Be warned! This review will cover aspects of the episode. Spoilers will lurk like groaning walkers…
When confronting the proposition of saying goodbye to the main character, shows have a variety of options to choose from in terms of how they plot the swan song. The Walking Dead team chose to take a trip down memory lane, which can be tricky to get right. And while What Comes After mostly pulled it off successfully, the end still feels a little bit like a cheat, suffering from a surfeit of near-death experiences for our weary Rick Grimes. Last week’s cliffhanger led to this episode’s, long, painful journey for Rick, faking out his departure more than once along the way.
Looking to convince us that characters have died is a bad habit this show badly still needs to break, even if it’s a cornerstone of the tension it wants to generate. Yes, it was long-billed as Rick Grimes’ last episode, but to indulge in quite so many seemingly fatal moments just ended up feeling lazy and repetitive. Still, the story was redeemed by Rick’s woozy visions of long-gone characters, with his hard-truth telling session in the police car with Jon Bernthal’s Shane a delight. The presence of Scott Wilson’s Hershel was a jolt in more ways than one, not least because actor Scott Wilson died himself recently. And then there was Sasha, with Sonequa Martin-Green beaming in from Star Trek: Discovery to deliver some vaguely canned wisdom about what Rick’s really looking for. It all led up to his big moment, blowing the bridge to stop the walker horde. Yet the show – or rather, the US TV channel AMC – had bigger plans for Rick, and he’s last seen being taken… somewhere in a helicopter. Heli-cop-out?
It wasn’t all The Rick And Dead Friends Show, though, as we also got to see Maggie finally confront Negan… Or at least what’s left of the man who once called himself that. Though we’ve been watching him putting on a good show of chuckling and snarking his way through conversations with Rick and Michonne, there’s a little bit of a rug-pull waiting as he’s revealed to be a shell of his former self, pitiable (hands up, however, who figured that would be an act designed to lull Maggie into a false sense of security and superiority) and wretched. Already worse than dead, as Maggie notes, he’s left to fester in his cell. While Jeffrey Dean Morgan drew on his considerable talents to bring an effective performance to life, he was just nudged by Lauren Cohan and Danai Gurira’s confrontation before Maggie enters and the wonderful, wordless moment that transpires between them after she’s done. It’s well scripted by this week’s credited writer, Matthew Negrete, and brought to startling life by the actors.
Beyond that, our only real check-in was with Anne, still in contact with her mysterious, helicopter-toting radio friends, and on her way to be picked up. Dovetailing it unexpectedly with the end of Rick’s time on the show was a neat little twist, even if it mostly led to laying story pipe for wherever he’s going. It almost felt like a frustrating post-credits scene, pointing to the fact that you’ll have to watch TV movies set in the same universe (but unlikely to often intersect with the show) to follow that story. And people get upset about Marvel movies setting up the next one during the credits of another…
Still, the real end shocker was the revelation that the new characters, including Nadia Hilker’s Magna and
Dan Fogler’s Luke actually exist in a time a few years past Rick’s big finale. We’re introduced to an older Judith, able to shoot, carrying her father’s hat and her adopted mother’s blade, and inviting them to follow her. Time jumps are very much the fashion this year, apparently and perhaps the season finale will see the timeline sent to 2097, where Robo-Daryl is still fighting the good fight.
If What Comes After didn’t completely manage to avoid some of the show’s pitfalls, it did at least give Andrew Lincoln’s Rick something of a send-off, only to set up his next chapter. But it was entertaining to check in with some characters who have died. It was also full of some great visual moments brought to life by Greg Nicotero in his typically adept directing work, particularly the idea of Rick picking his way through the corpses of everyone he loves.
Highlight: Rick and Shane’s “reunion”.
Lowlight: The multiple death fake-outs.
Kill of the week: The bridge walkers. And the bridge. After all the work they put into it…
Quote of the week: “It’s not about you or me or one of us. It’s about all of us” – Sasha, hitting the episode’s theme right on the nose.
Zombie of the week: The poor unfortunate walker who crosses paths with a very pissed off Maggie.
MVP: Andrew Lincoln, for making even the less effective Rick story moments work.
The big question: Just who has choppered Rick away? We still don’t know for sure, but a fair bet is the Commonwealth.
Read this season’s reviews
Read last season’s reviews below… The Walking Dead Season 8, Episode 1: Mercy
The Walking Dead airs Sundays at 9pm on AMC in the States and Mondays at 9pm on Fox.