Season 8 of The Walking Dead brought back a character that fans hadn't seen since the show's earliest episodes, and even though Morales got killed off fairly quickly, his return still sparked hopes that other long-gone characters could return in different ways. Such hopes and theories went into high gear over the weekend, as former star Jon Bernthal was seen hanging out with Walking Dead cast members in the Georgia area near where the show is produced. So does this mean we might see a Shane Walsh flashback accompanying Andrew Lincoln's final episodes? Or does it merely guarantee that Rick is going to die soon?
Several people were able to get photographic proof of Jon Bernthal's visit to Georgia, including the shot below, and it comes as Netflix's The Punisher is setting the pieces up for Season 2. So it's clear that the actor's presence isn't being viewed as a top-secret situation meant to be kept from everyone's eyes and ears. Otherwise, we might not have yet seen Bernthal and Andrew Lincoln getting cheeky with each other again.
If AMC isn't trying to keep a tight lid on Jon Bernthal's trip, then that doesn't bode well for Shane Walsh's chances of showing up on The Walking Dead in Season 9. Such a major return would definitely fall into "gargantuan spoiler" territory, which the network rarely handles with anything other than an iron grip. So as fun as it would be to see Rick once again reminiscing about the comparatively carefree life he had before zombies took over the planet, it's hard to get overly optimistic about getting any future buddy cop scenes between him and Shane.
The much more likely explanation here is that Jon Bernthal returned to his former Walking Dead stomping grounds to pay respects to Andrew Lincoln's Rick Grimes as part of the traditional death dinners that the cast and crew members throw whenever a major character gets killed off. There weren't any big reports about Bernthal heading back for Chandler Riggs' death dinner for Carl's death, so it's possible that visit wasn't in the cards for him. But it makes all the sense in the world that Bernthal would make it down there to share amusing stories while sending Lincoln and Rick off in style.
Of course, it hasn't been fully confirmed that Rick is properly being killed off in Season 9, though Andrew Lincoln's highly publicized exit makes a doomed fate far more likely than any other outcome. The actor is reportedly only set to appear in six episodes through the season, which is the same number that co-star Lauren Cohan is contractually set for. But while Cohan's future as Maggie is still up in the air, with the potential for her to appear more should her new ABC series Whiskey Cavalier not win over viewers, Lincoln doesn't seem to have such varied extraction plans.
So what do you guys think? Could we be in store for some more Rick and Shane awkwardness when Season 9 rolls around, or is Jon Bernthal's presence in Georgia just about honoring Andrew Lincoln's history with the show? We'll hopefully find out soon, but until then, bookmark our summer premiere schedule to find all the non-zombie shows that fans are currently obsessing over.