It's been eight seasons of carnage and mayhem on AMC's "The Walking Dead," but big changes are on the horizon. The show just made its biggest departure from the source material, Robert Kirkman's long-running comic series, with the death of Chandler Riggs' Carl, and it's set to make another with the departure of Lennie James' Morgan over to spinoff "Fear the Walking Dead" at the end of the current 8th season. Add to that new showrunner Angela Kang, set to take over with Season 9, plus the possible loss of co-star Lauren Cohan as well, and the stage is set for what we believe will be the biggest shift yet in the history of the show: a drastic time jump.
In all honesty, the show could use something to shake it up, and the move isn't unprecedented either in serialized television or the comic book series. Starting with issue #127 (released May 2014), "The Walking Dead" comic series jumped ahead approximately two years after the events of their "All Out War," the story currently being told on the TV show.
But as we've seen with Carl, just because it happened in the comics doesn't mean it's going to happen on the television show. Carl is alive and well in the latest issues of "TWD." That said, we still think a time jump is exactly what the creators are setting up, and we're ready to break down our evidence, such as it is, and why we think it needs to happen.
WHY WE THINK IT'S HAPPENING
Time jumps are usually pretty easy to manage on a show once everyone reaches adulthood. You just kind of fudge up the ages a bit and nobody's really paying attention. A lot of actors and actresses (especially in their earlier years) play roles a little younger than their actual age anyway. Not so Chandler Riggs, who started with "The Walking Dead" at ten years old. Even though he's now eighteen, the actor would have a hard time passing for 23 or older.
The only other prominent teen character on the show is Enid (18-year-old Katelyn Nacon), and we've already theorized why she might not survive the season. With both of them gone, the show could just recast characters like Carl's young sister Judith and would-be assassin Henry (the kid who brutally killed a Savior) and be good to go, as everyone else could easily age up five years or so with no questions asked. Or, if he doesn't die, they could send Henry off with Morgan to "Fear."
Whether or not Lauren Cohan leaves the series -- she just landed a pilot at ABC -- a time jump is needed for her storyline. The writers have already dragged out her pregnancy all season with virtually no visual indications that she's even carrying. Clearly they're not interested in saddling her or the group with another infant, as happened when Judith survived the prison massacre, and quite frankly, neither is the audience.
If she dies before the baby is born, that's acceptable and she's got her exit from the show. If she stays and has her baby, though, the character would be far better served creatively to jump ahead five years or so and give her a little son or daughter, rather than have her trying to lead the Hilltop with an infant on her hip. Not that we don't believe her fully capable of kicking ass while nursing, but we've already done the infant thing in the apocalypse and it's unlikely the creators would want to retread that ground.
The folks behind the scenes of "The Walking Dead" love to drop cyrptic hints, and sometimes outright lie to their fans about what may or may not be coming up on the show. It's all in good fun, and who'd really want them to spoil all their secrets, anyway?
But when asked if Carl's future vision fakeout meant the time jump was off the table, current showrunner Scott Gimple told Entertainment Weekly, "Oh, no, it definitely does not necessarily mean that." Of course, it could mean exactly that, but it more than likely means it's still happening and Gimple wasn't ready to just lie quite so blatantly.
With the upcoming ninth season, Angela Kang is taking over day-to-day showrunning duties on "The Walking Dead," while Gimple steps up to oversee the entire "Dead" franchise at AMC. Gimple's new role would seem to indicate more connections between the two series -- with Lennie James' "Fear" transition the most obvious indication of that -- while Kang is looking at a show in transition.
There have been no hints as to what fans might expect from her tenure yet; she has been with the show since Season 2 and penned many of its most pivotal episodes, including well-received finales and premieres. While Gimple will be her overlord, we feel Kang will want to put her own stamp on the show, and a fresh start like this is just the way to do it.
WHY IT NEEDS TO HAPPEN
Lennie James' upcoming jump to sister series "Fear the Walking Dead" would seem to indicate a time jump for that show ("Fear" is a prequel series), though there is the theory that it will instead reveal what Morgan (James) was up to before rejoining Rick and company on "TWD." More likely, though, the troubled "Fear" will take a jump to the present day of the parent series, considering it's undergoing a pretty dramatic casting shift of its own, as well as picking up new showrunners in Andrew Chambliss and Ian Goldberg.
"Fear" is getting three prominent newcomers in Garret Dillahunt, Jenna Elfman and Maggie Grace. That many new faces in the cast -- and prominent names to boot -- indicates big changes afoot. And jumping "Fear" to the present would allow "TWD" to jump further into the future, giving fans the best of both worlds. Both shows get reinvigorated with bold new directions, while "Fear" picks up at least some of the narrative the more popular "TWD" leaves behind, and AMC gets to keep the distinct separation between the shows.
"War" Is Hell
There's a reason Kirkman jumped ahead after "All Out War" in the comics, and that's because war is hell. It rips people down to their core and it can take a long time to rebuild your world and yourself after something so traumatic. While those are real responses and realities of a post-war world, they don't necessarily make for compelling drama in an action-packed series like "TWD." Better to jump ahead to where the rebuilding is well under way and the healing is mostly in the past.
For the show, more than the comic even, it's also about getting some distance from Negan's (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) actions for the characters. Whether he survives "War" or not, the brutal deaths at his hands remain fresh and too unforgivable in the minds of most of the characters. If he's still around after "War," we need to be able to buy that people are willing to talk to him, and if he's gone, we need to believe people have moved on from all that he wrought. Otherwise, it's a season or two of post-"War" fallout, and considering how well the "War" is going over, we can't even imagine that doing well for the network.
With Carl gone, Judith becomes the primary motivation for series lead Rick (Andrew Lincoln). He's lost his wife and his son, but this little girl is a reason to carry on living and trying to build that better world that Carl envisioned. Aging her up to about eight or ten creates a nice parallel to where Carl was when the show began, and creates a child that Rick can actually interact with and impart his newly learned wisdom on.
Plus, many people saw Carl as the future of the franchise, and that's gone now. If the Grimes legacy is to carry on, it's going to have to do so with Judith, who actually died years ago in the comic series. For "The Walking Dead" to work, it needs to have representatives of that next generation on the show, because they are the reason the adults do what they do in trying to rebuild society. Judith aged up just a bit could perfectly represent that innocence always in danger of being corrupted in a dark world.
The most obvious reason to shake things up is probably the one AMC is most concerned about. "The Walking Dead" isn't looking quite as rosy in the ratings. Despite it featuring the most significant character death in the history of the show -- and one that everyone knew was coming -- the midseason premiere of "The Walking Dead" scored its lowest-ever midseason premiere ratings (the first season was only six episodes and didn't have one).
Don't get us wrong, "TWD" isn't in trouble yet, it was still the top-rated show of the night, even beating the Closing Ceremonies of the Winter Olympics, but compared to its own lofty standards, the show is down significantly. This midseason premiere scored 8.3 million viewers according to Variety. Compare that to the 17 million who tuned into the Season 7 premiere where Negan bashed in some heads, drawing the ire of many critics who called it "torture porn," and that's more than half its audience gone in a year and a half.
This "All Out War" story has only added to its ratings woes, which have seen consistent declines since it began. The show needs something major to kick it out of its doldrums, and a fresh start five years or so in the future is just the thing to do it ... and especially if Rick and company are starting to build Carl's envisioned better world. Sure, it's all going to hit the fan again, but it'll give AMC's marketing department something to tout.
"No one is caving in skulls anymore on 'The Walking Dead!'" they can proudly proclaim. "Please come back."