[This story contains spoilers through the Walking Dead season-seven finale, and the comics on which the show is based.]
Shots fired! The Walking Dead war is officially on, even if it's going to take a few months before viewers see how it all shakes out.
The eighth year of the AMC zombie drama is poised to explore the violent conflict between Rick Grimes (Andrew Lincoln) and the Saviors, led by Negan (Jeffrey Dean Morgan), the baseball bat-wielding maniac who finally tasted a healthy serving of humble pie in the season finale. When Walking Dead returns with its season-eight premiere, which also marks the show's 100th episode, expect the violence on the Alexandria streets to look like a modest Fourth of July celebration in comparison with the bullets and blood still to come.
Months will pass before we lay eyes on another new episode of Walking Dead — the series will return in October — but that's what the comics are for. Robert Kirkman's and Charlie Adlard's source material provides a road map for the stories ahead as well as fuel for the following season-eight predictions:
1. Welcome to the War
If season seven was the season where Rick finally found the courage to stand up to his greatest rival yet, then season eight will be the season to put that courage to the test. In the Walking Dead comic books, the "All-Out War" arc lasts for 12 issues, but powers through the action relatively quickly. Our prediction: Season eight will take its bittersweet time slogging through the war in granular detail, with brutal casualties on both sides of the line.
2. Casualties of War
If the comic books are any indication, we're going to lose more than a few people along the way during season eight. Not a big shock, considering that this is Walking Dead, where death is part of the game. But there are at least two friendly faces who die around this point in the comics: Aaron's (Ross Marquand) boyfriend Eric (Jordan Woods-Robinson), and Ezekiel's (Khary Payton) pet tiger Shiva. Hit replay on that Shiva action scene from Sunday's season- seven finale a few more times, because she won't be around much longer.
3. The Dwight Path
If it wasn't clear in the finale, season eight will crystallize the notion further: Dwight (Austin Amelio) really is working with Rick and the gang. Despite the fact that he's committed some atrocious acts along the way, Dwight is sincere about his atonement, based on how it works out in the comics. With that said, don't be surprised if Dwight meets his maker before season eight ends. Since Daryl (Norman Reedus) isn't in the comics, it's really easy to see how our favorite crossbow-wielding hero could pick up Dwight's story as laid out in the comics.
4. Morgan's Fate
The man who once promised to never kill again already broke his promise in season six, and broke it again in epic fashion in season seven. What's next for Morgan (Lennie James) as he walks this dangerous path? It could end with him going the way of Eastman (John Carroll Lynch) once again, and not in a good way. Morgan is already long dead at this point in the comics, meaning this old school character could very easily follow suit in season eight.
5. Saving Eugene
One of the most upsetting (if somewhat understandable) developments during season seven was Eugene's (Josh McDermitt) turn toward the dark side. It really does look like he's firmly Team Negan these days, which is a pretty significant departure from the comics. But he plays an essential role in Rick's future plans, given his ability to manufacture bullets. The show won't keep Eugene on the wrong side of the conflict forever; it's just a matter of time before he returns to the light — at least for Sasha's sake.
6. Life in Prison
There's no point in asking who's going to win the war between Rick and Negan. The good guys don't always win on Walking Dead, but at the end of the day, this is a story about Rick and his group rising up from the ashes of the end of the world and building a new path forward. With that said, don't expect Negan to die, either. Remember that prison Morgan built in Alexandria? That's going to be Negan's new home by the end of season eight, trapped behind bars for the rest of his days. At least, that's the plan....
7. Time to Move On
Our prediction for the final scene of season eight: a leap forward in time, showing what life is like after Rick and his allies defeat the Saviors once and for all. In the comics, the story leaps ahead several years after the All-Out War conflict, and it's reasonable to expect the TV show to follow a similar, if not the exact, path. No matter how big the time jump, a jump is coming, and our heroes will be in a very different place than last we left them.
How do you see the next season of Walking Dead playing out? Let us know in the comments below, and check out THR.com/WalkingDead for more coverage of the show.