The battle for the zombie apocalypse’s future just got a whole lot bloodier, thanks to Negan (Jeffrey Dean Morgan).
[This story contains spoilers for season eight, episode eleven of AMC’s The Walking Dead, as well as the comic books from Robert Kirkman and Charlie Adlard on which the show is based.]
Given that we just lost Carl (Chandler Riggs), Walking Dead fans are rightly concerned about the future of Rick Grimes (Andrew Lincoln), what with the image of him in the future bleeding badly against a tree.
Now, another bloody Walking Dead ending should have viewers concerned about what’s coming next — and it all involves Negan (Jeffrey Dean Morgan), even if his life isn’t in as much immediate peril. The final moments of Sunday’s episode, “Dead or Alive Or,” feature the leader of the Saviors coming up with a bright idea for how to win the war against Alexandria’s allied forces. In short: there will be blood. Zombie blood, to be more precise.
After Eugene (Josh McDermitt) nervously suggests turning toward medieval style weapons, such as catapults that can launch body parts, while he works tirelessly to rebuild ammunition supplies, Negan has something of a eureka moment: covering weapons in walker gore will cause their victims to become infected, effectively turning a flesh wound into a fatal injury.
The idea partly stems from Father Gabriel (Seth Gilliam), who has spent the better part of season eight reeling from an infection of his own. Several episodes ago, Gabriel and Negan escaped certain doom by covering themselves in walker guts, one of the oldest tricks in the Walking Dead playbook. But for the first time, we saw some unintended side effects of that tactic: Gabriel almost immediately came down with a very bad infection, likely due to exposure to the gore.
Several episodes later (but little more than a day or so in the context of the story), Gabriel is still alive, albeit in very bad condition. As it stands, his vision is almost completely gone, and the rest is likely to fade before the end of the season. If you’re the type of person who participates in Walking Dead death drafts, you would be wise to have Gabriel high on your board: despite a different fate in the comics, the good preacher does not look long for this world.
With Gabriel’s infection leading to Negan’s inspiration, it won’t be long before the Saviors’ leader uses his new germ warfare plot to infect another major character. In the comics, Negan’s plan leads to the deaths of several Alexandrians, including Nicholas, long since dead in the TV version of Walking Dead. Is Gabriel enough of a main character to serve as an avatar of how this warfare will impact our heroes, or does somebody else need to fall? There are certainly several just-shy-of-background players in the cast who could serve to articulate the point. Here’s looking at you, Tobin (Jason Douglas).
If the show wants to go for a much higher-profile casualty? Well, there’s always the matter of the lingering fate of Maggie, given contract negotiation woes between Lauren Cohan and AMC — but with the arrival of Siddiq (Avi Nash) at the Hilltop, Maggie finally has a doctor on hand, and it would feel like incredibly odd timing to take her out of the series through such grisly means. More likely, we’re looking at a very ambiguous fate for Maggie, should AMC and Cohan not reach a deal. (Plus production on season eight wrapped last year and the show is nearly done with postproduction.)
Here’s one potential high-profile victim fans should actually keep an eye on: Rick Grimes. In the comics, Rick is shot in the side with an arrow at the same time as the germ warfare’s launch. The person who shoots Rick: none other than Dwight (Austin Amelio), who has just returned to Negan’s side on the TV show, albeit reluctantly. In the comics, Dwight shoots Rick, but does it with an uninfected arrow — meaning, he tries to give Negan false confidence about Rick’s inevitable death by infection, when such a death isn’t coming at all.
Given how the show has played things out with Dwight, it’s very likely that a similar scene could occur. What’s more, it would explain why Rick is bleeding out from his side in that vision of the future.
Here’s the one potential kicker: given how the show has remixed events from the comics to as large a degree as killing off Carl, it’s not out of the realm of possibility that Rick could actually suffer an injury from an infected weapon. Did we just get a major clue about how Rick is going to die in the Walking Dead TV series? Fingers crossed that we haven’t, but given the current ever-shifting landscape of the zombie apocalypse, anything goes.
What do you think will happen with Negan’s plan? Sound off in the comments and keep checking THR.com/WalkingDead for more coverage.