Warning: Major spoilers ahead for those who haven’t seen episode 9.04
Starting right after last week’s episode, AMC began promoting that our beloved Rick Grimes (Andrew Lincoln) had only 2 episodes left, ending months-long speculation of how far into season 9 the actor would appear before giving his final “Hurrah!” on the show he has called home for almost nine years. That being said, I think most fans went into tonight’s episode feeling sad, but at the same time having their guard down that nothing major would happen to the fearless leader until next week. Well, in a sucker punch play, AMC set up the character’s demise in the final moments of the episode, leaving the fandom shocked and with sheer raw emotion.
At the end of last week’s episode, Maggie (Lauren Cohan) and Daryl (Norman Reedus) arrived at the mutual decision that it was time to go to Alexandria and do what they felt should have been done all along — kill Negan (Jeffrey Dean-Morgan). We are led to believe that they’re going directly to Alexandria, but we quickly learn tonight that’s not the case. Daryl goes back to the camp at the bridge, while Maggie returns to the Hilltop to put together what I call a “murder kit,” which includes among other things, a crowbar. However, Maggie isn’t quite as stealth as she thinks she is, because Jesus (Tom Payne) immediately sees what she’s up to.
Negan deserved to die when it ended. Rick was wrong because he made a call that wasn’t his to make. I just want to be sure you’re not wrong in the same way he was. I want YOU to be sure — Jesus
While Maggie may feel like what she’s doing is right, she really is thinking of only herself. And, more importantly, she doesn’t realize at this moment the chain of events her murderous plot is about to put in motion.
A MURDER CONSPIRACY AND A HORRIFIC CHAIN REACTION
Back at the camp at the bridge, things aren’t going well at all. First, with the Saviors’ departure, they really don’t have the workforce to complete the work on the bridge. That is unfortunate because with the flooding, it doesn’t look like the bridge they’ve constructed thus far is going to hold. What’s more, there are 2 nearby herds — dubbed “Thibault” and “Cordelia” by Eugene (Josh McDermitt) — and while Eugene doesn’t consider them a concern unless they somehow merge, this turns out to be the biggest threat by the episode’s end.
The problems are compounded when Jerry (Cooper Andrews) informs Rick that Jesus had sent a message through the Hilltop relay that Maggie was on her way to Alexandria. When asked if Jesus said anything else and Jerry’s response is “only that you’ll know what this means,” Rick knows immediately what Maggie’s plans are, and he knows he has to do everything he can to stop her. That includes trying to send an urgent message via the Alexandria relay to have Maggie detained at the gate once she arrives, but unfortunately, the person on duty who takes the message is Rachel (Mimi Kirkland) from Oceanside. Well, unknown to Rick, Oceanside is the one who’s killing the Saviors, and it stands to reason that they’d want Negan dead just as much as Maggie. That turns out to be exactly on point, because Rachel doesn’t do a thing and just continues reading her magazine.
All the while, Daryl is overhearing everything, and of course, we know he’s a co-conspirator in the plot with Maggie. So, when Rick says he’s got to head back to Alexandria himself, it doesn’t take Daryl long to offer to take Rick on his motorcycle. After all, that would get Rick there quicker, and at this point, Rick has no reason to doubt Daryl’s loyalty. This turns out to be the critical mistake that will seal Rick’s fate.
A BROTHERLY BETRAYAL, A RECONCILIATION AND A FINAL GOOD-BYE
Even though they didn’t start out this way back in the Pilot, Rick and Daryl have become like brothers since then. However, ever since Rick decided to spare Negan, things really haven’t been the same between the 2 men, and this was made clear in the season 9 premiere when Daryl asks, “Is there even an ‘us’ anymore?” However, with Daryl offering to take Rick back to Alexandria when he has no intention of doing so, this is the first time Daryl has actually gone up against Rick’s authority.
