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Walking Dead: The Ones Who Live Finale Recap: Pride and Prejudice and Zombies

Photo: AMC

It is a truth universally acknowledged that when a television character starts to reflect on their life, they are about to die. Be it through flashbacks or clips from previous episodes, at the first whiff that a show might be saying good-bye, we’re trained to fear the worst. But The Walking Dead: The Ones Who Live has been asking audiences to look tropes in the face as it swerves in another direction. So while you’re in good company if the finale’s copious use of classic TWD moments raised your blood pressure, at the end of the day, we had little to worry about. Rick and Michonne’s love, and democracy of all things, prevailed.

First of all, this final episode started out by retconning my own interpretation of the penultimate episode. Did you, like me, think that Rick and Michonne immediately returned to Jadis’s helicopter at the end of last week? Turns out, after the proposal/forest wedding vows, they went back to the cabin and spent the night doing arts and crafts and sex while planning the best way to break into the CRM. (Steven Soderbergh, please take notes for the Ocean’s Eleven prequel. We’ve been missing out on heist hanky-panky all these years, and I’m not interested in going back.) They made maps, converted an officer’s uniform for Michonne to wear as a disguise, and left in the morning with a solid course of action. That was so smart of them. I don’t know why I assumed they’d be impulsive.

That opening tells us everything we need to know with a lingering pan through the candlelit cabin toward Rick and Michonne in bed together. We hear quotes from the season and see, strewn across the room, assorted items from past episodes like Nat’s lighter, ramen wrappers, and Carl’s portrait. It’s a visual reminder that despite everything that has happened, and whatever comes next, all that matters is the woman on the mattress and the man putting a ring on her finger.

The next thing we see is Rick and Michonne saying good-bye after landing Jadis’s helicopter at the Cascadia Base. The objective is clear: Rick’s going to get top-secret information from General Beale before the military summit. Michonne is going to destroy the dossier Jadis/Anne used to blackmail them. Then they’re going to hightail it out of there, blow the whistle on the Civic Republic Military to the Civic Republic Council in Philadelphia, and go home to their children. Easy, right?

Rick checks in with Thorne on base and tells her that Dana, a.k.a. Michonne, died saving his life. She leads him to General Beale to be briefed. Before they begin, Beale shares his bleak philosophy that they’re all basically dead, just like the walkers. He asks Rick to put his weapons on the table, reflect on his life, and tell him the worst thing he’s done to protect someone. Why, Rick once bit a man’s throat out (Season 4, Episode 16, aptly titled “A”), of course! Why would this episode remind us of that??

People talking in rooms has never been TWD’s style, which makes the Beale and Rick scene stand out immediately. The longed-for briefing boils down to this: Based on the findings of postapocalyptic scientists, Earth only has about 14 years left. That’s not ideal. With that burden, the CRM’s Frontliners are dedicated to destroying communities and hoarding resources so that a select population can attempt to outlast that estimate. In fact, they’re planning on destroying Portland later that day. Beale next plans to place Philadelphia under martial law. Then, CRM forces will march across the country and conquer as many as they can, with help from well-placed spies.

There was a miniscule chance that the Echelon Briefing would convert Rick to the CRM’s cause. Okafor warned him not to be seduced by it: “Swear on the sword … don’t let it take.” We all saw Dune: Part Two, right? Timothée Chalamet’s character is warned that drinking the Water of Life will show him truths that will turn him into a fanatic, he does it anyway, and that’s exactly what happens. Since the Echelon Briefing turned Thorne into a fanatic, we had reason to fear whatever power that knowledge holds. Thankfully, Rick Grimes is not Paul Atreides. Nor is he, as Beale thinks, a broken, loyal puppy who will keep coming back to the CRM no matter how many times he’s been kicked. He’s a community enthusiast and won’t stand for genocide.

After hearing all of this, Rick won’t even stand for Beale. He remembers that last time the general questioned his loyalty to the CRM; he looked into Rick’s eyes to see if he was telling the truth. So, when Beale asks him to swear on the sword, Rick lets him see in his eyes that he’s about to fuck him up. How do I say this elegantly? It rules. Beale’s pride turns to ash and he barely has time to stutter “No” before Rick goes feral, throws a knife into his shoulder, and pounces across the desk. “We’re not dead,” Rick growls. “You are.” With that, he stabs Beale through the heart with his own sword.

I’m gonna guess that impulsive murder was not part of the decidedly not impulsive plan. I’m not judging, but it does complicate their exit strategy. Rick stuffs Beale’s body into a container and wheels it to an elevator, where another fight breaks out between Rick and a CRM soldier who sees blood dripping from the container. If you thought The Ones Who Live needed more Rick Grimes bashing in heads, your time is now.

Meanwhile, Michonne also hits a snafu. She sneaks into the base and picks the lock to open Anne’s room. The artist formerly known as Jadis has littered her walls with paintings, including some of Beale and Gabriel. Michonne rummages and finds the handwritten dossier hidden inside a metal cat statue (see below). Michonne tears it up, but then a messenger slipping a manila envelope under the door makes contact with Michonne’s foot. She comes in to investigate, and Michonne has to kill her. We’re all doing a little extracurricular murder today, it seems, and it doesn’t end there.

