Things look pretty grim for Rick Grimes and his party right now... but there's no end in sight for their suffering (or our enjoyment) with The Walking Dead set to power on for at least another year.
You can watch our review of The Walking Dead season 7 finale below:
AMC officially ordered an eighth season of its monster hit in October 2016, before the seventh season had even launched.
"What a joy to partner with Robert Kirkman, Scott M Gimple and some of the hardest-working people in television to bring The Walking Dead to the fans," said network president Charlie Collier.
"And, most important, thanks to those fans for breathing life into this remarkable series right along with us."
So what's in store, besides the gore? Strap yourself in... spoilers lie ahead:
The Walking Dead season 8 filming + premiere date
Each season of The Walking Dead shoots from late spring through to autumn each year, with season eight originally expected to shoot from May to November 2017.
Norman Reedus posted an old shot of himself and Andrew Lincoln to Instagram on April 8, hinting he was "ready to get back at it" - a sign that filming would commence sooner than expected.
A week later and Negan actor Jeffrey Dean Morgan announced that season 8 was due to begin shooting "in 10 days" - confirming a start date of April 25.
Chandler Riggs (Carl) tweeted one week prior that he'd received the script for the opening episode... and gave it a big thumbs up.
just finished reading 801 of twd and oooo man it's good- chandler riggs (@chandlerriggs) April 19, 2017
You can expect the next season to air for eight weeks from October 2017, followed by a three-month hiatus, with the concluding eight episodes following in February 2018.
The Walking Dead season 8 cast: Who'll survive till next year?
Maria Bello – Golden Globe nominee and self-confessed Walking Dead obsessive – has hinted that she might be joining the show as a new character next year.
"I have a friend who's a producer on it and I've asked them to write me a part, which apparently they are for next season," she revealed in October.
As for established characters? In its eighth season, The Walking Dead will have a larger regular cast than at any previous point in its history – even following the departure of Sonequa Martin-Green as Sasha, there are still 19 actors signed up to regular contracts.
The full list is as follows:
- Andrew Lincoln (Rick)
- Norman Reedus (Daryl)
- Lauren Cohan (Maggie)
- Chandler Riggs (Carl)
- Danai Gurira (Michonne)
- Melissa McBride (Carol)
- Lennie James (Morgan)
- Sonequa Martin-Green (Sasha)
- Alanna Masterson (Tara)
- Christian Serratos (Rosita)
- Josh McDermitt (Eugene)
- Seth Gilliam (Father Gabriel)
- Ross Marquand (Aaron)
- Austin Nichols (Spencer)
- Jeffrey Dean Morgan (Negan)
- Tom Payne (Jesus)
- Austin Amelio (Dwight)
- Xander Berkeley (Gregory)
- Pollyanna McIntosh (Jadis)
- Steven Ogg (Simon)
- Katelyn Nacon (Enid)
It's also possible that Steven Yeun could guest next season as the late, lamented Glenn - appearing via flashbacks or fantasy sequences, à la Abraham (Michael Cudlitz) in season seven's finale.
The Walking Dead season 8 spoilers: What will happen next?
"We're going to come out swinging [in the season seven finale]," said Andrew Lincoln."And it's not going to stop.
"I'm more excited for season eight than I've ever been. I think it's going to be big, but it's also going to be terrifying. And I mean that from the very depths of my cynical soul."
Scott Gimple, showrunner, certainly wasn't afraid to be hyperbolic when previewing the aftermath of Sasha's demise and Rick striking back against Negan.
"It's going to be bigger. It's going to be more intense," he told host Chris Hardwick on companion show The Talking Dead. "I say these things and I've meant them every year, and I think we've actually accomplished that.
"This year, same thing. More intense. The first four episodes will melt people's minds and break their televisions."
One character who might be in serious trouble is turncoat Eugene (Josh McDermitt)."He's said he's Negan in front of everybody," Gimple said, discussing the events of the finale.
"He has still not found the strength to get over his fear. He's still Negan after seeing everything Sasha is doing. I don't think it looks good for Eugene. "
Last warning: beyond this point lie some *serious* spoilers from the Walking Dead comic series, which might very well give away what happens next on the show...
