The Walking Dead
“What Comes After”
November 4, 2018
Let’s start with the B story: Maggie and her mission to kill herself a Negan who needs some killing.
Maggie arrives at Alexandria with enough time for Michonne to get a heads up and position herself in front of Negan’s basement prison. Michonne assures Maggie that she doesn’t want to kill Negan — Glenn wouldn’t want that for her, or Hershel. WHAT WOULD HERSHEL SAY, MAGGIE? But Maggie doesn’t actually give a fuck what her dead father would have to say about anything thank you very much. Maggie points out — correctly — that if Negan had killed Rick instead of Glenn and left Michonne with a child to raise without a father, Negan would have been dead a long time ago. And even Michonne is like, “ALRIGHT, YOU GOT ME THERE,” before asking Maggie if she can live with “what comes after.” Maggie assures her that she most definitely can, thanks.
Michonne allows Maggie into the prison where Negan is like, “FUCKIN’ FINALLY. Let’s do this! Kill me already! Here, let me say some grotesque things about your dead husband I murdered to get you in the mood.” But Maggie doesn’t fall for his nastiness and instead drags him out of his cell so that she can get a better look at him. Once in the light, Maggie sees that Negan is a pitiful shell of the monster in her imagination. He begins sobbing about how he needs to die, that he wants to be with his wife, and she has to be the one to do it. And Maggie finally realizes that forcing Negan to live is a far worse fate than bashing his brains in with a crowbar, and shoves him back into his cell.
Thus ends Maggie’s quest to end Negan’s life.
As for the A story: Rick Grimes’s asshole horse bucked him off and directly onto a piece of rebar at a very inconvenient time — just as two herds of zombies were converging at an intersection. At first, Rick Grimes is blissfully unaware of his predicament, instead, trapped in a dream where Present Rick is telling Coma Rick to WAKE UP. Coma Rick looks out the window to see a murmuration of crows turn into a swarm of helicopters …
… as Morgan’s disembodied voice whispers, “What is your wound?”
Present Rick yells at Coma Rick to wake up again, and Rebar Rick does just that, realizing that he is very fucked. Rick pulls himself off of the rebar using his belt and manages to mount that asshole horse who, even though it was thoroughly spooked by the walkers just two minutes ago, was waiting quite patiently as the herds closed in.
Rick rides off, with the walkers shuffling behind, slipping in and out of consciousness. Eventually, he comes to an old shack (complete with a Necronomicon) where he uses a filthy old tablecloth to tie up his wound and to take another little nap.
This time he dreams of riding back into Atlanta, Lori’s disembodied voice asking Rick, “What is your wound,” and talking to Shane in their old cruiser over hamburgers. Rick explains that he is looking for his family, and Shane is all, “UH, I THINK YOU MEAN MY FAMILY,” which Rick laughingly agrees with, confirming once and for all that Judith is, in fact, Shane’s kid.
Shane also compliments Rick on killing him and ripping that one guy’s throat out with his teeth, and I think he encourages Rick to kill Negan, but since he never uses Negan’s name I can’t know for sure that he wasn’t just encouraging Rick to embrace his rage or something.
Anyway, Shane yells at Rick to “WAKE UP,” just at the same moment a walker is lunging for Rick’s face, and Rick somehow, miraculously, improbably, manages to scramble out of the shed just as the walkers pour in, and gets back on the most patient/most shitty horse in the world.
As he continues to lead the walkers on his horse, Rick passes out again, this time hallucinating visiting Hershel at the farm — WHICH OH MY GOD R.I.P. SCOTT WILSON WHO JUST ACTUALLY DIED A MONTH AGO MAKING THIS WHOLE SCENE EVEN THAT MUCH MORE POIGNANT AND MAYBE MADE ME CRY A LITTLE UGH THIS STUPID SHOW.
Anyway, Rick apologizes to Hershel for what happened to him, to Glenn, to Sister …
… and Hershel assures him that Maggie is strong and her son will make her even stronger. Rick insists that he has to find his family, but Hershel tells him he won’t find them there and that he has to “WAKE UP.”
