(Spoilers from AMC’s The Walking Dead will be found below.)
No one has been given a bigger task in nine years of The Walking Dead than the one overseeing the exit of its lead character, Rick Grimes. The challenge that faced showrunner Angela Kang was huge: She had to honor Rick Grimes with a fitting exit, and in doing so, she had to use the same episode to maintain fan interest in the series after the departure of Rick. I thought she nailed both aspects of that, but I also thought she magnificently maneuvered an even more delicate situation: She gave Maggie a reason not to kill Negan, which allows the series to keep around one of its biggest players without eliciting the ire of those who have grown weary of Negan and want as much as Maggie to see him die.
Angela Kang crushed it, except for the helicopter coda, and like much of The Walking Dead fanbase, I’m going to scapegoat the episode’s co-writer and previous showrunner, Scott Gimple, for that. I kid, but it’s also probably not far from the truth. “What Comes After” is one of only three episodes in the entire history of The Walking Dead with a “Story By” credit, and it’s attributed to Scott Gimple. Clearly, Gimple outlined the story and left longtime writer Matthew Negrete to work out the details.
In fact, the helicopter coda feels like the work of someone whose job is now Chief Content Officer, and I do wonder if it is part of a bigger storyline or perhaps even part of a plan for a spin-off. Angela Kang and Matthew Negrete created this otherwise perfect episode, marred only by a scene that almost feels out of place, like those scenes in Marvel movies designed to set up future storylines.
Is Rick being taken to a place “far far away” with Jadis/Anne and meeting up with Heath, whose fate was hinted at in this episode, too? Are we looking at the seed for a spin-off called The Walking Dead: London starring Andrew Lincoln and Pollyanna McIntosh (both of whom hail from the UK) and possibly Corey Hawkins (who plays Heath)? Is this how Andrew Lincoln gets his cake and eats it, too?
It’s just a thought, but considering whose fingerprints were all over this episode, I wouldn’t dismiss it completely. Scott Gimple has discussed another spin-off series. With Fear the Walking Dead sputtering and the possibility of it merging with The Walking Dead after its fifth season, and a six or seven year time gap with which to play on The Walking Dead now, I wouldn’t rule out an Andrew Lincoln spin-off set in the UK that takes plays during the years in which Judith is growing up.
As for the rest of the episode, again, it was otherwise perfect. I was skeptical about how well the hallucinatory scenes would play, but the return of Jon Bernthal’s Shane could not have worked better: It felt like old friends reminiscing, and I love that Shane gave Rick sh*t about Judith being his daughter and Rick taking it in stride. The reunion with the late Scott Wilson’s Hershel was incredibly moving, too, doubly so considering that it’s probably Wilson’s last onscreen appearance. Sonequa Martin-Green’s parting words — delivered on a pile of bodies in a scene straight out of the comics — was likewise perfect, a reminder to Rick that they’re all his family, and that he did his part to get them to where they are. They all did their part — Shane, Hershel, Carl, Sasha, Rick — to make the world a little bit better for the surviving members. Meanwhile, Rick’s final scene with Michonne, also a hallucination, was incredibly touching, paying off what was one of the best romances on this series.
The best moment in the episode, however, was a tiny one, and it came right before Rick blew up, when he spotted Maggie, Michonne, Daryl, and others racing toward him. “My family,” he said. It meant that Rick would not die alone (even though he didn’t end up dying), and that his heroic efforts would be acknowledged. He knew before he didn’t die that he was with his family.
Elsewhere, the scene between Negan and Maggie was outstanding. Maggie came into Negan’s prison area more determined than ever to kill him, but she left knowing that “Negan” died after the All Out War. “I came here to kill Negan,” she said. “And you’re not Negan.” Negan put on a tough front, and he tried to bait Maggie into killing him, but in the end, Negan revealed himself to be a sad, pathetic, and broken man who wants to die and be with his wife but who is not strong enough to take his own life. I found myself actually sympathizing with Negan. It was spectacular writing, and it sets up the beginning of Negan’s redemption arc.
Setting up Rick’s departure and giving Maggie a believable out on killing Negan was only half the battle for Angela Kang in this episode, because she also needed to set up “What Comes After.” I don’t know that she could have done it in a more compelling way than to jump ahead six or seven years and zeroing in on Judith Grimes wearing Carl’s hat and the arrival of Magna, which also signals the arrival of The Whisperers.
It was almost too perfect. It felt like part of a grand masterplan, as though Scott Gimple knew that Rick was leaving long before he announced his departure, and that Gimple specifically killed off Carl to accommodate Rick’s exit and a seven-year time jump. I’m not saying there will be another spin-off featuring Rick, but if there is, it makes sense. Rick’s entire family is gone; Shane reminds Rick that Judith wasn’t even his to begin with; and Michonne has been working toward becoming the leader of Alexandria, anyway. If Rick is transported to London of The Walking Dead: Europe, there’s less incentive for him to return to Virginia, but I would not envy the backlash such a spin-off would create. It would be massive, and could potentially kill all of the goodwill otherwise created in this episode.
On the other hand, I’m very excited about the arrival of The Whisperers and Samantha Morton, who will likely arrive before the midseason break.