First up, there's a possibility that we might be getting a prequel episode in season eight exploring Negan's past, adapted from the comic mini-series Here's Negan.
"I love Jeffrey Dean Morgan with a burning fury of a thousand suns, and I would love to see him tell that story and see the character go through those paces," series creator Robert Kirkman has said.
Speaking of pace, Gimple has promised that season 8 won't be anywhere near as sluggish as its predecessor.
"The turn of the story is really going to dictate the structure of the story and the speed of the story," he said. "The things that they are getting into demand a more kinetic narrative. The pace is accelerated by virtue of the things that they're up to.
"This isn't a time of them wringing their hands; it's a time to descend into righteous battle, which is a serious thing."
Spoilers: Here's how that "righteous battle" plays out in the original comics (you've been warned!!).
After a long and bloody battle, Rick finally gets the better of his nemesis at the conclusion of the story arc 'All Out War' – slashing Negan's throat.
He survives as Rick's prisoner, and we then leap two years forward, with civilisation at Alexandria and Hilltop rebuilt following the conflict.
(Said time jump may or may not feature in the TV series - Gimple's being evasive on that point for now.)
But there's another terrible threat lurking beyond Negan and the Saviours. The comic series later introduces the Whisperers: survivors who dress themselves in the skin of zombies because they believe humanity deserves to live according to the forces of nature.
The Whisperers believe the living are no better than the undead and target anyone who disagrees with their beliefs. Their leader Alpha even kills two major characters – Rosita and Ezekiel, planting their decapitated heads on pikes.
Back in October, the official AMC Instagram appeared to be teasing the arrival of Alpha and the Whisperers with a post featuring – you guessed it – a decapitated head on a pike. Could they be season eight's Big Bad?
The Walking Dead season 9, season 10... how long will it last?
They've got an eighth season in the bag... but, looking to the future, do the Walking Dead team have a grand masterplan for the series?
Scott Gimple has suggested that this year's finale is "about setting up the next hundred episodes", while Robert Kirkman has hinted that, with his original comic book still going strong, the TV adaptation has the potential to run for at least 12 years total.
Gimple later upped that to 20 years(!), while explaining that the TV series might explore more "original material" away from the comics in future.
AMC boss Josh Sapan has also implied that the show's got a long lifespan, because it still makes a ton of cash for the cable channel.
If you do the ratings maths, The Walking Dead is still one of the most popular TV shows in the world right now... so it's no surprise that Greg Nicotero's insisting he and the creative team can "keep it going for as long as [they] want it go on".
"It continues to elicit emotion from the viewers," he told DS in June. "I know everybody has an idea about where it will end and I know that Robert Kirkman has said Rick will die – but eventually everyone will die, so who knows?"
Indeed, Gimple hinted that Rick may sacrifice his life this season to win the "all-out war" with Negan: "Rick will suffer any loss, even his own self,to give his people and other people the life that they should live, where the world belongs to all of them and not just one person.
"That's the only choice. So he's willing to face the losses."
It appears neither Rick nor Daryl is meeting their maker any time soon, though – with both Andrew Lincoln and Norman Reedus signed up through season eight.
Fans feared that Chandler Riggs might be departing the series after it emerged that he'd completed his seven-year contract with the show. But there's nothing to stop him signing another – so chances are Coooorrrraalll is going nowhere.
The young actor's desire to attend college isn't necessarily a problem, either: "Chandler went to high school [and] I'm confident college will be more flexible," said Gimple. "He'll be close by – within two hours – and he [currently] lives more than an hour from set."
For his part, Kirkman has insisted that he knows exactly how The Walking Dead will end - but as it stands, no-one else working on the TV show has a clue. Still, with Kirkman continuing to pen new issues of the comic series, there's no possibility of running out of source material, a la Game of Thrones, any time soon.
"Everyone is waiting for George RR Martin's new novel to come out," said producer Gale Anne Hurd. "But Robert Kirkman is continuing to write The Walking Dead [comic series] – so there's a lot more material for us to draw from."
In the meantime, there might even be a feature film version on the horizon, with Gimple acknowledging that the idea "comes up every now and again".
"I'm sure one way or another, one day, it'll happen," he said. Seriously, when we can start queuing for tickets?
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