The Walking Dead: 4 Logical Theories About That Helicopter

Spoilers below for The Walking Dead episode "The Big Scary U," so please watch it before reading on.

Of all the shows on TV that could readily feature helicopters on multiple occasions, The Walking Dead might not seem like a top contender, considering transportation isn't the easiest thing to come by. And the further along we get into the story, the lower the plausibility gets that helicopters are still zipping through the sky. Yet, after Rick and Daryl's scuffle in "The Big Scary U," Rick is walking alone when he hears and sees a chopper flying just overhead. Oddly, his level of confusion and excitement were on par with him seeing a leaf on a tree, or a fish underwater.

So while Rick's reaction was slightly less ecstatic than others' might have been, we're still fascinated and scratching our heads about it. After all, a working helicopter, combined with someone who knows how to fly it, could be as big a boon to Team Family as anything else they've come across over the years. But what hell is the deal with it? Here are our four biggest and most logical theories about where that Walking Dead helicopter came from.

It's Merely Another Pilot Reference

In this case, we're not talking about the pilot controlling the helicopter, but the actual Walking Dead pilot episode that served as the series premiere. Near the end of the episode, as Rick is riding his horse through Atlanta, he hears a helicopter and sees a reflection of it in a skyscraper's windows, and then it's possibly never directly referred to again.

Season 8, especially Episode 100, were highly promoted as being reflective of Season 1, and the pilot in particular, and we saw a slew of easter eggs and references in "Mercy." So it's definitely possible that the helicopter was another one of those callback moments, meant to celebrate the lifespan of the show without actually leading to another narrative avenue. Not the ideal answer, but it wouldn't be so out of character for the creative team.

rick on phone walking dead

It's All In Rick's Head

It's no big secret that there are clear and delineable lines between Sane Rick Grimes and Kooky Rick Grimes, and while it's admittedly been a while since we've seen Rick go off the mental deep end, his helicopter sighting could be nothing more than a hallucination. That would partially explain his meh-worthy reaction, as well as why he didn't run to try to see where it was going.

Years ago, Rick dealt with aural hallucinations as a way of grieving over Lori's death, talking on telephones with no one on the other end. He ended up conquering that affliction and went on to do amazing things with Team Family, but who's to say Rick's head hasn't taken enough poundings since then to cause him to see and hear other things that aren't actually there? I mean, he'd just spent time getting choked out by Daryl before getting blown over by an explosion, and we're already wondering if that flash-forward in the premiere is another sign of Rick's mental struggles. We'll have to see in future episodes if any other characters end up referring to it, because otherwise...

walking dead new world order

It's The New World Order

While still fitting under the umbrella of "logical," this would be the weirdest way for The Walking Dead to play up the helicopter story. (And no, this isn't about professional wrestling.) Neither TV viewers nor comic readers have even seen the New World Order in action yet. It was at the New York Comic Con where Robert Kirkman revealed the new group on the cover for The Walking Dead #175 (out in January), which will kick off Volume 30.

But even though all we know about the New World Order is what's seen on that cover, I do believe this gang of quasi-Stormtroopers looks prepared enough to have at least one working helicopter at their disposal, if not more. Of course, the big complication here is that the TV show almost never runs concurrent with the comic book storylines, so Kirkman and showrunner Scott Gimple would have to be planning something unprecedented for these survivors to show up. I'm holding out hope for it, especially if it somehow plays into the big Fear the Walking Dead crossover.

rick smiling with helicopter in background

It's A Mystery To The Writers, Too

As Lost plainly taught us, the act of planning and writing a major TV series is far from an exact science, and there are many times where creative teams introduce plot elements whose outcomes haven't been fully fleshed out at the time. The Walking Dead has likely had its share of those particular instances as well, and we wouldn't be the least bit surprised if there isn't yet an end game for Rick's helicopter sighting.

The Walking Dead has used helicopters in interesting ways over the years, perhaps most notably in Season 3, when Andrea and Michonne watched a helicopter crash that basically introduced viewers to Woodbury and The Governor. But we've also seen other parked and crashed choppers, making the vehicles about as popular as RV's in The Walking Dead's narrative. In fact, just last season, when Rick's crew first visited Jadis' junkyard, we saw what was either a helicopter/plane flying in the background (as seen above, over Smiling Rick's left shoulder), or we saw an editing glitch; the show hasn't committed to either explanation. As such, Rick's latest copter instance could all just be a loose end that doesn't have any other story threads to connect to yet.

What do you guys think the deal was with that helicopter? Let us know below, and tune into The Walking Dead every Sunday night on AMC at 9:00 p.m. ET. Check out what we're thinking is up with Father Gabriel, and to see what other new and returning shows are on the way in the future, head to our fall TV premiere schedule and our 2018 midseason schedule.

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Nick Venable
Assistant Managing Editor

Nick is a Cajun Country native and an Assistant Managing Editor with a focus on TV and features. His humble origin story with CinemaBlend began all the way back in the pre-streaming era, circa 2009, as a freelancing DVD reviewer and TV recapper.  Nick leapfrogged over to the small screen to cover more and more television news and interviews, eventually taking over the section for the current era and covering topics like Yellowstone, The Walking Dead and horror. Born in Louisiana and currently living in Texas — Who Dat Nation over America’s Team all day, all night — Nick spent several years in the hospitality industry, and also worked as a 911 operator. If you ever happened to hear his music or read his comics/short stories, you have his sympathy.