Major spoilers below for anyone who hasn’t yet watched the fifth episode of The Walking Dead Season 9.
After one hell of a lot of heavy breathing, Andrew Lincoln has now completed his reign as The Walking Dead‘s ringleader, and Rick Grimes is no more. At least, it might be. Because even though the character may not be around anymore, The Walking Dead made the controversial decision to keep Rick alive instead of killing him off. Instead of mournful “R.I.P. Rick Grimes” tributes, we can now start the “When will he come back?” conversations.
With so much to talk about, let’s look at how The Walking Dead set up Rick’s survival story, as well as what that wild final scene means for the future of the show.
How Rick Survived
First off, it took some monumental strength for Rick to be able to pull himself off of the rebar stuck through his side, but he did it. Presumably like many others, I was on high alert for the entire episode to just be a Jacob’s Ladder scenario in which he’d never actually escaped that predicament. Thankfully, Angela Kang & Co. avoided that brand of misdirection, even if Rick’s overall survival kind of felt like a fake-out of sorts.
On the way to the bridge that Rick has hung so much of his hopes on, he had a series of hallucinations that brought three former Walking Dead stars back. Rick first achieved some catharsis when talking Jon Bernthal’s Shane about Judith’s heritage and regrets about Shane’s death. He then made similar apologetic concessions about Beth to Hershel for a scene filmed not long before actor Scott Wilson passed away. Rick then got some inspiring words from Sonequa Martin-Green’s Sasha that pushed him along the final leg of his journey.
Even though the main group of survivors did show up somewhere around the nick of time to help Rick avoid a death by walker herd, the community leader kept everyone else’s best interests in mind. After catching sight of dynamite sticks that someone ignorantly left out, Rick chose to blow the bridge up, thus stopping the herd from crossing over to potentially run rampant through the main communities. He succeeded in that destruction, and somehow managed to survive the explosion.
With a reveal that many fans had been theorizing about, Jadis stepped up and made the one move that could truly redeem her past behavior on The Walking Dead. Instead of offering up Gabriel or another protagonist as an unwitting victim to the human-trafficking helicopter pilot, Jadis basically stumbled upon a still-breathing Rick and reworked her deal so that he could be transported back to whatever successfully run community the pilot calls home.
So instead of become walker chow as it had seemed imminent, Rick will instead find himself a resident within a new location that Walking Dead viewers may or may not be introduced to in the near future. It almost has to be connected to the same place that Georgie comes from, right? So, in theory, if Maggie packed up her bags and left Hillside after having that talk with Negan, she might also be heading to the same place Rick is going.
That would be a strangely fitting way for both characters to officially bow out of the show, and will hopefully also be a way for The Walking Dead to explain other mysterious disappearances in the past.
What The New Time Jump Means
While viewers were still dealing with the mega-shock over Rick being taken away in that mystery helicopter, the show slyly made Season 9’s second major time jump. Even though this one didn’t reveal how the communities or doing, or even specifically how much time has passed, it still managed to be just as crazy and important as the time jump that kicked the season off.
For one, the final scene introduced a pack of new characters that The Walking Dead comic readers will certainly find familiar. Without explanation, Nadia Hilker’s Magna and her close-knit group show up in the midst of some major struggles concerning their own large group of gnarly walkers. Eleanor Matsuura’s Yumiko appears to be injured, but is still intent on escaping the situation intact, and Dan Fogler’s Luke looks seconds away from having seven nervous breakdowns.
Magna’s group managed to survive the episode just as Rick did, thanks to the gunslinging efforts of one Judith Grimes. That was truly one of the most jaw-dropping reveals of The Walking Dead‘s entire run, setting up a much different direction for the rest of Season 9 and beyond. Her moment with the hat was as cheer-worthy a moment as we got in the largely dour episode.
Though The Walking Dead‘s first time jump was one sourced to Robert Kirkman’s comics, where Rick is still alive, this second time jump is exclusive to the TV show. It’s not only an interesting way to immediately follow up on Rick’s highly anticipated exit, but also to renew the family’s legacy within this universe.
Having killed Carl off already, The Walking Dead seemed like it might have to avoid the bulk of Carl’s stories that came after that point in the comics. Judith’s emergence as a lil badass could remedy some of that, even if she wouldn’t be a right fit for all of Carl’s arcs. (Such as future romances and things.)
The Walking Dead may have bid its fond and nostalgia-driven farewell to Rick Grimes for now, but the show definitely isn’t finished yet, and possibly won’t be for many more seasons. There are new tales to tell with this influx of new characters. Plus, it’s now being reported that Rick Grimes’ future will be told through a series of Walking Dead films, so there’s that.