by Josh Wigler
After more than 100 issues of death and despair at every turn, "The Walking Dead" fans are used to twists and turns by now. But two new teaser images surrounding the Image Comics and Skybound zombie series have even the deepest-cut readers scratching their heads.
The official "Walking Dead" website has launched two new pages, one called "Hilltop," the other called "Survivors." The "Hilltop" image features a blood-stained hammer, with the word "Hilltop" and a hammer and anvil emblem embedded in the hammer-head. The "Survivors" image features a a green jacket with a patch that says "Survivors," and an insignia of a one-eyed, cowboy hat-wearing skull with a rifle and katana blade acting as crossbones.
Whaaaaaaaat is happening here?
Both teasers promise more information at this week's coming Image Expo. While we're waiting for official answers, we're mulling over some theories of our own. Read them after the break.
1. Spinoff Titles: Could we be looking at two new possible "Walking Dead" spinoff titles? Though the series has branched off into different forms of media — the Telltale video games, the prose novels, the AMC TV series — Kirkman has yet to truly spin off the "Walking Dead" comics, save for the occasional one-shot here and there. With war brewing between Rick's group and the Negan-led Saviors, are we about to reach a natural point where the "Walking Dead" comics are literally split in two?
2. Days of Future Past: Riffing on that idea, what could "Hilltop" and "Survivors" focus on? Here's an idea: "Hilltop" goes back to the early days of the zombie outbreak, and shows us how folks like Jesus and Negan got their start in the apocalypse. "Survivors," meanwhile, could jump ahead several years into the future, showing us a band of men and women led by Carl Grimes. That one-eyed skull with the cowboy hat looks mighty familiar, doesn't it? And perhaps the sword indicates that an older Michonne is still with him … or perhaps her signature blade has fallen into the younger Grimes' hands.
3. Alternate Universe: It wouldn't be the first time Kirkman's told tales set in an alternate "Walking Dead" universe. Issue #75 came equipped with a tripped-out what-if tale that posited aliens were the real masterminds behind the apocalypse, and the whole "zombies" thing was just in Rick's head. Maybe "Hilltop" and "Survivors" is something similar? Maybe these are stories told in an alternate "Walking Dead" universe, just one possible outcome? Something, however, tells us we're in for a legitimate continuity shakeup.
4. Game On: Perhaps we're looking at the wrong medium. Perhaps "Survivors" and "Hilltop" are new episodes of the "Walking Dead" Telltale game, launching sometime later this year or in 2014. We already know a second season of the series is on its way; perhaps these new titles fit into that plan.
5. Death Is Coming: Okay, that's obvious. Death is always coming to "The Walking Dead." But maybe we're actually on the cusp of losing the one guy we never thought we'd lose: Rick Grimes. Maybe Carl really is about to pick up the banner and lead the way. Or … maybe it's Carl who is about to bite the bullet. Maybe the reason his likeness is used on the Survivors patch is a tribute to a fallen hero.
What do you think is about to happen to the "Walking Dead" universe? Leave your theories in the comments below or on Twitter.