Andrew Lincoln's final episode of The Walking Dead series injected a much needed adrenaline shot to the show. Last week I lamented the set-up of a prolonged finale with melodramatic flashbacks and Rick Grimes heroic death. There were sappy flashbacks, but our hero indeed survives. What comes next for Rick will greatly expand The Walking Dead universe. Fandom can also cheer another Grimes carrying on the bad ass mantle. In a mind blowing twist, a crack shot, katana wielding, cowboy hat wearing, Judith (Cailey Fleming), is revealed in the closing seconds.
What Comes After opens with Rick impaled on the rebar. The walker herds are converging on his position. He begins to hallucinate. At first he's back in the hospital where it all began. He sees himself in bed. He looks outside as a storm of crows turn into a fleet of assault helicopters. He hears Morgan ask, "What's your wound?" The younger Rick in bed tells him to, "Wake up asshole."
Rick takes off his belt and throws it over the rebar above him. He pulls himself off the spike. He gingerly walks to his horse with blood gushing from his side. Rick leads the herd away. Meanwhile, Jadis (Polyanna McIntosh) runs out of fuel in her car. Her radio chirps a message. She responds with her location and that she has an "A". Jadis steps out unto the road frustrated.
Rick comes upon an old cabin in the woods. He goes inside and dresses his wound with a tablecloth. Rick imagines he's back in his police cruiser with Shane (Jon Bernthal). Shane asks how his baby girl is doing. Rick apologizes for killing him. Shane tells Rick he needs to dig deep and find his strength. Be the Rick that bit open a throat, massacred a machete guy in a church, "Wake up."
Rick comes to with walkers pouring into the cabin. He kicks out a board in the back and stumbles to his horse. On the road to Alexandria, Maggie (Lauren Cohan) kills a walker while her companion watches. In their house, Judith is showing Michonne (Danai Gurira) some shells. A visitor at the door tells Michonne that Maggie has arrived.
Maggie walks to Negan's (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) cell, but is blocked by Michonne at the entrance. They have a tense stand-off. Maggie demands justice for Glenn. It wasn't Rick's decision to let Negan live. She has been consumed by rage for a year and a half. Maggie asks Michonne what would she have done if Rick were killed. Michonne hands over the keys.
Maggie enters the cell room. She orders Negan to kneel. Negan mocks her at first, graphically describing how he crushed Glenn's skull with Lucille. Maggie opens the cell, then throws Negan against the wall. She wants to see him in the light. He's thin, grey, with a long beard, and hollow eyes. He begs her to kill him. Then weeps hysterically. He wants to be with his wife, Lucille. Maggie puts him back into his cell. She returns the keys to Michonne. They embrace, then are alerted there's trouble at the camp.
Rick continues to ride. He fades out of consciousness again. Now he is with Hershel (Scott Wilson) in his barn. Hershel thanks him for saving Maggie, making her strong. Rick is looking for his family. He is tired of the struggle. Hershel tells him that others can lead. Rick wakes up on his horse with the herd right behind him.
Rick falls off the horse at the camp. He hallucinates again. He's back in the hospital corridor. He comes to a barred door with a sign, "Don't open dead inside." He opens it to a sea of dead bodies. All of his friends, family, everyone he loves is dead around him. He turns around to see Sasha (Sonequa Martin-Green). She tells him that he needs to let go and "wake up".
Rick awakens in the camp. Walkers are plowing through the tents. He stumbles towards the bridge. As he walks over it, he has another hallucination. Michonne, Daryl (Norman Reedus), Maggie, and Carol (Melissa McBride) have come to his rescue. Michonne kisses him tenderly. He has found his family. She tells him to "wake up".
Rick snaps out of it. He watches as the walker herd approaches the bridge. An arrow comes out of nowhere and kills a walker in front of him. Daryl and the others have arrived. Michonne leads a group to try and distract the walkers. Rick waves them off. There are too many. Daryl continues shooting arrows to help Rick. The walkers knock over a case of dynamite on the bridge. Rick takes aim and destroys the bridge in a huge fireball. Daryl weeps at the aftermath. Carol and Maggie restrain a hysterical Michonne. The walker herd passes through the fire and plunges into the raging river below.
Jadis looks at the billowing smoke. The helicopter approaches for the pickup. She readies her pistol, then notices a body moving on the riverbank. It's a bloodied Rick. She radios that her friend needs help. She has a "B". No tricks, she throws her gun away. Rick opens his eyes on a gurney. Jadis is leaning over him. He will survive. The helicopter takes off and flies away in the distance.
The scene lingers as the chopper vanishes. The woods thicken, the plants grow and fill the screen. A woman, Magna (Nadia Hilker), kills a walker. She and her group are running from a small herd. They get back to back as they are surrounded. Gunshots ring out, clearing a path. The group runs toward their rescuer in the woods. A girl with a katana sword on her back sheathes a revolver. The group introduces themselves as Magna, Yumiko (Eleanor Matsuura), Luke (Dan Fogler), Connie (Lauren Ridloff), and Kelly (Angel Theory). The girl picks up a cowboy hat and straightens it on her head, "My name is Judith Grimes."
The appearance of an older Judith signals a major time jump. Cailey Fleming, the actress who now plays Judith, is eleven years old. We have to assume it's been at least five years since Jadis absconded with Rick. AMC has announced that Andrew Lincoln will headline feature length films in The Walking Dead Universe. We will find out what happened to Rick Grimes. The prevailing rumor is that he was taken to the Commonwealth, a network of communities with fifty-thousand people. The mystery remains regarding the difference between an "A" or "B". Rick was initially an "A" when he was first captured by Jadis. But when she saves him, she brands Rick a "B". Logic presumes A for Alpha, B for Beta. These could be societal designations wherever Rick was taken. Branding Rick a B might deem him less of a threat.
The dream sequences and ridiculous horse escape were lame. You can't do these effectively without Carl (Chandler Riggs) and Glenn (Steven Yuen). Sasha appearing to Rick was a stretch. That said, the episode's conclusion was highly intriguing. It'll be interesting to see how the characters have grown years removed from Rick's supposed death. The Whisperers storyline will mostly likely dominate the rest of season nine. This gives the show a chance to return to a creepier, more desperate footing. "What Comes After" succeeds in charting a new course for The Walking Dead. AMC will have me back for the post Rick Grimes era.