Season 9, Episode 5
What Comes After
Rick is forced to face the past as he struggles to maintain the safety of the communities and protect the future he and Carl envisioned.
Hundreds of black birds flock among skyscrapers in the distance. “Wake up,” Rick says off-screen. We pull back through the window of a hospital room to find Rick, bearded and dirtied, looking at someone on a hospital bed – it’s Rick from the pilot. “Current” Rick looks out the window and sees the flock of black birds are now black helicopters flying toward him.
The voice of Morgan asks, “What is your wound?”
“Current” Rick looks down at his side and discovers blood from his wound. “Pilot” Rick laughs and says, “Yeah, wake up, asshole.”
Rick wakes up on the road and finds himself impaled on a long piece of rebar. Two herds converge and close in on him. He strains to reach the rebars above him, but they’re too high. He unbuckles his belt and loops it around the rebars to pull himself out – and through excruciating pain, inches his torso up the rebar. Finally free of the rebar, Rick mounts his horse and leads the sea of walkers down the road.
On another dirt road, a mini-camper sputters to a stop. Anne sits behind the wheel, trying to restart it, and screams in frustration when it fails. Via walkie, a man asks Jadis to confirm her location and the status of her “A.” Anne confirms. The man says, “We hadn’t heard from you since the aborted pick up. We know your group vacated the landfill. If this is a trick, there can still be consequences.” Anne says, “It’s not a trick. If I need evacuation, you know I’m desperate. You know where to find me. I need to leave this place.” She grabs her gun, climbs out of the RV, and looks up at the sky, adding, “And I’ll be ready.”
Slouched on his horse, Rick leads the herd down the road. He grips his wound and tells himself to stay awake. When his eyes close, he sees images of Hershel’s farm, an upturned squad car, and his empty hospital bed. Loud growling wakes him up, and he finds the walkers are even closer to him, inches away. He spurs his horse to regain a safe distance.
Riding toward Alexandria, Maggie and Dianne encounter a walker moving in their direction. Maggie gets off her horse and grips her crowbar with two hands -- like handling a baseball bat the way Negan did with Glenn -- and smashes it into the walker’s head, over and over again, as if practicing for Negan. Dianne looks concerned. Maggie wipes blood from her crowbar and arm, saying, “We can go now.”
Rick spots a mailbox by a driveway and gallops towards it, leading to a cabin. The front door is boarded up, with a message that says, “Come Face Me, Assholes!” He enters through the back, hobbles to a table, and tears the tablecloth to wrap it around his wound. Surveying the room, he sees bullet casings on the floor, two shot-up corpses (one holding a gun), and bullet holes on the walls (sunlight streaming through them). He passes out.
Rick rides his white horse toward a city on the horizon, followed by a herd of walkers. Continuing through the streets of Atlanta, he declares, “I’m looking for my family.” The voice of Lori says, “What’s your wound?” Watching through the passenger window of a squad car, a uniformed Shane amusingly greets Rick. “God damn, cowboy. You look like shit.”
Rick and Shane eat burgers and fries from tray-boxes on the center console of the squad car. “I’m looking for my family,” Rick says. Shane replies, “That’s not entirely true. One could argue it’s my family you’re looking for, right?” Rick laughs. Shane continues, “How is my baby girl, by the way? She got my eyes, doesn’t she?” They both have a laugh.
“You’re such an asshole,” Rick teases. Shane shamelessly agrees, “Yes, I am… Same as you, really…I’d like to take full credit.”
Rick addresses something else. “I didn’t want it, you know that.”
“But you took it. Right?” Shane replies. “Boy, that shit you did in that field when it was you and me… You took a page right out of my book. I’m glad you did it. You stepped up, brother.”
“It had to be me,” Rick insists. “It still has to be me.”
“That’s where you’re wrong. It has to be me.”
