Andrew Lincoln’s final episode of The Walking Dead begins with a trippy scene, as present-day Rick stands over pilot episode-era Rick and a True Detective flock of blackbirds zig-zag across the sky in inkblot patterns before turning into helicopters.
Before Lincoln can leave the show with a clear conscious, Rick has to make peace with his ghosts — but not all of them.
Carl is only present in the sense that Rick wants to fortify his son’s dream for their community (and The Walking Dead left such a bad taste in Chandler Riggs’ mouth I’m not even sure the actor would’ve returned to see his TV dad off if he’d been asked). Morgan and Glenn, other figures who played such significant roles in shaping Rick’s life, were left out of the latest reunion episode, though Morgan’s voice can be heard asking, “What’s your wound?” — the same question he first asked Rick when an injured stranger was smacked in the head by his son in the first episode. But Shane, Hershel, and Sasha were there to ease Rick off the show — even though the ending leaves room for a potential cameo appearance or a single-episode arc down the line.
Rick isn’t ready to die. Slipping in and out of consciousness, he forces himself off the metal barb that impaled him and remounts his white horse (a Biblical symbol of the end times). With blood oozing out of his wound, he keeps just far enough ahead of the now combined herds to avoid joining their ranks. As he keeps mumbling to himself, he needs to “keep them safe.” Fighting against flashes from his life that invade his mind, his first stop is a cabin with a mailbox out front that reads “Cardille.” A leaked still image of this mailbox made its way online earlier in the week causing speculation, ranging from a Lori Cardille reference (the actress behind Dr. Sarah Bowman who escaped the zombies of 1985’s Day of the Dead in a helicopter, and also invoking the first name of Rick’s late wife) to an anagram for “Carl Lied.” If this was indeed a moment of foreshadowing, it would seem the former theory is true. (We’ll get to that later.)
Rick bandages himself up as he glances to the skeleton that was the cabin’s former resident. He loses himself in the beams of sunlight shooting through the bullet holes in the walls and sees himself riding his horse with the herd at his back towards Atlanta, a familiar visual from season 1. In the city, he finds Shane. The two recreate their first scene together in the series: eating takeout in a cop car. If it wasn’t for that third man in the shootout, he says, Rick wouldn’t be where he is now. Shane was the source of Rick’s rage and killing him began the Ricktatorship. After once again confirming Judith to be his biological child, Shane calls on Rick to dig deep into that rage again and wake up. Rick opens his eyes to find the herd already invading the cabin, forcing him to flee.
By this time, Maggie arrives at Alexandria with a crowbar in hand ready to kill Negan, but Michonne is already waiting for her outside the prison in the hopes of talking her down. She can’t. Maggie can’t live the way she’s been living anymore and can’t just find a way to turn off her rage over Glenn’s death, it’s not that easy. So Michonne lets her pass. To Maggie’s surprise, she can’t bring herself to kill Negan because it’s not Negan anymore. The once ominous, omnipresent villain tries to provoke Maggie to kill him, but when she brings him out into the light, she sees his tears. He just wants to die so he can be reunited with his wife, Lucille. Maggie realizes Negan is now worse than dead so she locks him back up. Back outside, she and Michonne are informed of what happened at the camp with the battle against the revolting Saviors.
Rick is still riding along the road with the dead at his back when he’s visited by the second ghost, Hershel. With the death of actor Scott Wilson still lingering, the episodes is just as much of a sendoff for his character as it is for Rick. The two men gaze out over a lush sunset from the view at the farm. Rick apologizes for what happened to Maggie and Glenn, but Hershel has hope for his daughter and new grandson. He tries to wake Rick up, but Mr. Grimes is trapped in a delirium, talking about needing to find his family.
(Recap continues on the next page.)