While Rick Grimes and his gang have spent most of the second half of The Walking Dead's fifth season getting acclimated to the Alexandria Safe-Zone, a subtle but unsettling motif has presented itself: the presence of "W"s carved into the foreheads of walkers, and recurring references to wolves. The Walking Dead has been slowly building up these symbols to an impending collision between our embattled characters and an unknown, vicious force. While things aren't going exactly swimmingly for Rick inside Alexandria right now, it seems like his biggest threat is going to be coming from outside the walls.
Since there are no wolves in The Walking Dead comic books, theories have been abundant as to who they might be: whether an original creation or simply a new name for a group already established in the pages of Robert Kirkman's series. These theories vary from the improbable (that the "W"s are actually upside-down "M"s carved by Morgan) to the more possible (that the wolves are actually The Saviors, heralding the arrival of Negan). But the most sensible theory seems to be that "wolves" is the new name for The D.C. Scavengers, a group of violent roamers who attack Alexandria in the comics. (Upon their arrival at the Safe-Zone, the leader of the Scavengers mutters, "Little pig, little pig, let me in" — a clear reference to the Big Bad Wolf.)
While we await confirmation of the wolves' identity in this Sunday's Season 5 finale, let's take a look back at all the clues that have led us to this point:
This Ominous Graffiti
The warning signs began all the way back in February's midseason premiere. In Episode 9, "What Happened And What's Going On," Rick, Michonne, Glenn, and Tyreese take Noah back to his neighborhood in Richmond, Va. to look for his family. While scouting out the deserted street, Michonne passes by a bit of hurriedly scribbled street art warning, "Wolves Not Far."
Our first glimpse of the soon-to-be-prevalent "W" actually came in Tyreese's zombie-induced fever dream. Look at the odd positioning of the trees in the dying man's memory of the events of the tragic episode "The Grove" (aka the one where Carol told Lizzie to "look at the flowers").
That Truck Full Of Walkers
When Rick & Co. were escaping Noah's overrun neighborhood, their car crashed into a truck... out of which poured countless zombie torsos. At least one of the heads at the letter "W" carved into it, although it was a quick glimpse, and none of the characters seemed to notice.
The following episode, "Them," offered a very subtle reference that only the most eagle-eyed of viewers caught — and then instantly spread all over the internet, of course. Here, the side of a barn glimpsed in the distance is emblazoned with the word "wolves."
That Comic Book
The references continued even after the group arrived at Alexandria. When Carl explored an attic and found a comic book, with "Wolf Fight!" in bold capital letters, promising the season-ending conflict to come.
The Walker Rick, Carol & Daryl Killed:
The first time the characters noticed the "W" walkers was when Rick, Carol, and Daryl were having their in-the-woods confab about stealing weapons from Alexandria's armory. They killed a walker and noticed the letter carved into its forehead, as nonplussed as we were.
This Tied-Up Woman
In Season 5's penultimate episode, Daryl and Aaron were out recruiting when they stumbled across a dismembered body. They found the legs and arms, but the head and torso were missing... clearly a reference to the truck full of zombie torsos discovered in the midseason premiere. Just past the body they found a woman who had been tied to a tree and disemboweled. (By walkers or humans?) When Daryl lifted her head, he saw she was marked with a "W." The dead woman turned soon after — which probably means that all of the "W"s we've seen have actually been carved while the victim was still alive, rather than having been etched into the skulls of the already-undead, as many viewers had previously assumed.
Images: Gene Page/AMC; Screengrab/AMC (7)