MAJOR Spoiler Warning for Season 9, Episode 5 of “The Walking Dead,” as well as all episodes of the previous seasons. Certain spoilers from the graphic novel series will also be discussed. Minor spoilers from “Fear the Walking Dead” will also be discussed.
“Little things do end, but it’s never the end of everything, because we don’t die.”
The episode has arrived. It has been feared for months. After nine seasons and over 100 episodes, the
end of Rick Grimes’ story is here. All of the major plot points have been building to this moment and the story has been catapulted into the future. Rick may be gone from “The Walking Dead,” but his story lives on.
This episode is trippy as hell. Much like Tyreese’s final episode in Season 5, Rick’s wound that he received at the end of last episode sends him down memory lane. The episode opens up with a hallucination dream sequence of present-day Rick standing over his former self in the hospital bed. A murder of crows flies over a city skyline, clear symbolism of Rick’s impending exit; the crows transform into helicopters and fly straight toward the Ricks. Current Rick tells his comatose self to “wake up” and there is the first of many voice over of former characters asking “what is your wound?” This first voice that Rick hears is Morgan, who asked him the same question in the very first episode of the series. Past Rick awakens and also tells his future self to wake up, prompting the narrative to switch back to reality. Rick is still trapped on the piece of rebar as two major herds of walkers close in on him. Fortunately, he is a resourceful man and he uses his belt to agonizingly pull himself up and off the rebar before crawling back to the traitorous horse that bucked him. The horse slowly saunters forward with Rick on its back as the herds merge and begin following the two down a pathway. This begins an intense and time-sensitive chase as Rick fights to stay alive.
While riding on the back of the horse, Rick slips in and out of consciousness many times. This is an excellent way for the character and the audience to reflect back on his journey through the apocalypse. Flashes of several key locations in his life light up the screen, including the Greene family farm, the crash site from the Pilot and the hospital room where he woke up from his coma. While continuing on the path, Rick spots a mailbox with the name “Cardille” on it and decides to follow the driveway; this name is a direct nod, and also foreshadowing, to the film “Day of the Dead” in which a character played by Lori Cardille is rescued by a helicopter on Nov. 4 (the original airdate of this episode). Rick stumbles into a dilapidated shack, containing two dead bodies and walls blown out by bullets. He takes a moment to bandage his wound, but passes out in a chair and continues on his trip down memory lane. Just like he did at the very start of the story, Rick rides a horse down the abandoned highway into Atlanta, but a herd is following him this time. He makes his way into the empty downtown streets and hears the voice of Lori ask him “what’s your wound?” This episode does an excellent job at paying homage to the show’s history, specifically the Pilot episode; there are several shots that are directly recreated, and remixed to fit Rick’s current predicament.
One of the most important people in Rick’s life is his former partner, Shane Walsh. After being killed off all the way back in the penultimate episode of Season 2, Jon Bernthal reprises his role as Shane for an incredible scene with Rick. The two officers sit in their police cruiser and snack on hamburgers and fries just like they did in their very first scene together. In front of them is the car crash that resulted from the high speed chase that they ended. Dispatch told Rick and Shane that there were only two people in the car, but there was a third…the one who shot Rick; Shane notes that the third criminal changed everything, and he is exactly right. Rick tells Shane that his looking for his family, and Shane pokes fun at the fact that Judith is most definitely his daughter; “she’s got my eyes, don’t she?” he jokes. The night Rick stabbed Shane in the field was the transfer of power, and Shane explains that he is glad that Rick stepped up and did it. This conversation is a rallying for Rick to get back into that mindset and to keep fighting. Shane tells Rick that he has to get back to the version of himself that ripped a man’s throat out, and slaughtered Gareth with the red machete in a church. Rick has to find the rage that he had in those moments. According to Shane, that rage has always been with Rick and it has always been building up. In a terrifying transition, Shane yells at Rick to wake up before the narrative switches back to reality and a walker lunges for Rick. The herd has arrived at the shack and Rick’s rest is over as he is forced to escape by kicking through a boarded up door and getting back on the horse to continue his journey. The ghosts of Rick’s past are urging him to keep moving forward.
