Warning: Full spoilers for Rick’s final episode of The Walking Dead follow…

Hey, that was pretty damn good! And what a nice bit of misdirection during those final minutes too.

Look, I have a lot of questions, as I’m sure you all do too. Most of them have to do with the massive time jump that came at the end. What was that leap? Like, five or six years? That’s the sort of time jump this show needed. But I’ll dive into the jump at the end.

Yes, little did we know that this episode wasn’t just Rick’s farewell, but also a ghostly goodbye to this entire storyline of Walking Dead in general. Because the jump at the end basically, when you break it all down, equals the entire numbers of years we’ve spent in the zompocalypse with all these characters.

I think most of us, generally, had a good idea of what this “final episode” would be, especially since the same ghoulish introspective treatment was given to Tyreese back in “What Happened and What’s Going On” in Season 5. In fact, seeing as how Rick more or less got almost the same farewell package, Tyreese’s exit now feels a bit overbooked. Like, really? I enjoyed the Tyreese episode but he got a whole hour to talk to phantoms (complete with dead characters returning) and reflect on things too?

Anyhow, Rick’s journey was able to slyly skirt this convention in the final beats because – well – he didn’t die! That’s huge. Confusing geography aside (I knew Rick would cross Anne’s path somehow, even though I don’t ever know where anyone is really), “What Comes After,” made for a good, gripping final trek for Rick, as he slogged through the Virginia forests with an oozing gut wound in an attempt to stay ahead of a hungry herd and make it home to his family. Along the way, the show had to create an environment that, more or less, gave Rick permission to leave the show. To abandon this world.

Just to get my few gripes out of the way up front, it’s a shame that neither Sarah Wayne Callies or Chandler Riggs made it back for this one, as their ghosts, especially Carl, were sorely missed. Secondly, I loved seeing Sonequa Martin-Green back as Sasha (in that dead body landscape nod to Walking Dead’s 100th issue from the comics), but don’t have her go on last. Not when the opening acts were Jon Bernthal’s Shane and (the late) Scott Wilson’s Hershel. I know, I know. Technically, the last hallucination Rick saw was of Michonne, when it seemed like the entire cavalry rushed in to rescue him on the bridge, but Sasha was the final dream that we knew was a dream. All I’m saying, is that I would have flipped things around a bit. She wasn’t that personally important to Rick as a character.

And yes, my eyes welled up watching Wilson in that eerily prophetic scene.

The messaging here, even though Rick survived the entire ordeal, was that Rick could die because everyone who dies is a building block that helps everyone else grow stronger. Everyone who sacrifices themselves is part of a grand foundation for the new world. It’s not up to one person. It actually echoes what Daryl was talking about last week, about how Rick needed to trust in his friends more than he’d been doing. Yes, it sucks that Carl didn’t get to see things improve, and Rick (we assume) doesn’t get to see the actual ass-kicker Judith grows up to be, but a brand new society can only be fueled by hardship, loss, and grit.

The greatest hits tour was effective and well-earned – from Rick and Shane’s car conversation to the hospital room where Rick took his sweet ass time with a coma to the overhead shot of him riding the horse into Atlanta (now with a herd on his heels) – all of it creating a running stream of suspense. Hell, they even played that damn Wang Chung “Space Junk” song from the pilot when Rick was leaving in the helicopter (the only thing I decidedly did not like in the first episode). Naturally, I never expected Rick to not die. That was a rollicking rug pull. I was mostly focused on whether or not he’d get to see Michonne. And he did (and didn’t).

The “Rick not dying” part was an interesting twist because, basically, we all assumed he would. When you’re told someone’s leaving a show like The Walking Dead, and that person is the lead character, you never think that they’re just going to leave. Because that would mean the show, after nine seasons, would make an oddball creative choice to not follow Rick wherever he went. If Rick’s the show, then just keep tracking him, right? Well, that’s where the big jump (and the newly announced Rick movie plan) comes into play. That was the “Ingredient X” that allowed this episode to really stick the landing.

Now, looking back at everything that happened, knowing that this chapter was closing off all the ongoing storylines, Maggie’s time with Negan was a bookend too. She was confronted with Negan as a pathetic shell of his former self, longing to see his dead loved one, and she wound up sparing his life. Yes, it felt a little “TV high and mighty” for Maggie to choose the righteous path here, but again, this was a wrap-up. It was shutting this avenue down for good. We weren’t getting any more of Negan, the war, or Maggie’s hateful heart after this episode.

This is why the giant time jump at the end felt so great. Not only did we get to meet five fresh faces – Nadia Hilker, Eleanor Matsuura, Dan Fogler, Lauren Ridloff, and Angel Theory as comic characters Magna, Yumiko, Luke, Connie, and Kelly (well, six fresh faces if you count new Judith) – but we got to leave the war behind. The 18 month time jump heading into this season was good, but the entire story still dealt with all the icky aftermath of that Savior saga. There was no clean break. It was all aftermath. What’s more, it seemed strange that none of these issues ever came to a head in the year and a half we skipped over. No one brought any of this s*** up by month two or three? Oceanside didn’t start killing off Saviors until right now?

So this big move away from the entire story at the end really feels like the best kind of band-aid rip. If we’re expected to keep watching The Walking Dead without Rick, then give us a full shedding of the past. Especially since, with ratings dwindling, it seems like a lot of fans may view Rick’s exit as their own personal exit too. If that’s the case, then why not give everyone a new crew to follow, while presumably having a bunch of the old guard now there as the literal old guard?

All hail NEWDITH!

She might need to work on her scowl a bit, but is wasteland warrior Judith trying to give Telltale’s young Clem a run for her money? Because she’s got Rick’s hand cannon, an adorable mini katana sword, and the hat all at her badass disposal.

Now, for the questions. Oh so many questions.

  • Where did Anne take Rick?
  • Are all the communities still standing? Judith’s there, so we can assume Michonne is nearby, somewhere, but what about everyone, and everything, else?
  • Did Daryl ever come out of the woods? You know Daryl. Once he starts to mope it’s hard to wrangle him out of it. After everyone assumes Rick dies, Daryl shuffled off into the wilderness. Did he go full hermit?
  • Is Negan still rotting in prison or has someone let him out by now? Given that Maggie only spared him because he’d become such a shrunken specimen in jail, you’d think she’d probably like to keep him that way.
  • Are Carol and Ezekiel married?
  • Are Maggie and Michonne the new co-leaders of everything, as the heads of their respective communities?
  • Is there a new wee one to take care of? Was Michonne pregnant when we last left things?

The Verdict

Gripes about the placement of ghosts aside, “What Comes After” was a splendidly sad and solid send-off for Rick Grimes – complete with a one-two (three?) punch twist in the final moments. After Rick spending so many years trying to make the world better for his son, and then trying to honor the memory of his son, the show figured out a way to let him off the hook, allowing him to chopper off into the sunset.


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