Earlier this week, I had the chance to watch “What Comes After” a few days before it aired on AMC, and I wrote up a lengthy review that I was all set to publish as soon as it finished airing last night. One thousand words boiled down to just a handful, I was pretty damn annoyed that Rick Grimes’ “final episode” sent the character out on such a lame note, with his heroic sacrifice being tossed away in favor of an ambiguous ending that left his fate unclear. I was annoyed because I felt we deserved better. More importantly, Andrew Lincoln deserved better.
But immediately following last night’s episode of “The Walking Dead,“ of course, we learned something we weren’t previously privy to. As franchise architect Scott Gimple revealed on “Talking Dead,” Andrew Lincoln actually will be reprising the role of Rick Grimes in the future, in *at least* three big budget feature length “Walking Dead” movies that’ll air on AMC. Suddenly, my entire review was rendered pointless, and I scrapped the whole thing. After all, why complain about a lame finish to Rick’s story when, well, it’s not actually finished at all.
If you follow me on Twitter, you’ll know that this announcement irritated me in a whole different way, as AMC had been building towards “What Comes After” as the final hour for the Rick Grimes character. Of course, in hindsight, they cleverly only noted that it would be Rick’s “final episode,” and indeed it’s looking like it will be. Movies are an entirely different beast altogether, and though I’m undoubtedly annoyed that they pulled the bait-and-switch on us, I’m not going to sit here and write 1,000 words on how mad I was over being duped.
They tricked us, there’s no doubt about it, but what I’d rather spend some time writing about is the future of “The Walking Dead,” which is actually looking pretty damn bright at the moment. Honestly, I’m more excited about the brand than I have been in a few years, and that’s because, well, the show has needed something of a reboot for a long damn time.
How do you hit the reboot button on “The Walking Dead,” now nine seasons deep? Getting rid of Rick Grimes is honestly a pretty compelling start. Without Grimes as the central character, the show now has the opportunity to start digging into other storylines and strengthening characters that have long been playing second fiddle to Rick, with Michonne, Daryl and Carol now in positions to really lead the charge and take the series down new paths. Of course, how fresh “The Walking Dead” actually is going forward will depend mostly on the show’s writing, but the good news is that the writing does seem intent on giving the series a fresh start. After all, the rest of the series isn’t just Grimes-less, but it’s also set far into the future.
Teased at the very end of “What Comes After,” the remainder of Season 9 is set a complete six years after the season’s previous events, with an adolescent Judith Grimes now taking up the mantle of her missing father and deceased big brother. The jump in time guarantees that “The Walking Dead” will be a different show when it returns this Sunday night, with the world in a far different state and a handful of new characters fighting alongside our old friends. New villains are also on the horizon, with the Whisperers set to arrive within the next few episodes.
The Whisperers, if anyone who doesn’t read the comics isn’t aware, walk around in suits made of zombie flesh as a way to blend in, and Greg Nicotero promises that their arrival will bring some genuine terror back to “The Walking Dead.” The series hasn’t exactly been *scary* in recent years, but the Whisperers may be just what it needs in that department.
While “The Walking Dead” (hopefully) becomes a new show entirely, it’s pretty cool to hear that we’ll also be getting the continuation of Rick’s story in a handful of movies; the first film, which will begin production as early as next year, will explore Rick’s trials and tribulations in a whole new corner of the zombie apocalypse. Separating Rick from the other characters he’s spent the past nine seasons with will allow for new Rick Grimes stories to be told, much the same way that separating them from him will allow for new stories for those other characters.
As Gimple put it last night, “We don’t want to see people doing the same thing, with the same motivations or people with the same lives; it needs to be differentiated from each other in the types of stories that they’re telling, themes and the tones we’re exploring. A variety of locations is absolutely critical to this. Seeing other parts of the world and making sure that we’re not trying to do the same thing that Michonne, Maggie and Carol and everybody have been doing. We want to tell different stories but in different corners of the world.”
I don’t know about you, but as a longtime loyal viewer who has grown tired of “The Walking Dead” being “more of the same,” that statement right there is music to my ears right now.
It’s all in the execution, but as I sit here pondering the show’s future at this very moment, I find myself excited to watch this coming Sunday. And that’s a big step in the right direction.