Which he does — but only for a second. Soon Abraham’s disembodied voice is
calling him a “Motherdick” asking him “What is your wound,” and he’s back in the hospital again …
Disobeying the warning, Rick does open and sure enough, there’s dead inside. A sea of corpses of his friends and family. From among them, Sasha stands up and assures Rick that it’s OK. Yes, they’re all dead, but he, she, everyone has done their part. The dead gave them strength, and now they are giving that strength to others. Or something. Rick says it feels like the ending, but Sasha assures him that it’s not the end because “we don’t die.”
It’s not about any one of them, it’s about everyone and she doesn’t think it just evens out — eventually it will cross over to the good. He doesn’t need to look for his family because they aren’t lost. What he needs to do is “WAKE UP.”
And he does, this time having fallen off his horse at the campsite. Rick shoots the reanimated corpses of the redshirts who died during Carol’s little kerfuffle with the Saviors which only attracts the herd. Rick stumbles his way towards the bridge where SURPRISE! he passes out again. This time in his dream Daryl and Michonne and Carol and Maggie come running to his rescue, and Michonne assures Rick that “we don’t die.”
She reminds him that she fell in love with him because he never gives up before instructing him to “WAKE UP.”
He does, and he walks over the freshly constructed portion of the bridge, hoping that the walkers’ weight on it will collapse it underneath them but HA HA, Dr. Mullet was a better engineer than that, and it holds.
But then! Good news! Just as a walker is about to take a bite out of Rick, Daryl appears and shoots an arrow through the walker’s neck. It seems that word got back to Team Rick that there was trouble at the campsite, and everyone — Daryl, Michonne, Maggie, Carol — all arrive just in time to see Rick take aim with his gun at a box of dynamite and blow the bridge so the walkers can’t cross to the other side and eat all his friends.
“I found them,” are Rick’s “last” words.
Except they’re not at all because while all this was going down, Haircut was busy trying to trick the Helicopter People to pick her and her “A” up. Haircut, of course, does not have an “A,” but she does have a gun and a plan.
But then! Just as the helicopter is beginning to descend to pick her up, she happens to see one very wounded Rick Grimes on a riverbed — a Rick Grimes who, despite being grievously wounded did not die in that enormous explosion.
Haircut announces to the Helicopter People that, akshully, she does not have an “A,” but she does have a “B,” an old friend who once saved her and whom she wants to save. And that’s how Rick Grimes did not die but instead was picked up by a helicopter and flown off to star in three movies which will debut sometime in the nearish future on AMC.
But that’s not all! Then in a postscript, a group of survivors whom we don’t know is surrounded by walkers when multiple shots ring out, opening a space for them to flee into the woods. There, they meet the gunman and their savior, a young girl who introduces herself as Judith, Judith Grimes before putting on Carl/Rick’s hat.
Let’s start with a couple of interesting points before we get to the big question: how you felt about the big Rick Switcheroo. First off, let me just say, I have a lot of mixed feelings about this episode. For instance, I found the repetitive use of “we don’t die” to be both a lovely bit of writing while also sort of infuriating and lazy. On the one hand, “we don’t die” reflects not only this sort of warrior spirit that Rick and Michonne inhabit, but it also suggests this larger idea that Sasha expresses that even when someone passes away in this story, they leave behind effects on others, they change and help each other. And then there is the literal issue of what is it to “die” in a zombie apocalypse, right? On the other hand, hamfisted foreshadowing is hamfisted.
In another example, the helicopter recue sorta feels like a cop-out (we can get to that more in a minute), but at the same time, it’s been foreshadowing Rick’s fate for a lot longer than we might have realized. You probably remember that the helicopter has definitely been hanging around for the past couple of seasons. But I, for one, had completely forgotten this: Rick’s helicopter rescue was actually foreshadowed in the very first season:
And there’s been a lot of talk about why Glenn or Carl didn’t appear in Rick’s hallucinations — which is a fair question. For Glenn, the short answer is that Steven Yeun is done with The Walking Dead and trying (and succeeding) to expand his acting career into more serious territory.
