The Walking Dead Series Finale Ending Explained: How It Sets Up Rick and Michonne’s Return
The Walking Dead finale sets up the future as it puts the past to bed. Here are those last few moments explained.
The Walking Dead series finale, “Rest in Peace,” had to confront some challenges that few other shows will ever face. In addition to wrapping up 11 seasons of storytelling, The Walking Dead‘s final episode had to also leave some room for the future.
AMC has made no attempt to hide the fact that The Walking Dead series finale wouldn’t really be the end. Though the flagship show is now over, the franchise will carry on in the form of several spinoffs – some pre-existing fare like Fear the Walking Dead, and even more brand new options like The Walking Dead: Daryl Dixon and The Walking Dead: Dead City. So how could one hour-plus episode of television satisfyingly respect the past while not scuttling plans for the future? Fairly effective as it turns out!
Though “Rest in Peace” didn’t feature as many character deaths as one might expect from a series final of a historically brutal show, it did at least settle on one departure with a decent emotional impact (R.I.P. Rosita). And in the process it also found a fairly complete note to go out on. The Commonwealth is saved and all of our heroes get to sit back, relax, and enjoy the fruits of their 11-season journey (literally in some cases as the Alexandria gardens appear to be churning out some beauties). Meanwhile a handful of spinoff-y characters prepare to set out on new journeys.
And then there’s that final sequence…
Yes, The Walking Dead series finale features the long-awaited return of both Rick Grimes (Andrew Lincoln) and Michonne Hawthorne (Danai Gurira). As two of the series most dynamic characters, the brief couple of minutes that they occupy the screen is immediately electric…and also makes clear just how much this franchise missed them. Thankfully there’s more Rick and Michonne on the horizon in the form of their six-episode unnamed spinoff, expected to premiere in 2023. Before we get to that, however, that’s lay this era of The Walking Dead to rest by breaking down that finale. And let’s just go ahead and start with the moment we’ve all been waiting for.
How Rick and Michonne Return
One might argue that it’s rude for a series finale to save its best material for what is essentially a trailer for an upcoming series that will demand more of its viewers time. And “one” might, in fact, be me. I’m arguing that. Still, regardless of how I feel about Rick and Michonne’s cameos in relation to the rest of the finale, I can’t say their return wasn’t awesome.
After Daryl (Norman Reed’s) rides off into the distance, we see a character strike a match. Then we see another character light a fire as well. The Walking Dead doesn’t delay the mystery much longer and quickly treats us to anguished closeups of Rick and Michonne’s faces. Separated from each other and the rest of their family, they’re both writing letters to their daughter Judith. And the prose is actually really lovely. Rick and Michonne narrate how they’ve come to understand that all life is one life. They are endless. Pieces of a whole that just keep on going. One unstoppable life.
But Rick and Michonne aren’t just poets. They’re individuals of action. And into action they soon spring. Michonne throws on some absolutely badass armor and rides a horse into an unimaginably huge herd of walkers, continuing her journey to find her man and make her family whole once more.
Meanwhile, Rick wanders through the wilderness, shoeless and wearing a jacket with the distinctive circular logo of the Civic Republic Military. (For more on them, read up over here.) As Rick arrives to a stream, he hears the sound of helicopter blades whirring and panic. A voice from the loudspeaker of said helicopter calls out and says “Consignee Grimes, you’ve been located and are instructed to surrender. Remain in place with your hands up.” The voice then adds, more personably “Come on, Rick. It’s like he told you: there’s no escape for the living.” The camera then pans back to reveal that Rick is on the edge of a massive ruined city. The skyline is expansive enough to suggest that it might be New York. And that would make sense given what we know about the CRM.
You may recall that when Rick Grimes first exited The Walking Dead back in season 9, he was carried off by a helicopter adorned with the CRM logo. That was the last most Walking Dead viewers got to see of the mysterious CRM, but spinoff series The Walking Dead: World Beyond filled in their story a bit more.
The CRM doesn’t make their precise location known, but a big portion of their force reportedly lies somewhere in New York State. The Civic Republic Military is a massive organization in the post-apocalyptic U.S. that is seeking to re-establish society much like The Commonwealth did. Unlike The Commonwealth, however, they are more scientific-minded and outright cruel instead of merely politically corrupt. They liquidated one of their fellow communities in Omaha, suspecting they might one day grow strong enough to challenge their mission of world recreation (and subsequent domination). They also used live subjects in sickening reanimation experiments.
Was Rick slated for one of those reanimation experiments? Probably not as he would be dead already and scientists would be studying his zombie brain. But the fact that he is addressed as “Consignee Grimes” suggests that he is in The CRM’s clutches all the same. For what purpose? I guess we’ll find out next year.
How the Daryl, Maggie, and Negan Spinoffs Are Set Up
As previously mentioned, Rick and Michonne aren’t the only Walking Dead heroes getting new spinoffs. Daryl Dixon will return in the appropriately named The Walking Dead: Daryl Dixon while Maggie (Lauren Cohan) and Negan (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) will join forces in The Walking Dead: Dead City. How does The Walking Dead finale go about setting those two new tentpoles up? With one Maggie conversation, more or less.
Near the end of “Rest In Peace,” Maggie gathers together Daryl and Carol (Melissa McBride) to have what amounts to a TV production meeting, telling them: “I want to talk about the future. There’s a lot to find out about out there. And I think it’s about time we did.”
Daryl agrees with Maggie’s idea for the future but Carol does not. As such, Daryl and Carol share a conversation about her staying behind that feels pretty meta, given the fact that McBride was originally announced to be joining the spinoff alongside Reedus. We know that Daryl will end up Paris. How he gets there on the back of a motorcycle is anyone’s guess.
Maggie doesn’t have a conversation with her potential spinoff-mate as he’s already left, exiling himself from The Commonwealth/Alexandria to finally atone for his sins. Presumably Maggie will encounter Negan out in the wild. That’s where the show’s New York City-setting makes some sense. Wouldn’t you want to see what post-apocalyptic New York looks like?
What Happens to the Commonwealth?
Enough of the future, let’s look to the now recent past. What happens to all non-spinoff characters on The Walking Dead? Well, they live happily ever after, of course! Well, not all of them. Luke (Dan Fogler) bites it early and Rosita succumbs to a fatal zombie bite later on. Everyone else, however, gets to enter that great aftershow in the sky that all TV characters enter after a show wraps.
After getting medical assistance for Judith Grimes (Cailey Fleming), our heroes enter into The Estates section of The Commonwealth where Pamela Milton and the rest of the elite are hiding from the walker invasion. There they are able to resolve the tense political situation by having Mercer (Michael James Shaw) stage a soft coup and force Governor Pamela Milton (Laila Robins) to resign. Pamela attempts to commit suicide via zombified Lance Hornsby but Maggie shoots the zombie and Pamela is taken into custody.
One year later, Ezekiel (Khary Payton) has been elected Governor, with Mercer as his lieutenant governor. The Commonwealth, which now includes Alexandria as a willing participant and not a vassal, can finally begin to live up to its lofty ideals. The people of The Walking Dead now have a safe, stable, and fair community to call home. Let’s just hope that the CRM leaves them alone.
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