The Walking Dead
Everything has come down to this for Rick Grimes. In his last episode, titled ‘What Comes After’, Rick is forced to face the past as he struggles to maintain the safety of the communities and protect the future he and Carl envisioned.
It has been nearly a decade since we first watched Rick wake up from his coma and enter a world overran by the dead to find his family. His story quickly catapulted the show to unbelievable levels of popularity, as millions of fans from everywhere imaginable tuned in to watch the ‘Ricktatorship’ violently take on anyone or anything that threatened the group’s survival. Things have changed recently though, after one of the most brutal killings on television by Negan, a war broke out that ended up costing Rick nearly everything. He was once just a man searching for his wife and son in a world far deadlier than anyone could have imagined, but now is tasked with rebuilding that same world while bearing the weight of their deaths on his shoulders.
Going into his final episode, Rick has defeated and locked away Negan, set up a peaceful alliance between communities for economic prosperity, and began forging a path for their own expansion. These are remarkably drastic results from a man who was simply searching for his family, but they delve into the core of who Rick Grimes is and who he truly believes to be his family in this world. In the episode ‘What Comes After’, we find Rick stripped of all these achievements along with the confidence or fear they have imparted on him. He has been returned to where it all began, in a desperate search to find his family. This is a phrase he repeats throughout the episode, as he interacts with some of the previously deceased members through partial unconsciousness while attempting to divert a herd of walkers, it begins to define his struggle for survival.
The actors have repeatedly referred to the episode as their “Wizard of Oz” story, with Shane as the courage, Hershel as the heart, Sasha as the wisdom and Michonne representing home. It’s a near perfect way of describing the episode, but we also get so much more than just these emotions during their interactions. The chemistry between Shane and Rick immediately brought back memories of the first season, but Hershel’s presence was undoubtedly the most emotional. The late actor Scott Wilson delivered a beautiful performance that tugged at our hearts and put Rick’s incredible journey into perspective.
The story of Rick searching for his family comes full circle in his last episode. Limping from blood loss, he struggles do the one thing that has remained on the forefront of his mind since waking up from the coma…find and save his family. The bridge that was meant to be their connection to a larger world becomes his last hope to save what he created. It seems to be a fitting end as Rick finally makes it across the bridge, but the plan fails. The herd of walkers isn’t enough to collapse the bridge, and Rick is forced to do something much more drastic.
At this point, the episode makes the change from being a story about bringing one man’s journey to a close within the series, to opening up an entirely new slate of properties for the franchise as a whole. There are a lot of moving parts in this moment, including Rick’s community showing up just in time to see what is occurring, the dynamite appearing on the bridge and a helicopter making its way to the area. The story needed to bring all of these elements together in one event to springboard the characters into the upcoming time jump; and with the squeeze of a trigger, the franchise exploded into a new realm of possibilities.
Rick’s final words echo the sentiment of his story coming full circle. Just before blowing up the bridge along with himself to save his new civilization, he whispers, “I found them”. This drives home the parallels of his journey from earlier seasons drawn throughout the episode, but what we don’t know at the time, is that it also sets up Rick for something entirely new. He has found his family in Michonne and the other communities, but as Morgan said, “the New World’s gonna need Rick Grimes”!
While the communities that witnessed the explosion are distraught, Rick is whisked away in a helicopter thanks to Jadis, our unlikely hero. He is barely alive and on his way to a foreign world far from those he knows and loves. This sets up Rick’s story to begin once again with a familiar theme…find and save his family. Only this time, his family isn’t simply his wife and son, it is the civilization he left behind.
But remember, this is Rick Grimes’ last episode, and though he flew off into the sunset still alive, our group remains. After the six-year time jump, we are introduced to a familiar sight. A group of desperate people fighting for their life, only to be saved at the last moment by mysterious gunshots. These, however, turn out to be from none other than Judith, aka Lil’ Asskicker! Wearing the sheriff hat once worn by both Rick and Carl, she looks to continue the Grimes legacy in their place. Her reveal is easily one of the most momentous events for The Walking Dead, and will help the show find its heart now that Rick Grimes has been taken away.
With Rick’s final episodes behind us and AMC’s plans to expand on the franchise with new original films, specials, series, and even digital content, we are left to reflect on Rick Grimes’ impact on the legacy of The Walking Dead. His final episode captures these feelings uniquely well, bringing to mind the past, present, and future of the franchise. It was both a beginning and an end, paying homage to the past while opening up a brand-new future. So, when we ask the question “What Comes After?” for a show like The Walking Dead, there might only be one answer…
A hell of a lot.
In a historic moment, Rick’s final episode titled “What Comes After” delves into the past, present and future of not only the survivors and their civilization, but also the franchise itself. What we all believed to be the end of one man’s journey is in reality the beginning of a New World of possibility. This is The Walking Dead, and frankly television in general, at its best.
The Walking Dead: Rick’s Final Episode
Writing - 9/109/10
Storyline - 10/1010/10
Acting - 10/1010/10
Music - 9/109/10
Production - 9/109/10
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