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'The Walking Dead' And The Evolution Of Rick's Beard

The scruff tells its own story.

Even before Andrew Lincoln confessed to MTV News that he'd been growing a veritable facial forest for the upcoming season of "The Walking Dead," it was pretty clear just from looking at him that the next chapter in Rick's story is all about that beard, 'bout that beard. (No stubble.)

The series' headliner, who has long sported traditional action-hero scruff in varying artful degrees, was definitely looking bushy 'round the jaw when we caught up with him on set, where his face was like one big spoiler alert for awesome beardedness in Season 5.

The only problem: we'll probably have to wait awhile to see the big beard in action. Even accounting for the possibility of time jumps in the series' plot, a pouf like that takes at least a couple months to develop. So, while we enjoy the anticipation of seeing Rick's jawline slowly vanish into a wooly wilderness, let's look back at the evolution of his beard over the course of four seasons.

Pre-zombie-apocalypse, Rick preferred a smooth, clean-shaven look.

Exiting the hospital with a month's worth of coma scruff, he realized with great distress that a hot shave and haircut was probably out of the question.

But despite the minor setback of the world having ended, Rick managed to keep his face pretty well deforested throughout Season 1...

...until he learned the truth about the zombie virus at the CDC, at which point a five o'clock shadow fell over his face, and his soul.

Halfway through the stay at Hershel's farm, Rick had fully embraced a scruffier look -- possibly as a show of alpha-male dominance over the newly-shorn Shane. (See, Lori? Testosterone galore over here!)

And after tragedy struck at the prison, Rick simply lost all interest in shaving. Also, bathing, fighting, and sanity.

When Rick turned to farming and away from leadership, his one-time ambitions of being a hero became as obscured by time and tragedy as his chin-dimple was obscured by hair.

But somewhere on the road to Terminus, that increasingly salt-and-peppery scruff began to seem less like a badge of aimless depression, and more like an intentionally-cultivated grizzle.

And then, Rick discovered that the ol' soup-catcher was quite the handy apparatus if you'd just enjoyed a nice meal of neck, but wanted to save a little bit of the blood of your enemies for later.

Which brings us to the start of a brand new season, where we can hope that Rick and his beard are officially back in gang-leading, zombie-killing business...

...and that by Christmas, we'll all be walking in a wooly winter wonderland.

Here's to Rick's beard... Recently shaven, but never forgotten:

Michael Stewart/WireImage