This episode isn’t entirely focused on Rick…because another major character exits the series here. Maggie’s time has come to an end…for now. She has some unfinished business to take care of, and she pays a visit to Alexandria to wrap things up. Michonne is continuing her work on the charter and spends time with Judith, who is making a bracelet out of seashells. Scott arrives and alerts Michonne to the fact that Maggie has arrived and has apparently slipped past the guards at the gate; Judith is thrilled to hear that “Aunt Maggie” is here, but Michonne knows what is up. When Maggie arrives at the entrance to the jail cell, Michonne is standing and waiting, and she is not going to let anyone get inside. There is a brilliant conversation between the two leaders as Michonne tries to talk Maggie out of killing Negan, even bringing up the fact that this isn’t something Glenn would want. Their debate hits some heavy nerves as Maggie points out that if Negan had killed Rick instead of Glenn, he would be dead long ago. There is simply no option that Maggie can see where both she and Negan are living, and that is not something she can just get over. Michonne really seems to understand what Maggie is saying and makes a bold move in handing over the keys to the cell.
Stepping into the jail, there is a dramatic tonal shift as Maggie comes face-to-face with her husband’s killer for the first time since that fateful night in the clearing; they’ve obviously seen one another a few times since that night, but this their first time really interacting. Negan taunts Maggie, describing in detail what he did to Glenn, even pretending to forget the name of the man whom he brutally butchered. He states that killing Glenn was what sparked his newfound love of murder. Maggie chillingly tells Negan to get on his knees, turning the table and using his own scare tactic against him. Maggie ultimately backs down from doing the deed after hearing Negan begging for her to kill him. She tells him that she “came to kill Negan, and you’re already worse than dead.” This confrontation has been a long time coming, and it is refreshing to know that Maggie is able to be at peace knowing that the man responsible for her husband’s death is suffering. A year and a half in the jail cell, away from other people and his power, has broken Negan. He’s not the “big swinging dick of the world” anymore. Obviously, it would be understandable for Maggie to just kill Negan right here and be done with it, but that would end his suffering. By him sitting in this cell for all of this time, his is forced to face his worst nightmare: life without his Lucilles. Upon first viewing, this scene felt somewhat out of place in Rick’s final episode. However, the confirmation that this is Maggie’s final episode of the season makes it perfectly fitting for her to have some semblance of closure with the man who has made her life hell for years.
The horseback ride from hell continues as Rick struggles to stay awake whilst the herd follows closely behind. Losing blood, Rick slips out of consciousness once again and appears at one of the most important places in his post-apocalyptic journey: the farm. He hears the voice of Beth asking him “what’s your wound?” before being greeted by his main mentor, Hershel Greene. The farmer stands in his barn, looking out at the fields as the sun sets on the horizon. He calls Rick over to join him and the two share a moment of peace as they are stunned by the beauty of the farm. They embrace in a hug and Rick profusely apologizes for what happened to Hershel, and for what happened to Beth and Glenn. Rick also expresses his sorrow and regret for everything he put Maggie through. This is where Hershel does what he is best at: providing comfort to his people. He tells Rick that Maggie is strong and that his grandson will make her even stronger. It’s been a long and difficult road for Rick, but Hershel states that they will all get to the place of prosperity they have been working so hard to reach. Much like what he said to Carl at the end of Season 2, Rick tells Hershel that he is tired, but this time, he is ready to cross over to the other side. Hershel will not let Rick give up and demands that he wake up. This snaps him back into reality and the fight continues. It is important to note that this is the final performance of Scott Wilson’s career (he passed away on Oct. 6, just hours after his return to the series was announced). It is just so fitting that Wilson’s final portrayal of Hershel is at his beloved farm, helping Rick to make the next step in his journey. The bond that Rick and Hershel share will transcend their time on the show, and will forever remain one of the most fascinating relationships on the show.