“That’s right. The only way this gets done, Rick…I want you to think about how you bit that piece of shit’s throat out. Asshole in the church with the red machete, that is what I’m talkin’ about. That’s the shit that I need from you that I always knew you had in you… You wanna know what this is about? Kneel down… Dig deep… Find it… the rage… it’s the only way this gets done. It has to get done, you understand me? It has to.”
“I’m sorry,” Rick says sincerely. “I’m sorry for what I did to you.”
“You need to forget that shit,” is Shane’s way of accepting the apology. They take that in for a moment. Shane eats a fry, then adds, “You know something, Rick?” He startlingly gets in Rick’s face and yells, “WAKE UP!”
Rick wakes up to a walker in his face where Shane just was. Back in the cabin, Rick shoves the walker away and breaks through the boarded-up front door, as the herd pursues him. He escapes a walker’s grasp and gets back on his horse.
In the kitchen, Michonne writes in her notebook, surrounded by criminal justice textbooks, while Judith makes crafts out of seashells. Scott arrives to inform Michonne that Maggie is here. “Aunt Maggie?” Judith says with excitement. Michonne looks at Scott, concerned.
Maggie strides over to Negan’s cell and finds Michonne guarding the door. Michonne sees the crowbar in Maggie’s hand. “Maggie?”
“Get out of my way,” Maggie demands. Michonne equally demands, “Step back.”
“You were there, Michonne. You saw what Negan did.”
“You think Glenn would want this? You going through me to get to him?”
“I don’t know what he’d want. I don’t know because I never got to say goodbye.”
“He wouldn’t want it, Maggie. Your father wouldn’t...”
“The one thing I had, the only thing, was knowing I’d see Glenn’s murderer die. But you took it from me.” Maggie goes on to say, “If he’d butchered Rick in front of you instead of Glenn…if you had to raise a child alone because of him, he’d have been dead a long time ago and you know it. So stop acting like this is a choice. Stop acting like I can just turn this off. It’s been a year and a half and I can’t.”
“You’re gonna have to find a way.”
“How? Tell me something else I can do, Michonne. ‘Cause I can’t keep living like this.”
Michonne tears up. “I can’t.”
“’Cause there’s nothing you can say. There’s only what you do.”
“You can live with what comes after?”
“I’ll have to. I can’t live with it now.” Maggie holds out her hand. After a moment of hesitation, Michonne hands her the keys.
In Negan’s cell, the sandwich Michonne left for Negan still sits on a paper plate on the floor, with one bite. “She just gave up the keys, huh?...My money was on you…”
“So you remember me,” Maggie asks. Of course he does. That’s why he thought she was gonna win. “Good. Get on your knees.”
Negan recounts how he remembered her screaming in that clearing, how much he broke her, breaking her husband’s head open.
“Glenn,” Maggie interrupts. “His name was Glenn.”
Negan continues to needle her about what he did to her husband. “I used to say I didn’t enjoy killing, but that was a lie. Your old man… forgot his name again… He was different. Killing him the way I did, oh, that was fun.” He gets on his knees. “Have your justice. Kill me. It was worth it.”
Maggie senses something, wants to see him in the light. Negan goads her, “Come on. Kill me. You not have it in you? Don’t you punk out like Rick did.”
Maggie tells him to come into the light. Negan begins to whimper, “Kill me.” She swings open the cell door and throws him out of the cell, into a wall. Maggie finally sees Negan in the light -- extremely gaunt and frail-looking. His beard long and matted, eyes connoting unhinged desperation. He’s a shell of the man he used to be. Utterly broken, he repeatedly begs Maggie to kill him. She repeatedly demands to know why.
“So I can be with my wife! So I can be with my Lucille!” he cries desperately. “I should be dead. I have to be dead. And it’s supposed to be you. It has to be you, because I can’t do it... I tried… I can’t… I can’t be like this! Please, please. Don’t make me stay like this. Settle it. Settle me. Kill me. Please.”
“Get back in your cell,” Maggie says.
“No… no… why?” Negan says, truly broken.
