Warning: Mild Walking Dead Season 5 spoilers coming up.
Rick Grimes' beard has become a hairy reference point for the group's grimy unwashed status on The Walking Dead. Ever since the first shoots of stubble started appearing towards the end of Season 1, the beard has gone from bushy strength to bushy strength and is now officially the fifth longest-serving character on the show*.
So imagine the shock, surprise, and no little disappointment when Andrew Lincoln rocked up at the Walking Dead Season 5 premiere party with a chin as smooth as an upturned wok.
So what's the reason for Lincoln's fresh new look and what does it mean for Rick Grimes?
Luckily Lincoln was at hand to explain. And by explain, I mean fib and misdirect:
Either I'm not in the show anymore or there's a flashback where I found a razor... It's an extraordinary and interesting thing that goes down. I can't really go into it because I don't want to spoil it.
So the two options seem to be that either Rick has been killed off or there's some flashback scene to his Sheriff life pre-apocalypse.
However, there is a third - and for comic book readers - a much more logical explanation. Warning, this next bit gets a little spoilery so proceed with caution.
If you've been following the guys over at The Spoiling Dead Fans you'll have noticed that some of the second half of Season 5 takes place in a walled community, complete with church and solar power.
Which in the comics is The Alexandria Safe-Zone. And, unlike the complete lack of empathy on offer at Terminus, is a proper place of sanctuary.
In fact, the Safe-Zone is so well run that each household has running water and electricity. So the real reason Rick Grimes doesn't have a beard later in the show is probably not because he's dead or the character is flashing back to happier times, but quite simply because he has had a shave in his new home and and making most of the amenities on offer.
Probably not the most exciting plot development I know, but I'm sure Lincoln's wife is over-the-moon about it.
But those of you already pining the loss of Rick's grizzly face, don't worry, the beard will be back with a vengeance before long!
The big question: Beard or no beard?