Sunday night’s episode of The Walking Dead was many things, but one thing it was most certainly not?
The final episode of Rick Grimes. Andrew Lincoln may indeed be taking a lengthy hiatus from the role, but the way this episode ended all but ensures that someday, in some form or another, he’ll be back.
He got to the chopper, after all.
I’m okay with this, even though AMC was, once again, playing a little fast and loose with the truth. I suppose they never said he’d die. And I suppose that in the big scheme of things it’s best that he didn’t. But it still feels a little shady to make this all an enormous headfake.
As far as episodes go, this is one of my favorite of the entire series. Rick uses a belt to pull himself free of the rebar, clamber onto his white horse, and trot off ahead of the zombie herd. He takes them on a merry chase, and along the way he meets old friends, though each of his ghostly visitors is only there in his mind’s eye.
We get a truly wonderful moment with Shane (Jon Bernthal) and Rick, sitting in their sheriff’s car and talking like the good old days. Shane reveals that Judith was his all along, though since this is all in Rick’s head we still don’t know for sure. But Rick, it would seems, believes deep down she isn’t his.
Then Rick has a nice talk with Hershel, staring out at a farmland paradise. His old mentor and moral compass is as wise as ever. RIP Scott Wilson.
Each time these conversations end with the ghosts of his past telling him to “Wake up!” and he does, dragging himself from his stupor. He can barely ride. He finds shelter in a little shack, but soon the dead return. He makes his way to the bridge camp, where he takes out newly minted zombie Saviors with his revolver. Even staring down the jaws of death, Rick’s no slouch with a gun.
He walks through a field of the dead, a comics-inspired image where all his loved ones have already shuffled off this mortal coil. In perhaps one of the more bizarre moments of the episode, it’s Sasha (Sonequa Martin-Green) who rises from the corpses to tell him he needs to let go (and later, that he needs to “Wake up!”) This was the one odd moment of the night. Rick and Sasha were never close in the way that Rick and Shane or Rick and Hershel were.
Perhaps they couldn’t entice Steven Yeun or Chandler Riggs. I would have preferred, for symbolism’s sake, that Rick had met himself in that field of dead. Perhaps that would have been redundant; after all, he does meet himself in that Atlanta hospital bed from long ago earlier in the hour.
The last of his ghosts of Christmas past is Michonne. He’s at the bridge and sees all his friends running toward him, past him, clashing with the dead, bringing them to their gory ends. Michonne stops and embraces him, tells him he’ll be okay. Tells him all the right things as all his friends stand around like victorious mannequins.
“This isn’t real,” he says.
In the end, his friends do show up, but they’re too far away to help. The walker herd is already halfway across the bridge. Michonne and the others race to the other side, to fight the dead, to distract them from Rick. He doesn’t want them to. He wants to blow the bridge. Only Daryl understands. Daryl holds back and picks off lone walkers, buying Rick some time.
Rick draws his revolver and steadies his aim. The camera follows Michonne as she runs through the trees, all her friends around her, desperate to get their first.
He pulls the trigger and the bridge goes up in flame and debris, and Rick with it. Or so it seems. Michonne is screaming. Daryl weeps, turning from the carnage. Rick is dead.
They all saw it with their own eyes. Zombies burn and fall into the river. Rick, already on death’s door, bleeding from a wound that’s bound to go septic soon, would have almost certainly died even if he hadn’t blown himself and the dead to kingdom come.
Then we cut to Jadis/Anne, who waits for her helicopter ride nearby, no A or B in her possession. She sees the zombie barbecue, charred flotsam in the river. Then she sees Rick, collapsed on the bank. She gets on the radio and tells whoever’s on the other end that she has a B, not an A. A friend who needs help. I suppose A’s must be enemies, or victims who she’s supposed to infect before pickup, and B’s must be those humans they want alive and well. I’m still not entirely clear on all of this.
They grudgingly agree and the next thing we know, Rick is being carried off in the helicopter, Jadis above him telling him he’s alive, he’s going to be okay. AMC was just kidding all along.
Maggie & Negan
The second plot, the one that in many ways precipitated this one, involves Maggie arriving at Alexandria, and Michonne trying—for a moment only—to dissuade her. Maggie tells her she has no choice. She can’t live with this anymore, with Negan alive and Glenn dead and no vengeance to slake her grief and rage. So Michonne lets her pass.
Negan taunts her from within his cell. He gloats over Glenn’s death. He does everything in his power to piss her off, to make her kill him. And when she hesitates, when it seems she might not do the deed, he breaks down into wretched sobs. He begs her to end him.
So that he can be with his family again. So that all of his misery can end. Being alive, it turns out, is much worse for Negan than being dead. Alive and caged with his thoughts. Maggie doesn’t so much take pity as realize that the best revenge she can exact is to leave him alive.
For a moment I thought maybe he was tricking her. But there’s no indication he was. There’s no reason for him to taunt her so brazenly if he was trying to trick her into letting him live; she could have shot and killed him the moment he bragged about Glenn’s murder.
I still see no real path for Negan’s redemption after what he’s done. Sure, Rick’s done bad things, too. Everyone has. But Negan was a brutal dictator who burned peoples’ faces off, kept a rape harem and bashed Glenn and Abraham’s brains in. You don’t come back from all that.
The Time Jump
Finally we come to the time jump. Another one. A bigger one. After Rick’s ordeal and miraculous rescue, we cut to a field where several new characters are being hunted down by walkers. They fight, and they fight well, but soon they’re surrounded. The end is nigh.
Then shots ring out and zombies start falling, cleaving a path to freedom. A child’s voice rings out, calling these newcomers to safety. They run into the woods where a young wisp of a girl stands. She has a revolver and a small sword. She has a cowboy hat. “Who are you?” they ask.
“I’m Judith,” she replies. “Judith Grimes.”
Suck on that, Shane.
This was one of my favorite episodes of The Walking Dead period. It didn’t all work perfectly without some leaps of faith and without suspending some disbelief. It was convenient that Jadis was right there at just the right place and just the right moment. But then again, they’ve been working toward Jadis’s departure for some time. This wasn’t so much a deus ex machina as well-established plot threads weaving together at just the right moment.
I’m still startled by how much better the production has gotten. The camera work and cinematography is better than ever. The music choices really add to the whole viewing experience, whether ratcheting up the tension or, in the case of the funky beat that accompanied Rick’s aerial escape, just getting us pumped at his survival and what exactly that means.
What does it mean? I don’t think we’ll see Rick for a long time. It’s going to be weird. He’s gone and the mystery of where he’s been taken to and why he hasn’t come back will haunt us. Everyone in his life other than Jadis thinks he’s dead.
It’s like a whole new show is about to begin. Maybe I’m wrong, or too hopeful, but it’s like this bigger (5 year?) time-jump is paving the road toward a brand new show. Or, if not entirely new, then a wholly new chapter that’s left the rest of these various stories long behind. Five years into the future, everything will be different. Many of the younger characters will have been recast, will have grown up their entire lives in the apocalypse. We can dispense with all the minutia of creating a new society and just skip ahead to see what it’s like.
I’m excited, for the first time in a long time, to see what The Walking Dead will do. And I’m glad they didn’t kill Rick. I thought I wouldn’t be. I thought it would feel like a cheap shot. And maybe it is. But I’m still glad.