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‘The Walking Dead’ Ends With a Promise of More Life

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This text includes spoilers for the series finale of “The Walking Dead.”

“The Walking Dead” has been ending for a really very long time.

When it debuted on AMC in the autumn of 2010, “The Walking Dead” was something of an aberration within the prestige TV landscape — a gory, effects-heavy horror-drama for adults that combined graphic, grand guignol violence with the strong moral center of shows like “The Sopranos” and “Breaking Bad.” It soon emerged as an unlikely hit: At the peak of its popularity, around 2013-16, it became certainly one of the most-watched cable TV series in history, with roughly 21 million people tuning in to the Season 7 premiere to seek out out who was killed by the brand new villain Negan (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) after the previous season’s much-discussed (and wildly controversial) cliffhanger finale.

Since we learned the reply to that query — it was a double whammy, with each Abraham (Michael Cudlitz) and Glenn (Steven Yeun) taking a baseball bat to the pinnacle — the show’s prominence has steadily declined. Rankings have plummeted, hovering today between one and two million viewers per episode, while central solid members have either fled to the spinoff “Fear the Walking Dead” or been written out entirely.

They include Andrew Lincoln, who starred because the series lead, Rick Grimes, before leaving midway through Season 9. Of the unique group of survivors, only the fan-favorites Daryl (Norman Reedus) and Carol (Melissa McBride) remain, flanked by a handful of multiseason stalwarts like Negan, Maggie (Lauren Cohan), Father Gabriel (Seth Gilliam) and Eugene (Josh McDermitt).

The eleventh and final season of the postapocalyptic zombie drama has been broken up into three batches of eight hourlong episodes, the primary chunk of which premiered way back in August 2021. In that span of time, our remaining heroes have abandoned Alexandria, their home for the previous six seasons; been reluctantly inducted into the Commonwealth, an enormous, prosperous community run by ostensibly benevolent governor Pamela Milton (Laila Robins); battled and defeated the nefarious foes the Reapers, led by the mustachioed tyrant Pope (Ritchie Coster); and skirmished elaborately with Lance Hornsby (Josh Hamilton), the Commonwealth’s manipulative deputy governor, who caused all types of trouble before finally being killed off just a few weeks ago.

It was numerous ground to cover in a single season. Much of it relies on material outlined within the Walking Dead comic books by Robert Kirkman — particularly the arrival of our core protagonists to the Commonwealth, which is where the comics led to 2019, and the following struggle for power between the Commonwealth’s corrupt leaders and our (mostly) noble heroes. However the series has diverged from the source material often enough through the years, cavalierly killing off foundational comic-book characters or following latest threads of its own invention. Loads of questions remained about how the show would end.

The penultimate episode, last week, left us with a vintage “Walking Dead” cliffhanger: The plucky Judith Grimes (Cailey Fleming) is shot during a tense standoff between the core group and the Commonwealth’s now fully villainous powers that be, and while attempting to avoid wasting her before she bleeds out, Daryl, Carol and the others are surrounded on all sides by flesh-eating walkers. The finale picks up where we left off, with a mad scramble to flee the walker horde and save Judith’s life.

Whether you ought to relive the magic one last time or simply close the book on a show you stopped watching years ago, we’ve you covered. Listed here are five takeaways from the long-awaited end of “The Walking Dead.”

The previous episode’s cliffhanger ended up being short-lived. As Daryl hauls the ailing Judith into an abandoned Commonwealth hospital and out of harm’s way, he’s knocked unconscious by a city trooper, leaving Judith to fend off an encroaching walker and ensure that they’re out of harm’s way. Carol and the others soon join them inside, but while Judith’s condition has begun to stabilize — because of a generous (and really convenient) blood transfusion from Daryl, whose blood type, he reveals, “goes with anybody” — Luke (Dan Fogler) and his girlfriend, Jules (Alex Sgambati), usually are not so lucky, succumbing to their zombie wounds.

Across town, Rosita (Christian Serratos), Eugene and Father Gabriel arrive on the local day-care center, which, in certainly one of the show’s darker turns, has been almost completely overrun by walkers — Rosita’s infant daughter, Coco, turns up because the lone survivor. Baby in tow, the three reconvene with Daryl, Carol and the others, now also joined by Maggie, Negan, Aaron (Ross Marquand) and Lydia (Cassady McClincy). They’ve even managed to rescue Mercer (Michael James Shaw) from the Commonwealth prison.

The reunited crew commandeers a military truck and drives to the nearby secure house they’ve apparently had on the ready, where the surgeon Tomi (Ian Anthony Dale) is readily available to bring Judith back to full health.

Everyone’s back together. Judith is out of danger. Next on the agenda? Caring for the governor-turned-despot Pamela, who has gathered the Commonwealth’s wealthiest and retreated to town’s gated inner sanctum, leaving the proletariat to fend for themselves against the ravenous swarm of walkers. Mercer doesn’t prefer it and tells the group that he intends to avoid wasting the people and take her down — on his own, if essential. But this isn’t a bunch to take evil dictatorships flippantly. All of them comply with depose Pamela and liberate the Commonwealth once and for all.

