How 'The Walking Dead' Season 8 Premiere Teases the Whisperers

Rick and Michonne in the Season 8 premiere of 'The Walking Dead' on AMC. AMC

On Sunday's Walking Dead season premiere, Rick and his gang finally met Negan and the Saviors with live fire, driving them out of their stronghold and into the woods. Though it was clear what was happening through most of the episode, several unique set pieces left fans of the zombie series scratching their heads.

In between the scenes of carnage, The Walking Dead gave viewers several peeks into a soft-focus dreamworld. In either a flash forward or a hallucination (more likely the latter), Rick (Andrew Lincoln), our hero, has clearly aged. We see this gray-bearded fellow wake up in a sundrenched room and hobble downstairs to meet his family, which includes his now-grown daughter, Judith. Weird Al Yankovic's "Another One Rides the Bus" plays as they discuss an owl statue in the back yard.

An older Rick as he appears in the dream sequence in the Season 8 premiere. AMC

Notably, spliced in between the dreamy shots, we also see a few extreme close-ups of Rick with tears in his eyes. He looks battered, and repeats the word "mercy," which might be a hint that the days of Morgan—who has long counselled mercy, and giving people a second chance—are numbered.

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Rick and the militia plan their attack on Negan's base. AMC

But back to Weird Al and the owl. Showrunner Scott Gimple spoke with Entertainment Weekly about the song, saying it was meant to create a jarring effect for the viewer, and to signify that grown-up Judith is into odd music.

And the owl is a reference to a scene from season 5, when Jessie tells Rick that someone has destroyed the owl statue she and her kids had been building. Rick replied, "You ever heard about the broken window theory? Boils down to this—you keep the windows intact, you keep society intact." Note that a season and a half later, Negan shot a bullet through a window in Alexandria to intimidate Rick and his followers, shattering their idyllic society. In the Season 8 premiere, returning the favor, Rick and the gang shot every window in Negan's safehouse to pieces.

If a broken window means something has gone wrong, perhaps the successfully built owl statue—pointed out to Rick by Judith in his soft-focus reverie—is meant to imply that his little society has survived.

Something is brewing in Rick's subsconcious (as usual), but before the show explains the bizarre scenes, Gimple says it will unleash three back-to-back-to-back episode, which he described to EW as "unbelievably intense, unrelenting episodes that pushed the actors and the crew, and the producers, everybody. When I was with the mixers," he went on, "we definitely were hurting our ears just with the pounding music, and the intensity, and the walkers, and the gunfire, and the yelling."

A quick line in Rick's fantasy provides a potential clue to that chaos. "People are taking this festival really seriously," Michonne tells Rick. In Robert Kirkman's comics, the Whisperers (humans wearing zombie skin) appear during a festival and kill twelve people from Alexandria, the Kingdom (Ezekiel's group) and Hilltop (Maggie and Jesus's group). They decapitate their victims and line their territory with the heads, mounted on pikes. By that time, the comics have flashed forward to a period where Rick is much older, and that's a route the show could potentially take this year.

If the word "festival" means the Whisperers are going to show up in Season 8 or 9, we're in for one hell of a bloody ride.

The Walking Dead continues Season 8, Sundays at 9 on AMC.