'Walking Dead': Is Rick Going to Die?

Exec producer Robert Kirkman weighs in on the character's potential swan song.
Gene Page/AMC

[This story contains spoilers from the season eight midseason premiere of AMC's The Walking Dead.]

Viewers just said farewell to one member of the Grimes family. Are we about to say goodbye to another?

That's certainly the fear AMC's The Walking Dead instills in its viewers at the end of Sunday's midseason premiere, titled "Honor." During the course of the supersized episode, viewers are given one last chance to bid adieu to Carl (Chandler Riggs), who dies after succumbing to the infection from a zombie bite. In his final moments, Carl tries to convince his father, series lead Rick Grimes (Andrew Lincoln), that he needs to start considering a future without so much bloodshed, and to find a way forward. With that in mind, Carl shares his own vision of the future with Rick — a vision that turns out to be the same one viewers witnessed in the season eight premiere, featuring Rick as a bearded old man with a cane. 

Many viewers, especially the comic-book-reading crowd, expected this was a tease of a massive time jump that exists within Robert Kirkman's Walking Dead comics. Instead, it's Carl's vision of how the future should play out, and by the time of his death, it seems his father is on board with honoring his son's wishes.

There's just one problem: it looks like Rick might not be around to see this future after all.

In the final moments of Sunday's episode, we see a bleary-eyed Rick Grimes leaning against a tree in the middle of a field, bleeding out from a wound. We have seen Rick injured in the past, but have we ever seen him this injured, series-opening coma aside? As if there's any confusion, Lincoln confirms to The Hollywood Reporter that the image of Rick bleeding against a tree isn't a vision or a trick of the imagination; it's very much grounded in reality, much to viewers and Lincoln's own chagrin.

"I was very worried," the actor tells THR about his first reaction to reading the final scene of "Honor." "Especially when we did the makeup test and I said, 'He looks like he's lost quite a bit of blood. Do we want him to be this white?! Can we make him look like he's got a pint of blood in his body?!'"

Lincoln insists that the death of Carl is the biggest one in Walking Dead history, and he's right — at least for now. If the series just teased the imminent demise of Rick Grimes, then Walking Dead is about to veer completely off course from the source material. Throughout its run, the AMC adaptation of the Image Comics and Skybound series has taken a remix approach to the original text, adjusting the major story beats of the comics in big and small ways. The death of Rick, who very much remains alive and at the forefront of the story in the comics, would be the biggest change-up from the comics by far.

For what it's worth, speaking with THR to support his upcoming comic Oblivion Song, Walking Dead co-creator Kirkman cautioned fans to not panic too much at the sight of Rick's battered form at the end of the midseason premiere. According to Kirkman, the scene is not meant to set up a Walking Dead without Rick in it.

"I don't expect that," Kirkman said. "That's not an intention there. I've said from the very beginning that no one is safe. I do strongly feel like the show could survive without a Rick Grimes. There's certainly a lot of story to tell without that central character. I've talked a lot about how Rick Grimes will definitely die in the comic book series at some point before the series' conclusion, just because I want to make sure everyone knows that no one is safe. But I don't think you should read too much into that."

Kirkman adds that Lincoln has a deal on The Walking Dead beyond season eight. The actor's contract expired with the end of season eight and sources tell THR that all but Lauren Cohan have re-signed for the previously announced season nine (and beyond). While Lincoln, sources say, is confirmed to return as a series regular in season nine, that may not necessarily matter. Who could forget when Andrew J. West was signed as a series regular in season five after making his first appearance in the season four finale — and his cannibal king Gareth lasted a grand total of three episodes before Rick embedded a knife into his head. The same was true for David Morrissey's Governor, who after somehow surviving season three, was confirmed to be a regular in season four only to die a handful of episodes later. For his part, Lincoln himself has acknowledged that his future on the show is growing murkier with each passing episode.

"If ever there was a show that was able to survive, adapt and change to the death of a central character, I think we've done that and we've got more action going through it now," Lincoln says when asked about his potential departure from the series. (The actor stops short of confirming that he'll be a regular in season nine.) "You just witnessed the biggest bereavement to date [with Carl], certainly in Rick's world. The result of this all happening is, hopefully, a compelling and exciting drama — with the key word being surprising. It's a very difficult question. I love doing the show; I love the character; I love playing Rick. It's been one of the most satisfying, thrilling and rewarding parts of my career. But I have always said that I want to finish in the way that we began: big scale, pared down vision of the world. There are lots of unanswered questions and we owe a debt to all of the viewers to answer a few of those. So yes, once they're answered, there is an endgame. I've said it before. There's certainly an endgame in my head. Whether or not that's the same endgame that's in the producers' heads or the people I work with, is another matter. That's open for discussion." 

Beyond the matter of Rick's mortality, there's the matter of some adjustments to the vision viewers see at the end of the episode. Following Carl's death, we know the ethereal "flash forward" is the late young lad's hopes for the future. In the final scene of the hour, we see something new and unexpected in that vision: Negan (Jeffrey Dean Morgan), fully integrated into this idyllic Alexandria. How will that factor into the series moving forward? Will Rick's mercy prevail over his wrath, and allow Negan a role in his vision of the future? According to Lincoln: "There's a long way to go for Rick to stomach that." Frankly, based on the final image of Rick bleeding out of his chest, we have more pressing concerns about Rick's stomach than Negan's place in the narrative. More on that front, and more on Walking Dead overall, as we continue unpacking the midseason premiere in the days ahead.

Do you think Rick Grimes will die? Sound off in the comments section below and keep checking THR.com/WalkingDead for more coverage of season eight.

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