Rick’s foray into the dreamworld isn’t over yet. He regains consciousness, only to slip away once again, this time waking up in the hospital from the very start again. The voice of Abraham asks “what’s your wound?” He follows an eerily familiar pathway as he enters a hallway with flickering lights and riddled with bloodstains and bullet holes. He finds the iconic double doors at the end of the hallway, although something is different this time; the doors have the words “
don’t open, dead outside” spray-painted on them. Unlike his first encounter with this frightening sign, there are no walkers locked up behind the door. Instead, he is allowed to enter and steps foot into an absolutely breathtaking scene that is ripped straight from the variant issue 100 cover of “The Walking Dead” graphic novel. Rick stands over a massive field of dead bodies. It is his family. Daryl and Carol are there. So are Maggie and Jesus. Beth and Tyreese also lay strung out before him. From behind him, a familiar face rises from the bodies to bring Rick some much needed clarity. It’s Sasha. She essentially tells Rick that he is not lost, because he did his job just like she herself did and just like everyone who came before them did. Each character in this series serves a purpose and has a role in telling the larger story. What started off as a story of a man in search of his wife and son has grown bigger than any one character. The world these character inhabit has grown and is continuing to do so. Sasha conveys that Rick is not the end of this story. “We change each other. We help each other. We make each other better,” is just one impactful line that Sasha has in her speech to Rick; the other heavy hitter is “I think it always crosses over toward the good, toward the brave, toward love.” Just like what Shane and Hershel did, Sasha shakes Rick back to reality. While these three ghosts of his past certainly gave Rick the motivation to keep going, he still needs to see one last person before its all over.
The cowardly horse thankfully manages to get Rick back to the camp before dumping him and heading for the hills. Rick finds carnage at this joint base of the communities, and several of the survivors have been killed and have since turned. One of those survivors is Kathy from Oceanside, who attacks Rick before he puts her down and is forced to retreat to the bridge as the herd arrives. Rick stumbles and falls to the ground just short of the start of the bridge, but a familiar voice brings hope to the darkness. Daryl calls for Rick and he turns his head, revealing Rick’s entire family running to help him and clear out the herd. Michonne comes to his side and hits him with a moving line “it’s not over, we don’t die.” She lists his his bravery and his unwillingness to give up as the reasons why she fell in love with him. She tells him to fight for himself and the others, pointing to the rest of the group looking on at them. “You’re my family. I found you,” Rick emotionally states before Michonne urges him to wake up, revealing that he was in yet another dream.
He’s alone on the bridge and the herd is still coming. He struggles to cross it and realizes that the weight of the herd isn’t going to bring it down. When a walker lunges for Rick, a crossbow bolt flies into frame and saves the day. His calvary has arrived. Maggie, Michonne, and Carol charge forward to attempt to reach the herd and draw them away from the bridge. Rick looks on and tries to stop them…and Daryl sees this. Triumphant music plays as Rick pulls out his ax and kills a walker whilst Daryl covers him with the crossbow. Rick pulls out his colt python for the final stand. He spots several sticks of dynamite on the bridge and raises his gun slowly as Michonne screams out his name and the music cuts out before Rick utters his final words, “I found them.” He pulls the trigger and the bridge explodes into a fireball of flames and walkers. Those watching are blown back and left stunned by the blast. The reality of it all sets in and the tears start to flow. Daryl is left saddened and Michonne fights to reach her beloved husband, but Maggie and Carol hold her back. The deed is done. Rick Grimes has sacrificed his life to save his family. The screen fades to black as somber music plays.