“I came to kill Negan. And you’re already worse than dead. That settles it.”
Maggie exits the cell to find Michonne waiting, seeing the crowbar unbloodied. They exchange an understanding look. Dianne runs up and alerts them that something’s up at the camp.
Rick grows weak as he leads the herd down the road, muttering, “…find my family.” He slumps over his horse.
Hershel, Maggie’s father, stands (on both legs) at the barn loft, gazing at the sunset. He turns around and smiles. “Hey, Rick. Come here. Look at this.” He affectionately grabs Rick’s shoulder.
Rick smiles, happy to see his old friend. He marvels at the view of the stunning vista. “This place. It’s beautiful.”
“It is something, isn’t it?” Hershel says.
Rick hugs Hershel, emotions welling up. “I’m so sorry for what happened to you. To Beth, and Glenn… For everything Maggie’s lost… Maybe if I’d tried harder, done things different…listen more…”
“Rick… My girl, she’s strong. And my grandson, he’ll only make her stronger. You don’t gotta worry about her.”
Rick nods. “I need to find my family. I need to keep ‘em together.”
“No, you don’t. You only think you do. I know it’s been hard.”
“It has. What you wanted for me, for Carl, it hasn’t been easy. We’ve been trying—”
“But we’ll get there. All of us.’
“I’m tired, Hershel. My family…maybe I can find them here.”
“No, Rick,” Hershel says as he gently places his hand over Rick’s heart. “You have to wake up.” Hershel gently places his hand on Rick’s heart, and –
Rick wakes up on his slow-moving horse. The herd is still behind him. He slumps over again.
In another dream, Rick wanders through the hospital corridor from the pilot. He sees the familiar double doors that now read: “Don’t Open, Dead Outside.” He opens the door to blinding white light and walks through it.
As the blinding white light fades into a gray, cloudy sky, Rick finds himself standing in a battlefield of the dead, littered with hundreds of the dead. The bodies resemble those lost in seasons past – Beth, along with other recognizable friends – Carol, Maggie, Michonne, Daryl, Jesus, Jerry, Rosita, Eugene…
As Rick walks around, surveying the bodies of his friends, Sasha rises up behind him, not as a walker. He regards her with a small, sad smile, and says, “They… they’re all dead…”
Sasha comforts him with her words. “Yeah. I know. And it’s okay.”
“How can it be okay? How can this be okay?”
“Because you did your part. Like I did mine. Like the others did before us… They gave us the strength… to do what we had to do for the others. And the others draw strength from us. We change each other. We help each other. We make each other better. And it never ends.”
Rick tears up. “It feels like it’s ending.”
“Little things do end. But it’s never the end of everything. ‘Cause we don’t die… It’s not about you, or me, or any one of us. It’s about all of us… And I don’t think it just ‘evens out.’ I think it always crosses over toward the good. Toward the brave. Toward love.”
They nod. “Your family. You’re not gonna find them because they’re not lost. And you are not lost. What you need to do is wake up.”
Rick faints –
And hits the ground in waking life. His horse had just thrown him off and now gallops away. Rick looks around and realizes his horse has taken him back to the camp – now deserted, with a half dozen dead Saviors, and some freshly reanimated camp workers killed by the earlier gunshots. Work camp walkers, including Kathy, the Savior Norris, and a male Kingdommer in armor move in on Rick.
Rick grabs his colt and fires at the walkers, lastly Kathy, who crumples on top of him. He takes a moment on the ground to catch his breath, but more walkers stir, shaking trees and knocking down the camp tents, moving in on Rick.
Rick limps away, onto a gravel road. He collapses and finds himself at the bridge he worked so hard to build. Gunshots are fired at the walkers, and the cavalry runs in to Rick’s rescue – led by Daryl, Carol, Maggie, Michonne, Tara, Eugene, Rosita, Jesus, Ezekiel, Jerry, Dianne, Cyndie, Beatrice, Regina – along with the now-united communities (including Oceansiders and Saviors) – all running in across the bridge. They charge past Rick toward the herd, bravely fighting them off to save him.
