The Walking Dead delivered its much-hyped final episode for Rick Grimes (Andrew Lincoln) this week. I can’t say I’m too surprised that it turned out to be the most disappointing and frustrating episode of the season so far.
What is surprising is that the episode doesn’t entirely focus on Rick, but cross-cuts with other characters separate from him as well. The episode also clocks in at a standard hour with commercials. In the last couple of seasons, an episode like this would have been padded out to somewhere from 70 to 90 minutes, followed by a two-hour Talking Dead afterwards. (That one’s the regular length too.)
I’m also a little relieved that the episode doesn’t exactly play out as I expected, with the entire hour being Rick’s death dream ending with him dying while still impaled on the rebar rod. That said, I can’t say that I’m particularly satisfied with what does happen.
I’ll start with the other characters first.
While driving away, Jadis’ camper (the same one Rick’s group drove in Season 6, I think?) breaks down. Stranded and feeling out of options, she makes radio contact with the mysterious voice she talked to earlier. Jadis lies and claims that she has a “A” and they’re awaiting extraction.
On their way to Alexandria, Maggie and Dianne stop to take out a Walker in the road. Maggie uses this as an opportunity to unleash a lot of pent-up anger, bashing it repeatedly in the head with her crowbar, as if she’s practicing for what she’ll do to Negan.
When Michonne receives word that Maggie has arrived in Alexandria, she immediately knows what’s up and blocks her from entering Negan’s cell. The two women argue about what killing Negan will mean. Maggie insists that he needs to die and they will handle whatever consequences result from it. Not wishing to fight anymore, Michonne hands her the keys and lets her in.
Upon seeing Maggie, Negan works up all of his obnoxious swagger and taunts her about how he enjoyed murdering Glenn. Enraged, Maggie unlocks the gate and drags him out. However, Negan then suddenly turns extremely pitiful, begging her to kill him and put him out of his misery so he can join his dead wife. Witnessing this pathetic spectacle, Maggie has a change of heart and sends him back into the cell. “You’re already worse than dead,” she declares.
The way this plays out feels entirely too convenient and out-of-character to me, and leaves me questioning whether Negan was really just playing Maggie, but the scene ends without confirming that one way or the other.
Michonne is surprised by this turn of events, but they’re interrupted before they can talk about it with news that something bad has happened at the work camp.
Goodbye, Rick (Or, More Accurately, See You Later)
The episode opens in a dream. A bearded Rick speaks to his younger, shaven self in a hospital bed, telling him to wake up. Outside the building window, a swarm of birds changes into a squad of menacing helicopters. (Foreshadowing!)
Rick wakes up on the bar, Walkers closing in on him. He struggles and pulls himself off of it, then manages to climb onto his white horse – which, despite being spooked by the zombies just moments ago, calmly stands around waiting for Rick. As they slowly ride off, the horde follows them. Bleeding profusely from his open wound, Rick fights to stay conscious.
Spotting a mailbox on the road, Rick turns his horse down a secluded path and finds an old cabin in the woods. Two corpses lie inside, long dead (and not reanimated). Rick turns a gross bedsheet into a makeshift bandage, but can’t stop himself from passing out.
Rick dreams of riding his horse into the city of Atlanta, much as he had in the show’s pilot episode, except this time he has a massive horde of thousands of Walkers trailing him. He runs into Shane (Jon Bernthal), and suddenly the two find themselves back at the scene of the original shooting that put Rick in a coma. Shane busts his balls about Judith being his daughter, then tells Rick to find his rage. “This has to get done,” he urges.
Rick wakes up with Walkers nearly on top of him again. He escapes the cabin and again finds the horse calmly standing by, not distressed by the zombies at all. They ride off, leading the herd. Rick murmurs about needing to find his family while continuing to drift in and out of consciousness.
In his next dream, Rick is back at the farm speaking to Hershel (Scott Wilson in his final acting appearance before his death last month). Hershel doles out fatherly advice about how Rick doesn’t actually need to keep his family together. They’re strong enough to manage without him.
After that, Rick finds himself back in the hospital from the pilot episode. He opens and walks through the famous “DON’T OPEN DEAD INSIDE” doors. A blinding white light transports him to an apocalyptic landscape covered in bodies, including many he knows. (The camera doesn’t dwell on any too long, but I definitely saw Maggie and Jesus in there.) Sasha (Sonequa Martin-Greene) stands up to talk to him. She assures him that his job is done and he has accomplished as much as he could.