The episode isn’t over. The story picks up with Jadis/Anne witnessing the explosion from far away. The river beside her is flowing with burned walkers and she notices a familiar figure washed up on the shore. It’s Rick. She radios the helicopter and requests an immediate evacuation, telling them that she has a “B.” In an unexpected turn, Jadis becomes Anne once more as she pleads for the helicopter to land so that she can save a friend, someone who saved her. The helicopter slowly begins to land and the screen cuts to black. A song starts to play and fans are immediately transported to the conclusion of the Pilot episode. Eyes open up and Anne looks directly at the screen telling Rick that he is okay and that she is going to save his life. Rick is going to live. The helicopter and Anne are the unsung saviors of the episode. Just like in the first episode when Rick was saved by Glenn, here he is once again…being saved. The helicopter flies off onto the horizon as Wang Chung’s “Space Junk” plays, just like it did in the Pilot. Where exactly is the helicopter headed? Who are these mysterious people behind the helicopter? That is a story that WILL be told and Rick Grimes WILL be involved. Just after this episode wrapped, AMC confirmed that the story of Rick will continue in a trilogy of AMC original films that will air over the next few years. Andrew Lincoln is signed on for the three films, which will be unique material not attached to the comics and will be set in a different corner of the show’s universe. Pollyanna McIntosh is expected to reprise her role as Anne, and other missing character just might appear, including Corey Hawkins’ Heath, who was confirmed to have been taken by the helicopter crew. Details about these films are scarce at the moment, but this is AMC’s way of expanding the show universe and building the franchise. What will become of Rick Grimes? Will he ever find his way home?
That may be trickier than it sounds. As the helicopter flies off into the unknown, a shot of a field, a treeline and a barn remains on screen. The shot transitions to show that time has passed; trees have fallen, grass has grown, the barn has decayed. A woman charges onto the screen and takes down two walkers with a machete before screaming to her group to run. She joins four others in a field as walkers surround them and they plan to make a stand to fight them off. A woman in the group tackles a walker to the ground and slams her head on a rock. Just when things seem hopeless, gunshots ring out and a young girl yells for them to run towards her voice. They sprint into the forest before stumbling upon a young girl (Cailey Flemming) who asks their names. The leader, Magna (Nadia Hilker), introduces her people one by one as Kelly (Angel Theory), Connie (Lauren Ridloff), Yumiko (Eleanor Matsuura) and Luke (Dan Fogler). Magna asks what the little girl’s name is and she holsters her colt python before picking up a sheriff’s hat and saying “Judith…Judith Grimes.” Lil’ Asskicker has lived up to her name. She downs her father’s gun, her brother’s hat, a katana like her adoptive mother, and a purple plaid shirt just like the woman who birthed her. Six years have passed since Rick blew up the bridge. The world has changed a lot in that time. Judith is now ten years old and out fighting on her own. It’s been nearly eleven years since the dead came back to life and took over the world. All those years later, life perseveres and good triumphs. This is without a doubt the largest time jump in the history of the series. More time has passed in just one episode than in the entire run of the series thus far. This is a new world…and there is a whole lot left to see.
The year 2018 hasn’t been an easy one for fans of “The Walking Dead.” There has been uncertainty about Maggie’s future (which it has now been confirmed that she will not appear in any remaining episodes of Season 9, but could be back for Season 10) and Rick’s exit was confirmed back in May. The whole series has been building up to this episode. There is still a lot of uncertainty in the air as the franchise enters a whole new era. Rick and Anne are gone from the flagship show, but their story will continue. The main series will also continue and from the looks of it, there is a lot of epic story still to be told. This concluding episode for three of the series regulars is fitting (they could have promoted Maggie’s exit more and given her an epic final moment on screen), although it does feel a bit like commercialized fan service with the exit of Rick. If this film trilogy turns out to be a strong continuation of his story, it will likely be worth all of this emotional trauma. This episode features fantastic musical score by Bear McCreary and excellent directing by Greg Nicotero. The performances are out of this world with Danai Gurira, Norman Reedus, Jeffrey Dean Morgan, Pollyanna McIntosh, Jon Bernthal, Scott Wilson and Sonequa Martin-Green bringing their full emotions to the table to create this unforgettable episode. The absolute stars here are Andrew Lincoln and Lauren Cohan as Rick and Maggie. Throughout the years, these two have always brought their A-game, and that is no different here. The series loses their talents, but there is obviously still story to tell for both of their characters. Still, the main narrative marches forward into a whole new direction as the future becomes the present. What awaits our survivors all these years later? Do you hear those whispers?
Be sure to tune into “The Walking Dead” next Sunday at 9 p.m. on AMC.