Michonne tends to Rick, who’s too weak to move. “It’s okay. We’re gonna get you out of here, okay?”
“No… You take care of them. I can’t –"
“You WILL. It’s not over. We don’t die.”
“You wanna know why I fell in love with you?” Michonne asks. “Because you’re a fighter. And you will never give up. So fight, Rick. Fight for me. Fight for all of us.”
Daryl, Maggie, Ezekiel, and Eugene look on.
“You’re my family,” Rick realizes. “I found you.”
“You did,” Michonne says.
“But this…this isn’t real,” Rick says lucidly.
“Yes, it is.” Michonne kisses him. “Now wake up.”
Rick wakes up at the entrance of the bridge, alone. With the herd of walkers close in pursuit, he summons the strength to limp across the bridge, holding his wound. He slowly reaches the other side but is horrified when he looks back to find the herd occupying the entire bridge. “No…it’s gonna hold.” He insists to himself. “I can’t…”
And just as a walker gets close enough to bite him, it gets taken out by a bolt. Rick looks across the river and sees --
Daryl and the cavalry – the real cavalry – along with Maggie, Carol, Tara, Rosita, Eugene, Jesus, Jerry, Dianne, Cyndie, Beatrice, and others from the united communities. Michonne runs up to the front. They realize Rick is about to bring down the bridge, and they move in to fight and divert the herd.
Rick weakly shakes his head, “No, don’t do it. Not for me. There’s too many.” He takes out his ax and fights off the walkers, while Daryl covers him with bolts. Rick sees a walker knock over a wooden box, spilling out bundles of dynamite.
Rick’s friends rush to the bridge, as Rick raises his python toward the dynamite.
“I found ‘em…” Rick says, at peace. He fires his gun and –
The bridge explodes and collapses, sending the walkers down the river.
Rick’s friends look on, horrified. Daryl trembles and cries. Michonne screams for Rick and tries to keep going, but Maggie and Carol hold her back. They collapse with her as she sobs. Daryl, emotionally gutted, staggers away.
Meanwhile, Anne sees smoke rising in the distance and takes out her walkie, toggling through the channels to hear chatter about Rick blowing up the bridge. As she listens with grave concern, a black helicopter approaches her from the sky. She grips her gun behind her back and cocks it. Then, something in the adjacent stream catches her eye – beyond the walkers and walker parts flowing downstream, she sees –
Rick, washed up along a bank, completely red from the blood stained all over his body, barely alive. She tears up, deeply affected.
As the helicopter gets closer, she makes a decision and speaks into the walkie. “I have a B, not an A. I never had an A. He’s hurt, but he’s strong. Can you help him?”
A voice via walkie says, “I warned you there’d be consequences if you tried something.”
“It’s not a trick. Not anymore.” She raises her gun and desperately tosses it away. “I’m trying to save a friend. A friend who saved me. I have something for you now. We have a deal?”
Wang Chung’s “Space Junk” begins to play. A dazed Rick opens his eyes to Anne telling him, “You’re still here. You’re going to be okay. They’re going to save you.” Rick is strapped to a stretcher, with an oxygen tube in his nose. Through the window beside him, we see that he is in the helicopter, as it lifts off into the sky.
The helicopter flies over a field with an old barn.
Time passes, as that field becomes overgrown. The old barn is partially collapsed and consumed by vines and foliage. It seems peaceful, until a herd of walkers attacks a new group of five survivors. The new group fights with blades, but the walkers close in all around, trapping them.
BLAM! Unknown gunshots take down five walkers, opening a path for the new survivors to escape. They run into a 10-year-old girl holding a smoking gun.
“You got names?” asks the girl.
The leader of the group answers, “I’m Magna. This is Connie and Kelly, Yumiko and Luke. What’s yours?”
The girl picks up a sheriff’s hat and puts it on.
“Judith. Judith Grimes.”