Full spoilers follow for The Walking Dead.
Now that The Walking Dead’s hit us with an unexpected mid-season time jump – the biggest one the series has ever pulled off – we can look back at all the striking skip-overs the show’s done to date.
Leaping six years ahead, Alexandria’s now in lockdown mode, with Michonne, a mother of two, acting as the community’s Head of Security. Judith is now older, carrying the torch of Rick Grimes’ eternal optimism – as well as his trusty hand cannon. And the walkers? They’re behaving strangely. Operating in a more sentient, conscious manner. And… are they actually speaking to each other?
Learn all about The Walking Dead’s Whisperers in the video above.
We’ve ranked The Walking Dead’s time jumps, from the most recent leap to the show’s very first (from the pilot episode). Some are a few weeks, some a handful of years, but all of them came with stark changes to the narrative that helped set the story off in a bold new direction.
What was your favorite Walking Dead time jump? Are you a fan of the multi-year leap the show just took, complete with new and aged-up characters, or do you prefer your jumps smaller and more manageable? Let us know below.
7. FARMVILLE – Season 4, “30 Days Without an Accident” (Several Months)
After the minor fiasco that was the Season 3 finale, where the giant prison battle that everything had been building up to – between Rick’s crew and the Governor’s goons – never happened, a time jump was necessary to course correct and lead everything back to the damn main event title match.
Series writer Scott Gimple had taken over as showrunner from Glen Mazzara (becoming the third showrunner in as many seasons) and knew, as a huge fan of the comics himself, fans were clamoring for the famous tank running over the fence moment. To do this though, he had to create a bit of distance from the events of Season 3. What followed was an unspecified number of months where peace prevailed in the prison and Rick became a farmer.
It’s the only time skip done (so far) so that the show could circle back and cover something it’d missed.
6. RICKTOPIA – Season 9, “A New Beginning” (18 Months)
Season 9 landed the biggest time jump we’d ever seen on the show (up to that point) – a whopping 18 months. Everyone had stopped fighting and the four major communities existed in relative harmony with one another. Though all was not quite right as discord bubbled right under the surface due to most everyone harboring anger and resentment toward the Saviors – who were all still mostly a-holes unworthy of anyone’s mercy.
Given the leap, Maggie was able to be pregnant, give birth, and raise a baby – her son, Hershel – off-screen. Elsewhere, Gabriel found romance, Rick built (and blew up) a bridge, and Aaron lost a limb. Truth be told, given how much of the story dealt so directly with everyone’s buried bitterness after the war, it felt like a tale that could have been told with a much smaller time jump. Maybe even just a two or three month one. A year and a half felt almost like too long a time to sit on so much rage. So this time hop, as big as it was, places fairly low in the rankings because it contained issues that would have/should have been addressed way earlier.
5. GOVERNOR’S BALL – Season 4, “Live Bait” (Several Months)
This is a slight cheat because it’s actually the same Season 3 to 4 time jump as the lowest entry on the list.
Still, it’s the opposite side of the coin, with the episodes “Live Bait” and “Dead Weight” flashing back to the Governor’s travels following his failure to topple the prison and the deadly tantrum he threw afterwards.
The story had to twist itself around a bit in order to not only give the Governor a new crew to run with, but also place himself firmly in control of that group. Enough so that they’d follow him into battle against a bunch of strangers who’d done them no wrong whatsoever. As forced as it felt, the arc still worked to humanize the Governor a bit while still utilizing his talent for recruiting soldiers and followers. It also stands as the very first instance of Rick’s actions coming back to bite him – an idea that will play out on a much larger scale a few seasons later.
4. TAKE NO PRISONERS – Season 3, “Seed” (Eight Months)
The first huge time jump on The Walking Dead bridged Seasons 2 and 3. Skipping over the winter months (as a snow-less show, the series often did this), as well as creating a brand new group dynamic following the fall of Hershel’s farm, the story brought Rick’s renegades to a prison and promptly showed off their survival skills. Everyone had leveled up after the lean and harsh hibernation season. Those who didn’t know how to fight or fend off walkers – like Carl, Maggie, and Carol – could now competently carry themselves in a zombie melee.
This was also the start of an era fans quickly labeled the “Ricktatorship” (which would last up until Negan swung Lucille in Season 7). After Rick was forced to kill off Shane at the end of Season 2, causing everyone to look at him sideways even though it was all Shane’s fault, Rick got super mad, doubled down on his leadership, and told everyone it wasn’t a democracy anymore. Season 3 opened with the gang in full “Rick’s in Charge” mode.
3. RICHONNE – Season 6, “The Next World” (Two Months)
This joyful two-month skip happened smack dab in the middle of Season 6, right after the death and misery filled episode “No Way Out,” and featured an Alexandria, and a Rick, on the rebound.
“The Next World” was one of the show’s lightest and breeziest episodes, sending Rick and Daryl out for some slapstick skirmishes with new character Jesus, and sending Rick into the arms of Michonne, creating an awesome alpha couple for the ages. Just as Rick’s faith in happy endings had been shaken, he found love inside his own home, right under his nose.
2. NEW-DITH – Season 9, “Who Are You Now?” (Six Years)
Season 9’s massive multi-year time leap came with, understandably, a ton of changes. Judith had now grown up to the point where she could be a contributing voice on the show (and a nifty walker-killer at that) while the settlements of Alexandria, Hilltop, and The Kingdom were allowed to just… be. Oh sure, some drama got skipped over, and we’ll presumably discover what all that was about, but no turmoil ever got so bad that it sent these communities into ruin.
This six year jump not only allowed the show to leave Rick in the rear view (while also shielding the character from having to die just yet), but it also offered up a clean break from the entire “All Out War” arc of Season 8. New characters, new enemies, and new adventures lay ahead as Walking Dead gears up for its second major era of storytelling.
1. DON’T DEAD OPEN INSIDE – Season 1, “Days Gone Bye” (Four to Five Weeks)
Yup, it’s near-impossible to top The Walking Dead’s first jump. Not too far into the show’s pilot, Rick Grimes wakes up from a coma and learns the world as he knew it is gone forever. He went from getting shot by a chased-down crook to wandering the halls of a ravaged hospital, wondering where everyone went.
Oh, and also, what’s with all these WALKING DEAD?
The show’s first time blackout created a terrifying zombie-filled mystery as Rick had to explore the new wicked wasteland, searching for his wife and son, while also trying to absorb the enormity of a zombocalypse. Nothing to date has matched the horror of Rick searching buildings, homes, and highways for his loved ones.
For more on The Walking Dead, check out our explainer on The Whisperers, why we won’t be seeing Maggie again this season, why Carl was missing from Rick’s final episode, and what we hope the upcoming Walking Dead movies will be about.