Rick falls off his horse and comes-to on the ground, back in the abandoned work camp. The horse, finally having had enough, runs away. Walkers approach from every direction. Despite his blood loss and hazy consciousness, Rick is still a crack shot and picks off a bunch of them with perfect head-shots. He trudges to the road and leads the herd toward the bridge that he had previously been so desperate to protect. Before he can cross it, however, Daryl, Michonne, and a huge group of his friends arrive to rescue him and save the day. Michonne gives him a kiss and tells him to fight.
That was another dream, of course. Rick is still alone on the bridge. He crosses to the other side, Walkers following. Expecting the bridge to collapse from the weight of all the Walkers, Rick makes it across and realizes, regrettably, that the structure is holding. If the horde crosses, the Walkers will have a clear path straight to the Hilltop.
As a Walker comes right up on Rick, it’s killed by an arrow to the head – a real one this time. It’s not a dream. Daryl is on the other side of the river, picking off zombies from a distance. Maggie and Michonne are with him. Maggie tries to lead a group to distract the Walkers and turn them back around, but it’s too late. The herd has too much momentum and can’t be stopped.
Looking back at the bridge, Rick notices a crate of dynamite conveniently sitting directly in the middle of it. That seems like a really terrible place for someone to have left volatile explosives. Heeding all the ghostly advice given to him, Rick knows exactly what he has to do. He aims his iconic revolver and fires directly into the dynamite. The bridge explodes in a huge fireball. Flaming zombies pour into the raging waters below. Everyone on the other side of the river runs around in a panic. Michonne screams. Even Daryl cries.
Don’t Trust the B
Somewhere down the river, Jadis sees smoke from the bridge explosion rising in the distance. A helicopter with an “A” painted on its side approaches her location. Worried about what she’ll tell them, Jadis looks toward the river bed and sees Rick washed up on the shore. Improbably, he’s still alive. Jadis radios the helicopter and confesses that she never had an “A” but says she has a viable “B” ready for pickup.
The voice on the other end sounds perturbed in a threatening manner. Jadis begs them to make an exception. After a moment, the chopper lands.
Rick drifts back to consciousness on the helicopter with Jadis hovering over him.
As we watch the helicopter fly away, the scene ends in a dissolve transition to the same field at an indeterminate amount of time later. A group of random people are surrounded by Walkers and fight desperately for survival. Just when hope seems lost, gunshots ring out and take out enough Walkers to make a hole that the people can escape through.
They run to the woods, where they run into a little girl holding a gun. She picks a hat off the ground – Rick’s sheriff hat – and introduces herself as Judith Grimes.
Rick Grimes may have entered The Walking Dead as a cop, but his exit is a pretty big cop-out. (Groan if you must.) Despite promises that this would be Rick’s final appearance on the series, former show-runner (now designated a supervisory role for the entire Walking Dead universe) Scott Gimple announced on The Talking Dead that in fact Andrew Lincoln is not done with the franchise at all. Although he may be leaving the flagship show, Rick will return in a series of TV movies focused on his character’s adventures separate from the rest of his friends. It wouldn’t surprise me at all if he circles back around after that to rejoin them later anyway. This is meant to be exciting news for fans, but I (and I’m sure a large number of other viewers) see it as a huge cheat. We were promised closure for at least this character, but instead it’s just a tease to launch a new spinoff project.
Even more galling is that, as as confirmed by current show-runner Angela Kang, this was also Lauren Cohan’s final episode as Maggie. You would not guess this from watching the episode. While it was known that Cohan would leave the show at some point this season, no exit for her character is suggested at all in this entry. Nor did anyone mention it on The Talking Dead. Apparently, she’ll be written out off-camera in a later episode. Maggie is far too significant a character to be quietly booted off the show like this without so much as a goodbye.
The time-jump at the end seems like it might have the potential to lead to an interesting refresh for the remaining characters and storylines, but I’m not sure that it will be enough to stanch the show’s deteriorating ratings, which are currently hemorrhaging viewers faster than Rick lost blood from the hole in his abdomen. I imagine that this will be a jump-the-shark moment for a lot of disenchanted fans who feel like they’ve been jerked around one time too many.