After nine years, it was finally time for Rick Grimes’ much-anticipated departure from The Walking Dead, but “What Comes After” managed to confound expectations…
After last week’s installment, things looked very grim for Rick, as he lay impaled and surrounded by an encroaching zombie horde. But his number was far from up, as he found the strength to heave himself off the rebar stuck through his side, and up onto the most patient horse in the world, to lead the legions of dead away from the various settlements.
As he rode, pursued by the hungry, shuffling mob, Rick dipped in and out of consciousness, meeting characters from his past, all of whom had a message for him. Of course, the first encounter Rick had was with himself in the hospital bed where he woke from his coma to find the world as he knew it had ended, so as well as bringing us full circle, this scene indicated Rick would be confronted by various aspects of his psyche as the blood loss and agony took their toll.
First up was Shane, Rick’s former best bud and Judith’s biological father. Shane goaded Rick about searching for his family, pointing out that Judith was really Shane’s family, and taking credit for pushing Rick into the rage and violence which had enabled him to survive all this time. Each hallucination ended with Rick being told to wake up, and the segues between dreams and reality were some of the finest and most creative shots of the episode. Shane turned into a walker just as Rick was about to be bitten in the real world, and provided a genuine scare.
Next was Hershel – a scene made more poignant by the recent death of actor, Scott Wilson. Rick apologised to Hershel for the deaths of Beth and Glenn, and for the fact he and Maggie were at odds. Hershel’s kind counsel and reassurances in the barn at sunset, dissolved into tender, ghostly hands propping Rick up on his mount just as he was about to slide off into the maws of the horde – one of the most beautifully effective devices I can remember seeing on this show.
Sasha was the fourth vision, standing atop a mountain of corpses, and although we didn’t actually see Carl, or Lori, or Glenn, or Abraham, the implication was that Rick was surrounded by everyone he’d said goodbye to along the way. Sasha’s insistence that Rick had never truly lost his family because everyone he’d known had played their part, and that the balance would always shift back towards good, bravery, and love seemed incredibly pertinent in the current climate, and while Sasha may not have had the bond with Rick that the others shared, Sonequa Martin-Green did an excellent job imbuing her speech with fitting emotion.
Having led the zombies to the bridge, preparing to destroy the symbol of his hope for the future in order to save the communities he’d failed to bring together, Rick slipped under once last time, and came face to face with Michonne, Daryl, Carol, and Maggie. Although he knew Michonne’s kiss wasn’t real, it gave him the final burst of fight to wake and find that his friends really were there to witness his last stand. The inevitable destruction of the bridge was hardly shocking, but the cascade of flaming biters falling into the river was pretty spectacular.
If anyone says they saw that ending coming, I’m pretty sure they’re lying! Who’d have thought Jadis would have been Rick’s salvation, although who knows what will become of him when he arrives at the mysterious new settlement. I completely understand why some might feel that having Rick survive was a cop-out, but with Andrew Lincoln signed up for three spin-off movies, it seems there is more mileage in his character and his story. Part of me wishes they’d had the audacity to have him bleed out after a freak accident, but I’m glad his exit wasn’t predictable.
The B-story this week finally saw a resolution to the Maggie and Negan situation. Having made it to Alexandria armed with a crowbar, Maggie had to face off against Michonne to gain entry to the jail. This scene was nicely done – simmering with tension between the two women but not drawn out. Michonne caved when she realised Maggie was desperate, and that living with the consequences of her actions would be preferable to living with Negan alive. But once inside, Maggie saw through Negan’s attempts to provoke her into killing him, revealing him to be a broken man, and she finally understood that leaving him in the cell was a worse punishment than ending his life.
The biggest surprise of this episode though, was undoubtedly the final sequence, which saw the action jump forward a considerable number of years into the future. With Judith now a paid up zombie-slayer, and some fresh faces in the cast, this total reboot might be the shot in the arm the show needs. The first few episodes of this season have demonstrated that it’s not afraid to take risks, so let’s hope this bold move pays off.
Final Grade: B
+ Daryl once again showed real depth of feeling, and his tears were a suitable and nuanced farewell to the end of an era.
+ Whether or not you approve of the twisty directions this episode took, it certainly kept us guessing.
+ Hopefully older Judith stays badass because that ending was absolutely insane, and I approve.
– I’m sure many feel cheated by Rick’s comeback potential.
– Negan’s breakdown seemed a little easy. I hope it transpires he’s playing Maggie to secure his safety.
– There were some notable absences from the cameos, which seemed a shame.
Extra Thought: I wonder how the next episodes are going to deal with practicalities such as ageing for the younger cast members who can’t be given extra grey hairs or a bigger beard…
What did you think? Are you excited for life after Rick? Or is this the end of the road? Sound off in the comments or over on Twitter.