Time is an elusive beast on AMC's The Walking Dead. Despite that, with each season, Carol's gray locks get longer, Rick's beard gets wilder, and Daryl gets greasier, the passage of time is vague, and can feel like an eternity, especially when we're stuck on Hershel's farm (that was, like, three issues in the comics, guys). It might seem like a fruitless endeavor to try to apply logic to a television drama set in a world populated by walking corpses, but with the time jumps the series took this season, we're deadly curious about what year it actually is in the post-apocalypse.
We're pretty certain the story opens in 2010, the same year the series debuted. However, beyond that, the year gets difficult to pin down. We've gotten some clues about how much the time has elapsed between seasons, but the biggest confirmation came in September, from the drama's official Twitter account, which placed the events of Season 8 a little less than two years after the injury that left Rick Grimes in a coma. That mean the "All Out War" storyline occurs in 2012. It also means Carl Grimes was only about 12 years old at the time of his death.
Now, in the comics, where Carl is very much still alive, that timeline checks out. When we first meet him in the second issue of Robert Kirkman and Tony Moore's comic, he's about 9 years old. With the pacing of the show and the comic being rather similar (again, except for the purgatory of Hershel's farm on the TV show), the fact actor Chandler Riggs aged appropriately over the course of eight years -- like, you know, a normal human -- makes his physical stature and obvious near-adult age in latter seasons a huge shock in hindsight.
If it's 2012 when the war with The Saviors winds down and the fallout of the losses begins to be felt, the 18-month time jump between seasons 8 and 9 places us somewhere in the neighborhood of 2013 to 2014. But Season 9 loves time jumps. After Rick's departure in the fifth episode, the timeline leaps ahead about six years. We see Judith go from a toddler to a preteen. By all indications, that brings the events of The Walking Dead somewhere around the present day. However, as straightforward as the most recent jump may seem, there have been anachronisms on the series that muddy the waters.
For instance, a Reddit user spotted a tattered magazine in a Season 5 episode with a publication date of April 2013, which to a cynic would imply that either the printing press is still up and running, or that the first season of The Walking Dead took place in the near future. There have also been some late-model cars spotted from time to time, which only adds fuel to the debate about when the show is set.
But those little snafus are simply minor oversights in production; they happen across all media. The aforementioned examples would be akin to one of the soldiers in The Hurt Locker watching a YouTube video in 2004, a year before the site launched. It's not nearly as careless as putting men in kilts in Braveheart or the myriad other inaccuracies that fill what's presented as a historical film. After all, The Walking Dead is basically a soap opera with zombies. We can cut it some slack.
So, in which year does The Walking Dead take place? Based on the evidence provided, 2019 is the best bet, at the moment. That's despite the stray anachronism and aging actors.
That said, what might be the most disconcerting thing about the passage of time on the drama is how quickly society has devolved into tribalism and outright savagery. People thrive on having some sort of order, even if that's under the heel of a baseball bat-wielding, foul-mouthed tyrant. But, hey, if some people didn't become iron-fisted rulers like The Governor and Negan or whack-a-doodles like The Wolves and the The Whisperers (you'll see), would we even have a story worth telling in any era?
Returning Sunday, Feb. 10, at 9 p.m. ET/PT on AMC, The Walking Dead stars Norman Reedus, Melissa McBride, Danai Gurira, Jeffrey Dean Morgan, Josh McDermitt, Alanna Masterson, Seth Gilliam, Ross Marquand, Khary Payton and Christian Serratos.