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Review: The Walking Dead 9x05, “What Comes After”

Aaron Neuwirth reviews season 9, episode 5 of The Walking Dead, "What Comes After," in which we see the supposed end of Rick Grimes.

Welp, I was afraid of this, and I’m not just talking about Deus ex helicopter. Even with the lack of a vacuum-like handling of The Walking Dead to preserve the realization that Rick Grimes/Andrew Lincoln would be leaving the show, “What Comes After,” is still a disappointing episode of television. Gone are the nuanced character moments and sudden spur of refreshing quality that has come with the first few episodes of this season. Instead, we find the series merging some of its worst characteristics for a flawed and lackluster sendoff of the series’ lead character.

It’s a real shame, as the setup paved the way for some exciting possibilities, even with the same ending intact. With Rick left to fend for himself in a grave time of need, what would be going through his mind? Is it possible he could come to some new realization? Is there some discovery that changes his perspective on how he could have led his community? No, not even close. It’s just a lot of Rick passing in and out of consciousness to talk to imaginary versions of the former Walking Dead characters who had free time in their schedule.

Even with the recent death of Scott Wilson leading to a chance for the series to create more poignancy out of this sort of moment, writers Scott Gimple and Matthew Negrete had nothing important for these characters to communicate to Rick. I was a big fan of what Jon Bernthal brought to the show as Shane, and while it was fun to see him back, why did we need this? He may have had the most interesting things to add, but does Rick ever think about Shane? And it was frankly laughable to see Sasha show up, amidst the giant pile of corpses, no less; the most extreme visual of all Rick’s visions.

Remember when Rick had a wife and son? Neither does the show apparently, but even if not bringing Lori and Carl back for this episode comes down to what agreements could be made between AMC and the actors, the solution should be more along the lines of what else could be done, rather than scraping together whoever. So as emotional as some may get with seeing Rick and Hershel share a few words over some hokey Hallmark movie lighting, I’m sorry if I didn’t find this long, drawn-out send-off more affecting.

So aside from arbitrary appearances of past characters, what does it all lead to? Well, it’s the uninspired, “have your cake and eat it too,” option, where the show decides to take the most logical choice of killing off the character, but also saving him at the last minute, and in an inexplicable manner. Still, even in death, The Walking Dead opts for the least-inspired heroic outing instead of something that fits with the nihilistic theme of the show. I may have written about how I loathe the way the show likes to reiterate that thesis again and again, but it’s no help when it can’t even stick to that when it matters most.

Imagine much of this same story happening, but then it still all comes back to Rick waking up and realizing he’s still stuck on the rebar and he has no choice but to off himself (or that damn helicopter still arrives just in time). Say what you will about that scenario being a cheat to some degree, but at least a simple fall of the horse and being undone by random circumstance feels more authentic to the series than this belabored move to get to the damn Bride of Symbolism.

But what else is going on this week? Well, forget about understanding anything that happened with Carol and the big fight with the Saviors, that remains a confusing mess. Instead, we get more time with Negan, of all people. I’ve made it pretty clear that I believe Negan to be useless at this point. However, Jeffrey Dean Morgan is here to stay, and given that he needs to keep being involved, we need to see some change in him. So apparently the way to go about that was rushing into this complete breakdown. Gone is the constant reminder that Negan will not crack under pressure if it means holding onto his over-the-top bravado. He’s now a broken man that has satisfied Maggie’s need for justice.

There’s also Anne, who doesn’t have a lot to do but has been continually set up as the most likely exit-option for Rick if he didn’t just die. That pays off of course, as she’s broken down close enough to a river bank just in time to see Rick wash up on shore, right as the helicopter is on its approach. A few more lines of cryptic dialogue and Anne is the last face Rick sees before exiting the series. I wish the two of them well in their upcoming spin-off movies.

Before all of this is over, but years following the few tears shed by Daryl, after seeing his best bro presumably blow up, we get a big flashforward to a new group of survivors. Nearly done in by the horde surrounding them, they are saved by a pint-sized white knight, “Judith…Judith Grimes.” So guess what, Rick may be gone, Carl may be gone, but the Grimes gang is here to stay because family is forever, I guess.

I didn’t want to be against whatever moves were made to shuffle Rick out of the cast, but this does feel like a limp to the finish line. It takes the show’s most important character and does nothing interesting with his final moments, which includes cheating him out of his death. On top of that, the show moves right back towards bland philophosizing, boring and rushed resolutions to subplots, and the squandering of greater potential. At the very least, the series can stop adding the “Rick’s goodbye” aspect to the rest of what’s working well. Maybe this will just be the odd but significant bump in the road of a great season that lies ahead.

Dead Bits:

  • Zombie Kill of the Week: Rick used some late-in-the-game strength to ax a zombie in the face. He also blew up a bridge of zombies, so that counts too.
  • Rick’s horse sucks. Seriously. It’s scared one second, easy to mount the next. What’s going on with this horse?
  • These are the most hellbent walkers I’ve seen in some time.
  • Honestly, why does Negan even matter anymore? The Saviors left.
  • This was also the last episode for Lauren Cohan, for now, so good luck to her as well, I guess?
  • It was nice to see a clean-shave Scott Wilson again, even if the moment was silly.
  • I honestly laughed when Sasha popped up amongst the dead bodies.
  • I wasn’t fooled for a second by the super happy ending dream where everyone arrives at the bridge but was thinking they attempted to trick me again when everyone actually did arrive.
  • Rick is a B?
  • And in the end, everybody did Wang Chung tonight.
  • Thanks for reading and feel free to hear what me and a few other fans of the show have to say about the series on The Walking Dead TV Podcast.

Written by
Aaron is a movie fanatic and loves talking about such things…a lot. He is from Orange County, California, but earned a degree or two at UC Santa Barbara. He describes himself as a film reviewer, writer, podcaster, video game player, comic book reader, disc golfer, and a lefty. His mind is full of film knowledge and random trivia, but he is always open to learning more, whether it’s through box office stats, reviewing Blu-rays from The Criterion Collection or simply hearing first hand from filmmakers and others about various productions and behind-the-scenes tidbits.

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