Note: contains MAJOR spoilers for The Walking Dead season 9, episode 5 – ‘What Comes After’
It’s the end of an era for AMC’s The Walking Dead as Andrew Lincoln hangs up his sheriff’s badge and officially leaves the zombie apocalypse for pastures new. Fans have known for months that the show’s lead would only appear in a handful of episodes in season nine, but how did his swansong compare to everyone’s expectations?
As well as a huge Rick Grimes twist that probably no one saw coming, Greg Nicotero beautifully paid tribute to the birth of The Walking Dead. If anyone’s hungry for more, here are eight Easter eggs you might’ve missed from Rick’s final episode.
1. Get to the Chopper
Helicopters are a long-running gag on The Walking Dead and it looks like that mystery is going to keep on flying following the events of ‘What Comes After’. The episode opened with coma Rick watching a flock of birds that miraculously turned into a squadron of helicopters. As well as foreshadowing Rick’s rescue at the end of the episode, it was also a nod to the very first episode.
Heading back to 2010, one of The Walking Dead‘s earliest Easter eggs saw a helicopter reflected in the windows of an Atlanta skyscraper. Now that Rick has flown off to a new life with Jadis and her Alphabet-loving saviors, fans are left guessing how and when Rick will return.
2. Rick’s Last Meal
Fans were right in guessing that Rick’s final episode would be a trip down memory lane and include the ghosts of his past. The hyped inclusion of Jon Bernthal as Shane Walsh didn’t disappoint, but did anyone spot a scene from The Walking Dead‘s pilot recreated for 2018?
It may have been taken from a different angle, but ‘What Comes After’ saw some bromance bonding between Rick and Shane sharing a burger and fries in their squad car. Anyone with a long memory might recall that ‘Days Gone Bye’ opened with the same meal.
3. What’s Your Wound?
Lennie James is famed for playing Morgan Jones on The Walking Dead and is currently holding up spin-off show Fear The Walking Dead. While James didn’t get to visually cameo in ‘What Comes After’, his presence was felt.
The cliffhanger ending of season nine’s fourth episode left Lincoln’s surly sheriff impaled and facing a grim fate as walker chow. The show picked up with Rick trying to save his own life and the sound of Morgan’s voice. Harking back to the pilot, “What’s your wound?” was Morgan’s way of checking Rick wasn’t a brain-munching walker.
4. Don’t Open, Dead Inside
The wording, “Don’t Open, Dead Inside” has become synonymous with The Walking Dead‘s season-one marketing and has been used on various attractions relating to AMC’s show. With this being Rick’s final episode (for now), it makes sense that the lettering returned.
As Rick drifted into his dream world, he once again trod the halls of the hospital we first found him and came across a locked door. In a clever twist, ‘What Comes After’ changed the words to say, “Don’t Open, Dead Outside”. Whether in relation to all those the series has waved goodbye to or a red herring that Rick was about to meet his maker, the image still packed a punch.
5. Back in the Saddle
Another artistic shot that paid tribute to the first episode was Rick Grimes riding into Atlanta on horseback. He did it in the first season, and ‘What Comes After’ made its own season nine alternative.
Featuring a much older Rick, minus his sheriff’s hat, and on a different coloured horse, dream Rick trotted into his own nightmare. Wandering the desolate streets of Atlanta from his imagination, it’s here that Rick ran into Shane.
6. Who’s Your Daddy?
In another tragic twist to the history of the Grimes family, Rick’s final episode hammered home that Judith Grimes isn’t even his daughter. Bernthal joked “Judith is 100% Shane’s” at a convention in 2013 and Rick even acknowledged her parentage in season seven. Flash-forward to ‘What Comes After’ and some banter between Rick and Shane showed that at least those two can have a laugh of it.
Photographic proof had confirmed that Judith was the lovechild of Shane and Lori in the previous episode, but as Rick told Shane, “She hasn’t got your nose,” the whole sordid affair came full circle.
7. We Are Family
With the latest episode hopping around between reality and imagination, it was hard to keep track of what was real and what wasn’t. For all we know, Rick never made it onto that chopper. A running theme was Rick’s quest to find his family. The repetition of “I found you” was a tip of the Stetson to the pilot when a dazed Rick uttered the words “I found you” to Duane Jones.
In Lincoln’s finale, dream Rick was rescued by Michonne and managed to mutter “I found you” as a hint that he’d made it to safety. Although it was only a vision due to his blood loss, it was still a tie to the first episode.
8. The Grim Reaper Cometh
Like a scene from the nuclear wasteland of American Horror Story: Apocalypse, the end of the episode made it look increasingly likely that Rick was going to shuffle off like a walker. A particularly grim dreamscape saw Rick wade through mounds of his friends. Alongside the bodies or Maggie, Carol, and Daryl, there were also fallen comrades like Shane and an extra who looked a lot like Emily Kinney’s Beth.
It culminated in the return of Star Trek: Discovery‘s Sonequa Martin-Green as Sasha, hammering home that everyone has to die at some point and Rick has done the best he could. It would’ve been nice for AMC to go full Desperate Housewives and bring back everyone from Rick’s past, but we’ll have to make do with emotional cameos from Sasha, Shane, and Hershel.
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