Back in observation mode, Michonne sneaks into a meeting where a team is preparing to abduct 10 percent of Portland’s child population before the bombs are dropped. Over a slideshow of school photos, they’re instructed to soothe the kids with stuffed animals while their homes and loved ones are destroyed. It’s a chilling sight for anyone with half a heart, and especially a mother like Michonne. She goes outside for air and spins right back around with a new, marginally impulsive plan involving grenades.

Michonne reconvenes with her husband outside the elevator, and for a moment their positions from the midseason are reversed. Rick doesn’t want to miss any more time with his family, and Michonne wants to blow up the CRM summit to save Portland. It’s nice that they take a moment to debate this, but they’re ultimately on the same page about staying. It’s the right thing to do. It seems impossible. It probably would be impossible if the entirety of the CRM’s elite force wasn’t gathered for an all-hands briefing.

Plus, don’t forget that Michonne spent a year living with an amateur munitions expert named Nat. She has the skill set to pull this off. Rick helps set up the grenades she rigged under a tent of mustard-gas stores. They create a booby trap with the zombified Beale and Elevator Man so that they’ll trip the grenades while Rick and Michonne get to safety. And Rick gifts Beale’s Revolutionary War sword to Michonne as a little treat.

But then, upon leaving the tent, Rick and Michonne run into Thorne — who figured out Dana’s identity all by herself. I’m a little bummed that they didn’t get to reveal that to her personally, to be honest. But there’s not much time for a confrontation, because in the words of Ke$ha, this place about to blow, and blow-oh-oh it does! Our heroes survive the initial blast by pulling a wet flag over them. Michonne has experience with this, after all.

The ensuing escape through the golden fog, however, gets dicey. Rick is rushed by walkers while Michonne fights Thorne. “Love doesn’t die,” Michonne snarls as she stabs Thorne in the chest. But Thorne does, and Rick honestly might too. He uses an extra grenade to get the walkers off of him, and it’s an actual miracle that he doesn’t blow himself up or get bit in the process. Michonne definitely thought she lost him. If I didn’t remember a similar situation playing out in a previous episode of The Walking Dead, I would have thought so too. But it’s fine! Rick and Michonne make it to higher ground alive, and the CRM, or at least its top-secret genocide squad, is summarily kaput.

Through voice-over, as Rick and Michonne fly back home, we learn that the Civic Republic Council used the information that they gave them and voted to limit the military’s power and redirect their efforts. There are probably still some Beale faithfuls out there. And maybe the Earth is dying, haha! But it’s over for now. This wrap-up is mostly tell instead of show, but the state of politics in our own world is so dire that I got a rush from hearing the words “immediate reform” and “unanimous vote” in any context, so I’m satisfied with the time jump and open ending. Remember what matters! You can yadda yadda all you want about the CRM as long as Rick Grimes gets to hug his children — which he finally does!

When Rick and Michonne emerge from the helicopter to meet Judith and RJ in an open field, they not only have chic new outfits but items they’d left behind like their cowboy boots and katana, showing that time has passed between the summit and the group hug to end all group hugs. Cailey Fleming’s Judith Grimes finally gets to share the screen with her dad. Rick finally gets to meet his tiny son, RJ. The dialogue is sentimental, but don’t fuss about it, that’s just how kids on The Walking Dead talk. You would too if you didn’t grow up with pop culture teaching you how to be above sincerity.

I personally was never worried that Rick and Michonne were going to die on a show called The Ones Who Live. Ask anyone! It would be cruel for The Walking Dead to have a beloved character go missing, remove the actor from the opening credits, and later bring them back only to then kill them off anyway. In all seriousness, the worst already happened to them. The low point for Rick Grimes was in the very first episode of TOWL when he wanted to die by suicide. The low point for Michonne was when she wanted to stop believing. The whole show has been about bringing them back from that. They’re safe and together and in love. That’s all that matters. The finale leaves plenty for the TWD Universe to delve into in the future, but I’m not too concerned with whether this series gets a season two. I would love to see more of Mr. and Mrs. Grimes, but I would be perfectly happy if this is the end for them. Whatever you say, beautifuls!

Sweet Nothings

• In season three of The Walking Dead, Michonne snags a rainbow papier-mâché cat statue while on a supply run to make herself and Carl laugh. She loses it when their temporary home is destroyed. A few seasons later, Rick finds her a wooden cat statue in Jadis/Anne’s trash heap as a replacement. Jadis hiding her dossier in a cat statue on The Ones Who Live means that she never forgot Rick took that from her to give to Michonne. Talk about holding a grudge.

• It is kind of crazy to think about how the United States military was basically fighting a civil war while Rick was in a coma and his family was putzing around Georgia. That is what Beale was implying, right? He glossed right over that.

• If you see me buying crocheted shrugs in every color like the one Michonne wears in the final scene, no you didn’t. Dystopian knitwear is so back!

• I’m so sorry to the people watching who either never finished or never watched TWD and just got every major moment spoiled by the flashbacks. So, so sorry.

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