s contaminated bolts. So after letting the Hilltop chill for a couple of days, he returns and demands to speak with their newly elected leader. He’s astonished to see Rick emerge from the Hilltop gates. The Sheriff tells the villain that it’s time for a long, overdue chat.
Rick basically asks, “Wtf dude.” Negan calls himself a Savior, yet they’re at war. Negan explains his rationale for all the violence, saying that everything he’s done has been in the interest of survival. This is a harsh world and it needs a harsh man to lead the survivors into a new age.
Rick says that those harsh days are gone and they can all survive together now, establish fair trade routes, and end the violence once and for all. Rick’s argument is a convincing one and Negan concedes that maybe he’s been going about this wrong the whole time. Maybe Rick’s way is the right way.
“Good,” Rick responds and slashes Negan’s throat.
Bu…bu…but why is the first episode of season 8 called “Mercy?” Why have we been treated to extended Siddiq monologues about the concept of forgiveness and mercy? Because after Rick attacks Negan, the villain hits back and violently breaks Rick’s leg before passing out. Despite his mangled leg, Rick insists that the Hilltop doctor, Harlan, treat Negan and keep him alive.
This is a new world under Rick and the new world means we don’t simply kill our foes. Rick wants Negan alive so that he can be imprisoned for his crimes against humanity. Rick gets his way, as Negan is saved and is locked away in the bowels of a rebuilt Alexandria.
Improbably, this all kind of works in the comic. Negan’s about-face may seem sudden and silly but the character as fleshed out by Kirkman really does seem to believe in survival above all else. The issue that the show will have to confront in the season 8 finale is: can this version of Negan be redeemed?
By the time the season 8 finale rolls around, Negan will have been around as the big bad for a whopping 32 episodes. He’s killed some of our favorite characters, he keeps a harem of unwilling-to-semi-willing women as wives. He clearly relishes his role as the big bad wolf. Not only that but Rick has solemnly sworn on no fewer than three occassions that he will one day kill him.
Is there a possible way that the show can have both Negan AND Rick change their minds simultaneously at the climactic moment? We shall see. Perhaps Carl’s death in the show universe is the motivating agent of change for both characters.
Old Man Rick
That leaves one bit of business to be resolved. What was with those weird flash-forwards of a silver-haired Rick living in a peaceful future? In season 8 of The Walking Dead, it initially wasn’t clear whether that was a flash-forward or a fantasy sequence? Considering that Carl appears in the sequence, it seems as though it was merely a Rick Grimes fever dream.
In the comics, however, it’s no fantasy. There really is a more peaceful time on the horizon. The war against Negan and the Saviors ends in issue 126. Issue 127 begins two years later with a handful of different survivors out in the wilderness about to be killed by a herd of walkers. They’re rescued at the last minute by a now longer-haired and even sexier Jesus.
Jesus takes the new characters to safety in Alexandria, which is completely rebuilt and has become a beautiful, idyllic post-apocalyptic community. There are mills, actual streets, and workers working on new buildings constantly. In fact all of the communities are planning on holding a big fair at Alexandria so all the survivors can get together and party.
When the new survivors are taken to meet Alexandria’s leader, we get our first glimpse at what we can lovingly call Old Man Rick. Rick has cut his shaggy hair down to a graying buzzcut. He wears a prosthetic on his missing hand (which is not part of the TV show currently), and he needs a cane to walk around as the leg that Negan broke never healed properly.
Obviously, the happiness isn’t quite there to stay. There are approximately 50 issues of the comic after 127 (so far) and they certainly aren’t just about how happy everyone is all the time. But the two-year time jump into an era of peace for Alexandria, the Hilltop, the Kingdom, and even the Sanctuary represents the biggest collective exhale for these characters yet.
Let’s hope The Walking Dead show affords its characters the same privilege. These people need a break.