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TV Review: The Walking Dead - Season 9, Episode 5

This review contains major SPOILERS.

Season 9, Episode 5: What Comes After

PLOT: While Maggie confronts Negan, Rick might have to sacrifice himself to get rid of a huge herd of zombies.

REVIEW: Lori Grimes died while giving birth to baby Judith back in the fourth episode of The Walking Dead's third season, which is something I've been looking back on fondly while watching recent seasons of the show. Not the death itself, but the fact that it happened in a random episode. Recently The Walking Dead has seemed to be afraid of having anything major happen outside of premieres and finales. That changed with the episode What Comes After, which saw the exit of Lori's husband Rick Grimes (Andrew Lincoln). Rick leaving in a random episode three episodes before season 9's mid-season finale is probably just the result of contract negotiations, I'm sure AMC and the producers would have loved to wait for the mid-season to see him off, but whatever the reason was I'm glad we saw this happen in the fifth episode rather than the eighth. It's good to shake things up. I'd add "when viewers aren't expecting it" to that thought, but these first five episodes have been marketed as Rick Grimes' last episodes, so this was very expected.

Expected or not, the loss of Rick is an event that shakes things up so much, it could lead to a lot more viewers giving up on a show that has already been losing viewers steadily for the last couple seasons... But that's a concern for a later date. The idea that The Walking Dead can continue on without the character we followed into this world is a strange one, but if the show had to lose Rick, I'm satisfied with the way it went down. The way Rick left had been set up so well over the previous four episodes, it was predictable by the time it happened. With the glimpses those episodes were giving us into his homelife, to kill him off would have been cruelty on a level the show wouldn't dare go to after the backlash to the death of Glenn Rhee. Rick had to survive, but how could he survive but not be around on the show? Of course, the helicopter Anna, a.k.a. Jadis (Pollyanna McIntosh), has been in contact with. So Rick is taken away in the helicopter, off of the show. As it turns out, he's going to the same place Heath disappeared to.

Before we got to that point, though, most of the episode was spent on a wounded Rick having hallucinations while trying to lead a massive herd of zombies away from his people. One of my least favorite episodes in The Walking Dead history is What Happened and What's Going On, the season five mid-season premiere that had a wounded Tyreese hallucinating while succumbing to a zombie bite. That's one of director / executive producer / special effects artist Greg Nicotero's favorite episodes, so when I saw that he was going to be directing a hallucination-filled last episode for Rick as well, I was bracing to dislike What Comes After. Nicotero has directed some of the best episodes of the show, but hallucination episodes aren't for me. Rick's drifting in and out of consciousness did start to annoy me toward the end, but the hallucinations here weren't too bad, even if I had next to zero interest in the content of the dialogue spoken in them.

It was nice to see the actors who returned to reprise the roles of long lost characters in the hallucinations. The scene with Hershel Green (Scott Wilson) was especially powerful, because not only is Hershel gone, so is Wilson. He passed away just last month, and it was touching to have this final goodbye to him. I'm not really sure why Sasha (Sonequa Martin-Green), of all characters, appeared to Rick, but it definitely made sense to have him chat with Shane (Jon Bernthal), and the content of that scene actually was interesting to me. It was awesome to see Rick and Shane talk again, joking about the fact that Shane is Judith's biological father. I hated Shane when he was alive on the show, and yet I still miss Bernthal's presence on it.

Also nice was the shot of a mailbox with the name Cardille on it, a nod to both Pittsburgh area horror host "Chilly Billy" Cardille, who had a role in George A. Romero's NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD, and his daughter Lori Cardille, who starred in DAY OF THE DEAD.

Rick and his ordeal dominated the episode, but we also saw the resolution of the mission to kill Negan (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) that Hershel's daughter Maggie (Lauren Cohan) has been on. That storyline went out with a whimper, literally, and it allowed Morgan and Cohan to do some strong dramatic work. I'm not sure if Maggie will be back in the next episode, but it has been said that Cohan would be in six episodes this season, so either the count was wrong or she has one more appearance coming up. I'm guessing she'll be leaving Hilltop, though. She has other things to do now that she can feel content with Negan's imprisonment.

We knew to expect Rick's exit and I guessed the basics of how it was going to happen, so the true surprise of the episode was, fittingly enough, what came after. The last scene of this episode totally blindsided me. I was not expecting another substantial time jump this season, and the show just leapt ahead much further than the 18 months we already got between the season eight finale and season nine premiere. Something like six years have passed, and it will be interesting to see what the world of The Walking Dead is going to be like in the next episode, since structures were already collapsing and gas tanks were running dry in these first five episodes.

It seems odd that there would still be so many zombies around nearly ten years into the apocalypse, but okay, I'll go along with it. If the next episode were taking place the day after Rick left, I'd be shrugging about it, but by throwing this time jump at us showrunner Angela Kang has me intrigued and hooked to see what happens next.

BEST ZOMBIE MOMENT: The herd of zombies continuing forward over the blown-up bridge, catching on fire before plunging into the river below, was an awesome visual.

GORY GLORY: There was some head bashing, but none of it stood out as something exceptional to me. Rick spent the whole episode bleeding, so I guess Rick's blood was the gory glory.

FAVORITE SCENE: Shane giving Rick a pep talk, encouraging him to tap into the feelings of rage and hatred to survive, almost took this honor, but then the late Scott Wilson appeared on the screen as Hershel.

FINAL VERDICT
 

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