Hot on the heels of the announcement that Andrew Lincoln would be departing The Walking Dead as Rick Grimes after nine years came the further reveal that his former co-star Jon Bernthal is returning to the series, for what's apparently a one-off appearance as Shane Walsh.
The two are almost certainly related, with the smart money on Bernthal's comeback episode also being Lincoln's last. But does Shane's reappearance confirm that a grim fate awaits Rick?
Bernthal originally appeared in 19 episodes of the AMC series, with the screen version of Shane long outlasting his comic-book counterpart. "He's past his expiration date by comic-book standards," Walking Dead comic creator Robert Kirkman acknowledged back in 2011. "But Shane is by no means rotten – I think he's remaining fresh for a while."
The character eventually met a remixed version of his original fate: while it's Carl who shoots an unhinged Shane dead in the comic, on television Rick stabs his old friend through the heart after a violent confrontation, with Carl (Chandler Riggs) finishing off a zombified Shane when he reanimates post-mortem.
The late character's resurgence, then, seems certain to occur either via flashback or as a hallucination – the latter option in particular not boding well for the departing Rick. Could he be haunted by visions of Shane after sustaining a fatal injury?
A flashback is conceivable, but might be trickier to pull off convincingly, given the amount of time that's elapsed since Bernthal left The Walking Dead. Notably, the show's most recent flashback, which featured a pre-apocalypse Rick and a prepubescent Carl, carefully shot Andrew Lincoln only from behind and cast a new actor – again, face unseen – to play his young son.
A hallucination would be workable and makes narrative sense – a dying Rick reflects on his greatest regrets, including being forced to murder his former friend (who'd not only slept with Rick's wife, but also aggressively challenged his leadership of the survivor clan).
The series has also gone down this route before, with Tyreese (Chad Coleman) experiencing hallucinations of the deceased Governor (David Morrissey), Beth (Emily Kinney) and more as he suffered massive blood loss from a zombie bite.
So does Shane's return spell out a death sentence for Rick? Not necessarily.
The Walking Dead has actually revisited old favourites a few times by way of hallucination, and in a variety of different circumstances – with Rick in particular enduring his fair share of ghostly visitations.
During moments of high stress or mental imbalance, he's been seen to glimpse and even have conversations with deceased loved ones. Following the devastating loss of Lori (Sarah Wayne Callies), Rick was seen 'speaking to' his late wife on the prison phone late in The Walking Dead's third season, with this auditory illusion later taking physical form.
Even more pertinent, though, is a scene from the same season's 'Made to Suffer': during the prison group's attack on Woodbury, Rick thinks he sees Shane (Bernthal, returning for a surprise cameo) stalking towards him through the smoke and chaos...
'Shane' is shot dead by Rick and is revealed to in fact be an anonymous Woodbury soldier. It's this scene that likely offers up the biggest clue as to how the character's's second encore will happen – however Rick's exit plays out, it's certain to be a traumatic experience, one that could once again bring the spectre of Shane rushing back into his thoughts.
Shane reappearing as Rick's life flashes before his eyes is certainly one option as to how Bernthal can reprise the role, but it isn't the only possibility. Daryl (Norman Reedus), injured but not in mortal peril, also hallucinated his missing brother Merle (Michael Rooker), while Morgan (Lennie James) likewise imagined a phantom version of Gavin (Jayson Warner Smith), a Saviour executed by young Henry.
Apparitions / delusions have very much been established as A Thing in The Walking Dead, and aren't always directly linked to a character's demise. So while there's still a very strong possibility that Rick will meet a grisly demise – this is The Walking Dead, after all – his death certificate hasn't officially been signed, sealed and delivered just yet.
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