Thus a showdown. As town’s under-classes beg to be admitted into the protected community, the walker horde bears down on them and, with only moments to spare, our heroes surround Pamela and her troops and demand the gate be opened. Father Gabriel makes to open the gate, under threat of being gunned down — leaving the ordinarily taciturn Daryl to step up with a title drop for the ages.

“We’ve got one enemy,” he declares, urging each side to return together and unite against the walkers. “We ain’t the walking dead.”

It’s a rousing enough speech to influence Pamela’s last remaining allies to desert her and join the cause for good. She is summarily placed under arrest (for “high crimes against the people of the Commonwealth”), the gates are opened, and the zombies are held at bay. Judith even has some words of encouragement for Pamela, hoping to encourage a change of heart. “It’s never too late,” she urges.

Like Negan before her, Pamela is overthrown and jailed, left to ponder her crimes. The walker horde is disposed of using a bunch of oil drums, a turntable and an old Living Color LP rigged to set off an enormous explosion, which winds up obliterating the gated community and the mansion where Pamela lived — a nifty trick that doubles as a symbolic gesture. Carol, taking up as governor, plans to dismantle the caste system that made the Commonwealth so unjust. Why not start by blowing up the wealthy a part of town?

Within the aftermath, the people of the Commonwealth come together to eat and drink to the sounds of Fleetwood Mac. In what amounts to an prolonged wistful denouement, various characters engage in long heart-to-hearts. Negan offers Maggie an extended overdue apology for his murder of Glenn, which she doesn’t accept, exactly, but nonetheless appreciates. (“I don’t need to hate you anymore,” she tells him. Expect the healing to proceed in the approaching Maggie-Negan spinoff, “Dead City,” due next 12 months.) Negan even gets a slight, respectful nod from Daryl, which is probably the most important sign to this point that individuals are finally ready to just accept his redemption.

Fade out and flash forward: It’s been one 12 months since Pamela was ousted, and we get a cursory have a look at what the people of the Commonwealth have been as much as within the interim.

Connie (Lauren Ridloff) remains to be working as a reporter “keeping the administration honest” and is happier than ever. Judith receives a letter and farewell package from none apart from Negan, wishing her well as he prepares to decamp for his latest series. The town as a complete appears to be thriving, not under urgent threat of siege or walker invasion. It’s about as close because the show has ever gotten to demonstrating a capability for optimism. A completely satisfied ending? Within the context of “The Walking Dead,” it’s ecstatic.

But there’s one man who isn’t content to enjoy peace and quiet. Daryl Dixon, ever the nomad, is preparing to go away the Commonwealth behind and head out on the open road on his motorbike to seek out … well, it’s hard to say. But in keeping with reports, it could take him so far as France in yet one more “Walking Dead” spinoff.

The necessity to keep Daryl’s story in motion as every little thing else wraps up tidily creates a somewhat disjointed effect, but at the very least we get an excellent final scene between Daryl and Carol, who’ve been inseparable since they bonded within the show’s second season. “It’s not like we’re never going to see one another again,” he assures her before he leaves, possibly teasing a future onscreen reunion. More moving is her tearful rejoinder.

“I’m allowed to be sad,” she says, fighting tears. “You’re my best friend.”

After all, certainly one of the most important differences between “The Walking Dead” and its source material is that the story’s original hero, Rick Grimes, exited the show 4 years ago, whereas he remained the most important character of the comic book throughout its run. The comic ends with Rick’s death — he’s murdered in cold blood by Pamela’s twerpy, sociopathic son, a criminal offense that precipitates widespread social change and upheaval across the Commonwealth community. Since that couldn’t be the ending, certainly one of the most important unknowns going into this finale was what would transpire as a substitute.

Because it seems, the show ends with Rick’s (and Lincoln’s) return. The ultimate moments of “The Walking Dead” show us Rick wandering a corpse-strewn beach, penning a letter to his family and stuffing it right into a bottle.

A Lincoln-led mini-series about Rick’s continuing adventures is within the works, and here we get just a few tantalizing glimpses of what it could be like: Rick is on his own and on the run, and after hurling his message in a bottle into the ocean, he’s tracked down by some men in a helicopter who warn him by megaphone that he has no alternative but to give up. It is evident from the interaction that they’ve been through this before. Additionally it is clear that Rick hasn’t given up hope of at some point reuniting together with his family, even after at the very least seven years since leaving the most important story (within the story’s timeline).

Rick’s temporary appearance has the wistful tone of reminiscence. His beach wanderings are intercut with a montage of departed solid members from seasons past, and we get a little bit of voice-over narration from Lincoln that evokes an earlier conversation between Rick and his longtime partner Michonne (Danai Gurira). “I believe in regards to the dead on a regular basis,” Rick says, as faces of who didn’t make it, beloved characters (Chandler Riggs’s Carl, Jon Bernthal’s Shane) in addition to some forgettable ones (Jeffrey DeMunn’s Dale, Lawrence Gilliard Jr.’s Bob), cross the screen. Naturally, he concludes with a line that has turn out to be something of a mantra for the series: “We’re those who live.”

It’s a fitting line to finish on, capturing the dogged resilience of the human spirit that has arguably been the show’s overarching theme.

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