(Spoilers from AMC’s The Walking Dead will be found below.)
This post is for those who may have stopped watching The Walking Dead and want to know how Rick exited from the series, or for those who are still watching The Walking Dead and simply want to understand what the hell happened at the end of Andrew Lincoln’s final episode, “What Comes After.” Unfortunately, while we’re happy to provide the answer to the first question, we are left scratching our head about the ending, though we do have some information and a couple of theories.
In last week’s episode, in a callback to the pilot episode of The Walking Dead, Rick fell off his horse and landed in a pile of concrete and a piece of rebar punctured him through the stomach. This week’s episode begins with him still lying on the rebar with two hordes of zombies converging upon him. Using his belt and wrapping it around rebar above him, Rick manages to pull himself free of the rebar, though he experiences considerable pain. He also escapes the zombies, jumps on his horse, and slowly makes his way back to the camp.
There, Rick discovers that a number of people are dead. He picks off a few zombies with a gun he finds, and then he stumbles bleeding back toward a bridge the Saviors had been building. The hope is that the weight of the zombie horde will cause the bridge to collapse and the zombies will fall into the river. Unfortunately, the bridge holds. Maggie, Michonne, Daryl and others arrive, but they can’t get through the zombies and to Rick to rescue him. Daryl manages to kill several zombies with his bow and arrow from a distance before they kill Rick. In the meantime, Rick shoots at a box of dynamite on the bridge, blowing it up along with himself, saving Alexandria in the process.
It is an incredibly powerful scene in the context of the episode. Before he makes it to the bridge, Rick passes out and hallucinates moving conversations with Shane, Hershel, and Sasha. Meanwhile, Michonne loses it trying to get to Rick before the explosion, and when the bridge blows up, it’s the look of heartbreak on Daryl’s face that broke me. For anyone that has watched this show for nine years, it’s almost impossible not to get a little broken up by Rick’s death. It feels like the end of an era, and if the episode had ended with Rick dying in the explosion, I think it would have been a powerful, almost perfect conclusion.
… except that Rick doesn’t die, either from the rebar puncture or the explosion. As the helicopter that Anne/Jadis summons approaches her, Anne stumbles upon the body of Rick, barely clinging to life. “I have a ‘B,'” she radioes to the guy in the helicopter. “He’s hurt but he’s strong. Can you help him? … I’m trying to save a friend, a friend who saved me.”
The helicopter picks Rick up. When he opens his eyes, he sees Anne, who says. “You’re still here. You’re going to be OK. We’re going to save you.” Rick’s eyes flutter as the helicopter flies away with him inside.
Where is he going? Good question! And the answer is, we don’t know, exactly. Based on a conversation that Anne had with Father Gabriel, we know it’s a place “far, far away,” where “things can be different,” and where her and Gabriel could have had a “life like you can’t imagine.” We also assume that it’s the same place that Heath is now for reasons explained here.
Does that mean that Rick is coming back? Maybe. But not anytime soon. My guess is that The Walking Dead is keeping Rick alive so that he can reunite with the surviving members of The Walking Dead several seasons into the future, and perhaps even in the series finale. It would be a nice way to end the series, but it takes some of the impact of Rick’s exit away from this episode. It’s not exactly a cop-out, because as far as everyone remaining believes, Rick is dead. He died in the explosion. But he’s still not dead.
For this to succeed, however, it must also mean that Anne is no longer on the show, otherwise she could tell everyone that Rick is still alive, and Michonne would spend the rest of her life trying to track him down. Anne’s fate, however, quickly becomes an afterthought, especially after The Walking Dead ends the episode with a time jump six or seven years into the future where we meet a 10-year-old Judith Grimes wearing Carl’s hat. More on that here.
One other possible theory that is more likely than you might think? Rick may get his own spin-off series.