When Rick finally realizes Daryl isn’t going to Alexandria, he gets Daryl to stop the motorcycle, and he’s not happy at all. A big fight begins, and they both end up in a huge hole — literally. The hole is at least 10 feet deep, and neither one of them is getting out without working together. Unfortunately, both of them are pissed off to no end and aren’t really interested in helping the other out — at least not at this moment. They need to talk through everything, and from this, we get one of the best series of scenes in the season thus far, beautifully intertwined with callbacks from the Pilot when Rick first meets Glenn (oh, added bonus — we get to hear Daryl drop an F-bomb).
Daryl, I get it why she (Maggie) can’t accept it. I do. Her never coming to Alexandria, her hanging Gregory the way she did. I know. I’m not blind — Rick
You sure as hell been acting like it. Man, your ass wouldn’t even be alive if it wasn’t for Glenn. You wouldn’t have found Lori, you wouldn’t have found Carl, and you should as fuck would have never found us. He did that. Or, did you forget? — Daryl
Of course not. I think about it every damn day. And, Maggie, I hate what I did to her, what I took from her, but it’s what I had to do — Rick
She’s doing what she has to do — Daryl
And, you’re OK with that? — Rick
Why in the hell wouldn’t I be! — Daryl
You spared Dwight! After Denise, after what he did to you — Rick
You mean locking me in a damn closet? Parading me around so I couldn’t say nothing? Man, you got that guy sitting in a cell like some symbol, to all them assholes who can’t wait for things to go back to how they were! — Daryl
Keeping him alive is how we make sure it won’t! — Rick
No. Keeping him alive is giving them hope that it will — Daryl
Michonne talked to her. She came to camp, she was coming around — Rick
Well, she’s trying. The truth is she just couldn’t live with it. Just like Oceanside — Daryl
Oceanside? You saying Oceanside killed those Saviors? Arat? — Rick
I’m saying they got what they deserved — Daryl
You knew, and you didn’t say anything? — Rick
Truth is, I couldn’t live with it either — Daryl
If this don’t work, if she kills Negan, he becomes a martyr. The war was for nothing. Every person who died, died for nothing. Carl…Carl died for nothing — Rick
What about the rest of us? You don’t think after all the shit we’ve been through, we couldn’t handle it? Man, you keep asking us to have faith in all these other people. Truth is you don’t have faith in us — Daryl
You know that’s not true — Rick
I’d die for you. I would have died for Carl. You know that. But, you gotta hear me. You chasing something for him that ain’t meant to be, man. You just gotta let him go. Let him go — Daryl
I never asked anyone to follow me — Rick
Maybe you should have — Daryl
Now that is one f*cking powerful sequence, don’t you agree? And, while Rick is obviously full of emotion because of Carl, if you really watch the look on his face, something tells me Daryl’s getting through to him. While I do understand why Rick did what he did and as much as I love the Negan character, the fact of the matter is Rick never really consulted anyone before he made the executive decision to spare Negan and incarcerate him. He just did it. If he wanted to do it right, he would have put Negan in the cell and then, allow the various communities to vote on the matter. Given Rick’s fate, we’ll probably never know, but I do wonder had he survived if he would have had such a vote — or possibly even side with Maggie — after he returned to Alexandria.
Well, Rick and Daryl finally work out their anger, and they begin working together in order to escape the death trap they’ve gotten themselves into. With Daryl’s help, Rick makes it out, but then, he hears a shot coming from the camp. That’s from a riot that breaks out after a group of Saviors show up demanding justice for their comrades who had been killed. Unfortunately, that attracts one of the herds Eugene had mentioned, which is now almost on top of Rick and Daryl and heading in the direction of the camp. Walkers are now flooding the hole Daryl is still trying to escape, but then Rick extends his hand and says, “Brother, take my hand.” With this, we now know the 2 have ironed out their differences and the “brotherhood” is officially back. I think all of us probably took a huge sigh of relief, considering this is probably the last time Daryl will see Rick alive.
Once Daryl makes it to the surface, that’s when Rick makes the decision that seals his fate. Instead of going with Daryl back to the camp to warn the group and help everyone get out, Rick decides to try and lead the herd away using a horse they find. Daryl doesn’t like it at all and instead, has an alternate plan of leading the herd to the bridge, causing the bridge to collapse, pulling all of the walkers from the herd into the river and out to sea. That actually sounds like a pretty good plan to me, but Rick says ‘no,’ as he still seems to be fixated on salvaging the work they have done and the world Carl had envisioned.
