Jon Bernthal returning to The Walking Dead for Andrew Lincoln’s final season doesn’t necessarily mean that Rick Grimes is going to die.
The immediate conclusion from many fans is that when Bernthal appears as Shane Walsh, which will have to be either a flashback or hallucination considering Shane died in Season Two, the moment will be part of Rick’s farewell from the living portion of journey. However, given that no word has crept out about Chandler Riggs, Sarah Wayne Callie, or other characters who had influential roles in Rick’s early apocalyptic days have popped up, it would seem odd that it’s Shane calling him over to the other side.
Lori Grimes, Rick’s late wife, certainly was not without her stress-inducing moments on Rick’s post-coma life. However, she was half of the reason he found it in himself to escape the hospital and press on. Carl, Rick’s late son, was the other half of that motivation and turned out to be the driving force behind Rick’s desire to rebuild civilization. So, why wouldn’t one or both of these characters pop up if figures from Rick’s past are going to welcome him beyond the pearly gates?
It’s because he might not be dying — or could be coming close and turning down the prospect.
Imagine Rick Grimes on his death bed. He’s all but ready to let go and move on and then, all of the sudden, Shane Walsh appears. Immediately, Rick remembers the pain Shane has inflicted on him both when he was a live and in the years since he has past. Upon this realization that eternity would be spent with his old police partner who once tried to kill him, Rick decides it is time to cling to life for one last hoo-rah and continue his efforts to be a better man than Shane.
Still, it’s hard to imagine a scenario where Rick survives the season and simply goes off on his own or stays behind without Michonne or Judith. Danai Gurira is expected to finish the season and could return for an expected tenth in 2019. Meanwhile, Lauren Cohan is expected to exit the series around the same time as Lincoln, meaning the two characters might just go on a journey to some far away land together, bettering themselves from the lives they left behind, motivated by the sudden memory of Shane Walsh.