As for Carl, it’s more of a storytelling issue. In his hallucinations, Rick is struggling between just giving up and trying to stay alive to save his family and friends. It’s why Hershel tells Rick that his family isn’t in the heavenly farm — because he needs to stay alive and save them. If Rick had encountered Carl, he would have been inclined to stay with Carl, and then he’d be dead and he’d never save the day and never be rescued by Haircut.
And now for the old switcheroo, the fact that Rick did not, in fact, die in his “last” episode. Let’s call it the Dumpster Play, shall we?
Since this summer, we have been warned that this would be Andrew Lincoln’s final season and I, like most people, expected that this meant 1. he would die and 2. it would happen in the midseason finale, setting up the second half of the season to be about Team Rick dealing with it. Of course, none of this happened — and I’m OK with it. I was genuinely surprised by not only the ending but by the choice to jump so far into the future which helps redirect the focus of the show away from Rick and onto the characters who will shape the rest of the story. It felt like a thoughtful and intelligent way to reboot the series.
All that said, I’m not NOT mad at this episode: it was one long death scene, and it was designed to manipulate our emotions, what with the bringing back the Hershel and the Shane and the emotional exchange with Michonne and with Daryl crying at the explosion.
Only to have the rug pulled out from underneath us with the revelation that Rick lives.
And of course, this isn’t the first time this dumb show has pulled this sort of infuriating twist: there was obviously the Glenn incident with the dumpster, but there was also the entire season we searched for Sophia only for her to be dead in the barn the whole time, and then there was that time Sister was kidnapped and missing from the show for a while only to show up in the hospital and die for NO GOOD REASON.
The point is I can see being angry at storytelling that leaves Rick improbably alive and without resolution to his story. It feels cynical: not only are being emotionally manipulated, but it’s all as a means for AMC to milk Rick’s story for a while longer.
The thing is, The Walking Dead has been shedding viewers for the past couple of seasons, and I don’t know if the decision to whisk Rick away to another corner of The Walking Dead universe was an attempt to keep people hanging on or to expand the franchise or both. But unless the creators are planning on using these movies to do something dramatic, it reeks of desperation. That said, if the creators and AMC are willing to do something dramatic with these movies — namely end the parent series at a particular point in the nearish future — it could be an interesting creative decision.
The creators and AMC have been for years making statements about how they want to keep The Walking Dead universe going indefinitely with multiple projects. The problem is this feels more like a threat than a promise, and the ratings are starting to reflect that, sagging as the storylines began feeling recycled and unfulfilling.
Also, TV has changed a lot in the 8 years since The Walking Dead first debuted. It’s worth remembering that The Walking Dead premiered in the same year that Lost ended — a show whose exit strategy The Walking Dead should model itself after before its too late. Before Lost, networks kept popular shows on the air for as long as people were willing to watch, storytelling be damned. However, the creators of Lost knew that they couldn’t drag the mysteries along forever. In an unprecedented decision for a network series, the showrunners asked the network to end the series after six seasons and asked for shorter episode orders. They wanted to tell a story and they wanted to end it on their own terms.
The Walking Dead, in contrast, is based on a comic book series, and has material that can carry them through several more seasons — and, potentially, indefinitely or until the rating completely bottom out. But should it? In an era with more TV options ever previously imaginable, there are going to be fewer and fewer people tuning in to The Walking Dead to watch people wander in the woods, almost getting bitten by zombies and arguing about whether or not they should trust certain people. There are only so many times you can tell these same damn stories.
But! If they are smart, they will use these three Rick Grimes movies to tell a parallel story to the series and culminate with a series finale in which the Grimes family is finally reunited. Look, there is no natural ending to this particular zombie story. The creators long ago decided they weren’t interested in exploring what caused the apocalypse, so it’s not like they can answer that with a cure or an end to the apocalypse. The only way they can now satisfyingly end this particular series is to give the hero of the show a happy ending of one sort or another. Otherwise, the show will aimlessly and pitifully just shuffle off into pop culture history, lamented as a once-good series.
So here’s to hoping this Dumpster Play is actually part of larger plan to end The Walking Dead sometime in the next two or three seasons.
The Walking Dead airs on AMC on Sundays at 8/9 p.m.