Spoilers below for The Walking Dead’s latest episode, titled “The Obliged.”
Unless situations change drastically in the opening minutes of next week’s episode, The Walking Dead just set Rick Grimes up for a fairly depressing death. Which means the cliffhanger ending is bound to polarize fans as much as any other big moment in this franchise, if not more so. (All eyes, protruding and otherwise, are on Glenn there.) Let’s lay out the way the show seems to be singing Andrew Lincoln’s swan song, and why it’s actually a fitting farewell.
How Rick Got Hurt
Season 9 has shown us that, during the span of the time jump, Rick’s influence as a group leader has waned immensely. Going against Rick’s call isn’t just something done by weaselly semi-antagonists anymore, with Maggie and Daryl predominantly against the crumbling Ricktatorship. The All Out War, with Carl’s death included, took a hell of a lot out of Rick, and these days, he’s more prone to enjoying family time and planning infrastructure than actively enforcing justice.
Rick himself finally became aware of Maggie and Daryl’s slow-burning coup in “The Obliged.” Realizing that Daryl was intentionally keeping him from hindering Maggie’s Negan-centric trip to Alexandria, Rick incited a roadside argument that left the scuffling men stranded in a giant hole. (Yeah, “WTF?” was my first reaction, too.) Each character made a decent pitch for their side of the Negan argument, with no one actually “winning” beyond both getting out of the hole in the first place. Neither knew that it would probably be their final meaningful conversation.
With a mass of walkers (or two) approaching, Rick’s mind was all about guiding the undead herds in a different direction, as not to threaten the still-in-development bridge and the communities beyond. After finding the freaked-out white horse he was riding in a previous trailer, Rick told Daryl to head back, thus leaving him all alone whenever disaster struck the hardest.
Not long after Rick climbed on the horse, they came across another swarm of walkers approaching from a different direction. In a moment that seems far too quiet and subdued in retrospect, the horse panicked and threw Rick backwards. He awkwardly landed on the worst slab of concrete possible, with his neck slamming against one of the edges. Potential threats of a concussion or paralysis aside, Rick was truly boned by the piece of rebar jutting through his torso, and his quick descent into unconsciousness.
So…is that it? After everything that Rick Grimes has lived through, and all of the accomplishments he made in the name of survival, was his fate really sealed by an over-anxious horse? If so, it wouldn’t be the most unexpected or illogical inciting incident.
Why It Makes For A Fitting Farewell
As it went with Carl, no other human being should be directly responsible for killing off Rick Grimes. Not only to avoid showing that anyone else had the ability to do so, but also because Rick needs to ultimately be responsible for his own demise. He did just such a thing in “The Obliged.”
In the face of learning two of his most trusted fellow survivors no longer trusted his perspective, Rick was once again bull-headed by dismissing Daryl’s advice to join him. Had Daryl not directly crapped all over the bridge, Rick might have been slightly more welcoming to opposing opinions, but at that point, it was all about proving that his faith in the bridge wasn’t all in vain. Which will still be an arguable point until we see how things played out.
Rick’s first mode of transportation in The Walking Dead-verse was a horse, so it would be a proper (and unfortunate) bookend in that respect. Plus, by giving Rick a white horse, The Walking Dead seemed to be tapping into Christian themes, where the animal can symbolize death. Which is to say nothing about correlations with Jesus Christ himself having ridden one. Not that we can avoid further Jesus comparisons with Rick’s potentially fatal “spear through the side” injury.
Even beyond the horse parallel, if Rick were to die under those circumstances, it would loosely mirror the very first shot we see of Andrew Lincoln, lying all alone without any of his loved ones aware of where he is or what happened to him. A hospital bed is definitely the more comfortable option, but it’s not a choice that Rick was afforded in either situation.
As bleak as the world may have looked to Rick when he headed across the already ruined Atlanta, things got far better once he came across others. Here, things may look bleaker than ever with Rick on the brink of death, yet he’s leaving behind a group of people that has come closer than ever to reaffirming civilization. So, it’s not all bad, right? It still sucks, though.
The Walking Dead airs every Sunday night on AMC at 9:00 p.m. ET, and it’s very possible that next week will be the last time we see Rick Grimes on the zombie drama. (Outside of endless repeats, that is.) Be sure to watch to see just how emotional things get. Ahead of that, set yourself up for some other primetime action and drama with all the other fall TV premieres.