I’m not destroying the bridge! We need it— Rick
Fine. Hey, be safe — Daryl
Well, if there had been just 1 herd, perhaps his plan would have worked, but if you recall what Eugene said, there’s actually two of them. Remember “Thibault” and “Cornelia”? Unfortunately, the two herds do, in fact, merge, and when that happens, Rick finds himself surrounded. Now, isn’t this deja vu or what? We’ve already had several callbacks from season 1 and the Pilot earlier in the episode, when Daryl mentions Glenn saving Rick, and how he wouldn’t even be alive if it weren’t for Glenn. Ironically, once again, Rick finds himself on horseback surrounded by a herd, except now he doesn’t have a Glenn to save him. He’s thrown from his horse and is impaled on a piece of rebar while the 2 herds begin closing in, losing consciousness as the episode fades to black.
When we first learned of Andrew Lincoln’s departure from the show this season, I started thinking about what would be a fitting exit for such an iconic character. Or, alternately, **can** there even be an exit that’s adequate for the character that’s really defined the show for the past 9 years? I can’t really be sure, but I do suspect the majority of the fandom isn’t going to be thrilled with tonight’s ending, making it look like the series’ hero is going out because he fell off a horse and is devoured by a herd.
At first blush, you might be inclined to agree with them, but there’s a couple of things to consider. First, Rick Grimes isn’t gone yet, and we still have next week’s episode, which will officially be Andrew Lincoln’s final episode. We don’t know yet how all of this is going to end, and so, I think it’s premature to pass judgement just yet. That being said, how do I think this will all play out? Well, I see 2 possibilities. One of them is quite popular on social media these dayse, and that’s Rick will be taken by the “helicopter people” (for lack of a better name). I personally **hate** this theory, and if they end up taking this route, I will be royally pissed and probably write a really bad review next week. The main reason is the helicopter people have been the go-to for just about every fan theory as of late. Rick is going to be taken in the helicopter. Maggie is going to be taken by the helicopter. Heath was taken by the helicopter. And, I could go on and on and on. I swear, if I hear another thing about that damn helicopter, I think I’m going to scream! In my opinion, having Rick rescued by the helicopter people would be a cop-out and would only give fans a (false) hope that he’ll eventually return, which I don’t think will ever happen.
The 2nd possibility is Rick dies — whether on-screen or off. In my opinion, this is, by far, the better option. It would be final, and it would close the door to any speculation of when/if Rick would be returning. To my surprise, the majority of the comments I’ve seen on social media seem to agree with this position. But, an even better reason why this would be the much better option is it would tie in beautifully to the theme of tonight’s episode: Should Rick have given Glenn justice (and Maggie closure) by killing Negan, and if so, should he pay for his mistake? In other words, this episode plays out like a referendum on whether to execute Negan, which I actually missed the first time I watched. This is made perfectly clear with what Daryl said about Glenn saving Rick’s life and how the final scene played out just like that pivotal moment in the Pilot right before Glenn’s voice came over the radio while Rick was trapped in that tank. As I had mentioned earlier, the difference now is there’s no Glenn to save Rick. Kind of poetic justice for Rick to perish in the same scenario that Glenn rescued him from so long ago, and after Rick wouldn’t do right by Glenn and get justice for his murder, don’t you think? This is a beautiful parallel and kudos and plaudits to the writers for bringing it into the story.
But, back to the original question — if the latter ends up being how next week’s episode goes down, would it be an adequate ending for such a pivotal character that we’ve been following for 9 years? Probably not, but it’s a decent one, and it’s probably about the best we’re going to get. The bigger question is where will the show go from here, and even more importantly, will enough fans hang around to see it. Let’s hope…
The Walking Dead airs on Sundays at 9/8c on AMC.
Critic Grade — A-
Geeky computer and math nerd by day and TV fanatic by night. My beats are The Walking Dead, The Strain, Person of Interest, Z Nation, and anything that most people would call freaky. Editor-In-Chief and Lead Writer of TVGeekTalk.com