SPOILER ALERT: Do not keep reading if you have not seen Episode 5 of Season 9 of “The Walking Dead,” titled “What Comes After”
As seen in the end of last week’s episode, Rick was thrown from a horse while trying to distract two converging walker herds and was skewered through the abdomen by a piece of rebar. This week’s episode opens with Rick in a dream sequence of sorts as he looks at his former comatose self from the opening of the series. Rick hears voices from his past, like Morgan, while also hearing his own voice telling him to wake up.
When he eventually snaps out of it, he is still stuck with the piece of rebar with the walkers bearing down on him. Through sheer grit, he pulls himself free and gets back on his horse to lead the walkers away.
Rick takes refuge in a home down the road, where he once again loses consciousness and enters a dream state. There he sees himself riding a horse into Atlanta, as he did in the show’s pilot years ago, while also saying “I need to find my family.” But then he encounters Shane (Jon Bernthal), his former partner whom Rick killed in Season 2 before Shane could kill him. Rick imagines himself and Shane sitting in their old police cruiser at the site of the shooting that put Rick into coma. Shane taunts Rick by reminding him that Judith is actually his daughter. He also tells Rick that he was impressed when Rick killed him and that Rick needs to tap into his inner rage to survive his current predicament. He then tells Rick to wake up, which he does just before a walker bites into his face. Rick fights his way out of the house and back out onto the road on his horse.
In Alexandria, Maggie (Lauren Cohan) has finally arrived to carry out her plan to kill Negan (Jeffrey Dean Morgan). She heads to the cells, but Michonne (Danai Gurira) is waiting for her outside. Michonne pleads with her to reconsider, but Maggie’s rage at Glenn’s death has not subsided. Michonne sees that there is no reasoning with her and surrenders the keys to the cells to Maggie.
Maggie stands in front of Negan’s cell, where he mocks her and tells her of the pleasure he took in beating Glenn to death with Lucille. Negan dares Maggie to kill him, saying she doesn’t have it in her to do it. But, as he has up to this point in the season, Negan remains cloaked in shadows. Maggie tells him to step into the light, but he refuses. She opens the cell and grabs him by the collars, throwing him into the light for the first time. Negan is a shell of his former self, having wasted away with a gray beard and sunken eyes. He tearfully begs Maggie to kill him, as he wants to be reunited with his wife. Maggie refuses, saying the Negan she came to kill is gone, and that he has already suffered a fate worse than death. When she exits the cells, Michonne is waiting for her. Suddenly, they get word that something has happened at the bridge camp.
Rick continues on, but loses consciousness again while riding his horse. This time, he comes to at the farm from Season 2, where he is reunited with Hershel, played by the late great Scott Wilson in one of his final performances. Rick apologizes to Hershel for how he died and everything that has happened to Maggie since he died. Hershel says Maggie is strong and her and Glenn’s baby will make her stronger. Rick again reaffirms his desire to find his family, but Hershel tells him he doesn’t need to do so. He says that despite the hardships, everyone will get to the future Hershel imagined one day. Like the other specters of his past, Hershel tells Rick to wake up.
Rick briefly comes to, before slipping back into another dream state in which he sees himself in the hospital hallway he infamously walked down in the first episode. At the end is a familiar doorway, but instead of saying “Don’t Open Dead Inside,” the “Don’t” has been crossed out and it now reads “Open Dead Outside.” Rick walks through the door, finding himself amidst a vast field of dead bodies. Among the dead, he sees many of his friends. But Sasha (Sonequa Martin-Green) rises up and tells him that he has done his part for the new world. She also reminds him that nothing boils down to just one person, it is about all people, and that the universe bends toward love in the end before telling him to wake up.
Rick comes to at the bridge camp, where he sees the aftermath of the showdown with the Saviors from the last episode. Rick kills several reanimated Kingdom people before he sees the herd begin tearing through the camp. He begins leading them toward the bridge, thinking the weight of all the walkers together will bring it down as construction was not completed. He has one final vision, this time seeing Michonne, Daryl (Norman Reedus), Maggie, and the rest of his friends storming the herd and saving his life. Michonne comforts him before Rick realizes that this is not real. Before he comes to again though, he realizes that this group is the family he has been seeking.
Rick struggles back to his feet and leads the walkers to the bridge. But to his horror, it does not collapse. Just as a walker is about to catch him, Daryl appears on the other side of the bridge and drops the walker with a crossbow bolt. Maggie, Michonne and the others arrive to save Rick, but he tries to wave them off. The walkers have tipped over a supply cart left on the bridge, which contains dynamite. Rick raises his trusty revolver and, before firing, says “I found them.” Rick shoots the dynamite and the bridge goes up in flames, taking the walkers with it. Everyone is devastated, with Michonne having to be restrained by Maggie and Carol.
Downriver, Anne (Pollyanna McIntosh), a.k.a. Jadis, is waiting for her friends in the helicopter to pick her up, as she has promised them “an A.” As she stands near the river bank, she sees Rick wash up on shore. The helicopter approaches and she radios it, telling those onboard that she never had an A but does have a B, and that she wants to save the person who saved her life. Whoever is onboard agrees, and Rick drifts in and out as Anne promises him that he will be alright.
The episode ends with a time jump, as a new group of characters try to fight off a group of walkers. They are surrounded, when someone shoots several walkers and frees up a path for them to escape. They run into the woods, where they find the shooter, a young girl carrying a tiny katana and pistol. When they ask who she is, she dons a familiar sheriff’s hat and says, “Judith. Judith Grimes.”