The Walking Dead: The Ones Who Live Needs to Quit All the Time Jumps

What year does The Ones Who Live take place? It's time to make sense of The Walking Dead's confusing timeline.

Andrew Lincoln as Rick Grimes, Danai Gurira as Michonne - The Walking Dead: The Ones Who Live _ Season 1, Episode 1 - Photo Credit: AMC
Photo: AMC

This article contains spoilers for The Walking Dead: The Ones Who Live episode 2.

If there’s one thing that AMC’s The Walking Dead universe loves, it’s a time jump. While the first few seasons of the comic book adaptation were easy to follow, we were then hit with multiple skips through time, and fans were left scratching their heads as they fit together an increasingly confusing narrative. 

Featuring the much-hyped return of Andrew Lincoln and Danai Gurira as Rick Grimes and Michonne, The Walking Dead: The Ones Who Live brings the star-crossed lovers together after years apart. Unfortunately for those who were expecting a simplistic Romeo & Juliet with zombies, The Ones Who Live has already hit us with multiple time jumps. Sigh, it’s time to consult The Walking Dead timeline again.

What Year is The Walking Dead: The Ones Who Live Set In?

Wrangling The Walking Dead’s timeline was tricky enough as is, but in The Ones Who Live, we pick up the story of Rick five years after his fake out death in season 9’s “What Comes After.” Starting in 2018, Rick is forced to work for the Civic Republic Military (CRM) but is still trying to get back to Michonne after promising he’ll find her again. It’s here that we get a twist on the iconic comic book moment of Rick losing his hand.

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Episode 1 used a convenient training montage to show how far Rick has come, while a news report of the Omaha Massacre neatly tied into the events of The Walking Dead: World Beyond. Still, we skip over multiple years and interesting aspects like Rick adapting to life without his hand. Things rounded off with a dramatic cliffhanger where Rick meets up with Michonne. You guessed it, it comes with another time jump. Some questioned why we needed a one-year jump at the end of the first episode, with a throwaway comment from Okafor (Craig Tate) saying, “It’s been a good year.”

Obviously, this isn’t just Rick’s story, as episode 2 gets a “six years after the bridge” clarification. We pick up with Michonne branching off from the caravan with Nat (Matthew August Jeffers) before they’re hit with a deadly cloud of chlorine gas. After the others have perished, Michonne and Nat spend a year recovering – shown by the changing of the seasons as Michonne looks up at the leaves. The reunion between her and Rick takes place “now,” but as The Walking Dead is notorious for avoiding real-world dates, even that’s a tricky one.

Even if you’re sick of time jumps, The Ones Who Live episode 2 actually brings together the years of convoluted TWD storytelling and suggests the rest of the series will take place alongside a real-life 2024. To be fair, the clue was in the name, with the first three episode titles of “Years,” “Gone,” and “Bye” being a clever play on The Walking Dead’s very first outing being called “Days Gone Bye.” The next two episodes spell out “What We Become” (Michonne’s farewell episode), and the finale teases a suitable conclusion to the saga as “The Last Time.”

What Year Did Rick Grimes Exit The Walking Dead?

It’s baffling to think that although Rick’s disappearance took place relatively toward the end of The Walking Dead, that was only 2013 in the show’s timeline. That means a whopping decade passed between Rick being whisked away by the CRM and Daryl heading off to find him in the season 11 finale.

As The Walking Dead grew and the universe around it expanded, time jumps have become increasingly common. In particular, season 9 hit us with multiple skips and was where many abandoned the show. The spinoffs are also guilty of these crimes, with everything from Fear the Walking Dead to The Walking Dead: Daryl Dixon also skipping over years at a time. While The Ones Who Live is already falling back on bad habits, its time jumps at least look like they’re trying to make sense of this world’s ever-confusing calendar. 

The Walking Dead season 10 confirmed 12 years had passed since the world went to shit, and with season 11 being told over a short period of time aside from a one-year jump during the finale, the main show bowed out around 13 years after the 2010 Wildfire Virus outbreak in France. Daryl Dixon is seemingly set after The Ones Who Live, while the Negan and Maggie-led The Walking Dead: Dead City is set at the furthest point in the timeline thanks to Negan (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) mentioning how 15 years have passed since the start of the apocalypse.

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Even though keeping the continuity of the Dead-Verse must be harder than your average episode of Lost, the success of Fear The Walking Dead proves adding fan-favorites like Morgan (Lennie James) back into the fold would be a lucrative way to keep the shambling series going. A surprise cameo from Melissa McBride’s Carol in Daryl Dixon mentions how someone or something “came back,” suggesting Rick, Michonne, or both are on track to rejoin their old pals before The Ones Who Live’s final credits roll. 

The Walking Dead finale ended with a not-so-subtle tie to The Ones Who Live, thanks to Judith (Cailey Fleming) saying: “We get to start over. We’re the ones who live.” Franchise overseer Scott Gimple told EW there are “no imminent plans” for the shows to link up as some sort of crossover sequel, but as the strands start to weave back together, it’s definitely possible. Look out for the inevitable The Walking Dead: Secret Wars when everything catches up to the Dead City timeline in 2025.

New episodes of The Walking Dead: The Ones Who Live premiere Sundays at 9 p.m. ET on AMC.