The Walking Dead is set for Rick Grimes' exit in the upcoming ninth season, opening the door for some meaningful returns if only for a moment.
Rick has a track record of hallucinating in difficult times. Back when his group was living in the prison and battling the Governor, Rick suffered tremendous loss and maintained his warrior mentality. However, he would see a pair of dead characters throughout his prison tenure as his late wife Lori haunted him several times and his old police partner Shane Walsh flashed in for a cameo during a gunfight.
If Rick Grimes is to bow out in Season Nine, rather than simply take the high road and allow Andrew Lincoln to possibly return to the AMC show at a later date, there are a number of characters who could return to send him off properly.
Shane Walsh has been confirmed for an appearance in The Walking Dead Season Nine, prompting the speculation of popping in for Rick's final moments.
If Rick is to die a tragic death, especially one as drawn out as Carl's was in Season Eight, it's possible he will reflect on his pre-apocalyptic life. This leaves room for Bernthal to appear in hallucination form, once again, or the powers that be could be bringing Shane back for a pre-apocalyptic scene. The show recently re-cast a young version of Carl Grimes for the Season Eight finale, which was the first flashback to pre-apocalyptic days since Season Two.
Rick and Shane had a long running relationship prior to the apocalypse, offering several moments which could enrich their history and reveal more about how the events of their relationship shaped Rick as the man he is today.
Chandler Riggs recently graduated from The Walking Dead when Carl was killed in the Mid-Season Eight premiere. Carl, of course, played the biggest role in shaping Rick's life as his introduction was as a man looking for his wife and son.
Having lost both, Rick's final moments (or decision to leave the group, indefinitely) could be influenced by a memory or hallucination of Carl Grimes. As much as the fanbase would love to see Carl appear in the form of Riggs delivering an imaginary message to his father, it's possible the younger version of the character appears in the same scene which Shane Walsh does.
Hershel Greene helped shape Rick Grimes in the early days of the apocalypse, pleading with him to move away from killing to survive and finding another way to rebuild civilization.
Hershel was taken from the group during an encounter with the Governor but his influence has remained. Rick found another way to end the war with Negan which did not involve killing the leader. In fact, Hershel's final moments came with a grin on his face as he realized Rick had understood his message in pleading with the Governor to find another way to survive together rather than going to war.
Barring a pre-apocalyptic flashback, Hershel would be a welcome return which would hit fans of the AMC show straight in their feels.
If Shane is to return during a pre-apocalyptic flashback, Lori Grimes would be a likely candidate to join the scene. Of course, this would conflict with the show's current narrative, as Rick has moved on and formed a healthy relationship with Michonne since Lori's demise.
Lori's connection to Shane, however, fuels the idea of her making a surprising comeback to the show for Rick's final episode.
Lori left the show in its third season, with Sarah Wayne Callie's character dying while giving birth to Judith, the little girl raised by Rick but ultimately only biologically related to Lori and Shane.
Like Hershel, Dale urged the group to find other ways to survive which did not involve killing. He was The Walking Dead's first true moral compass.
Dale likely would have played a larger role on the AMC show had Jeffrey DeMunn not asked for an exit, which came in Season Two. His lifespan on the show was a little short to have a major impact on the legacy but his key role in the show's earliest episodes would provide a touching amount of nostalgia should he appear in such a heavy moment.
The first true villain of The Walking Dead (maybe aside from Shane Walsh), The Governor, has appeared on the show once since his demise. David Morrissey appeared as the Governor for Tyreese's final episode, in which a hallucination called for Beth, Noah, the Governor, and Lizzie to speak to him as he perished.
If characters who shaped Rick's journey throughout The Walking Dead are going to make an appearance, the Governor certainly fits such a bill. Like Merle Dixon, the Governor was an example of what not to be, and helped shape the AMC series and its main character moving forward.
As much as a T-Dog appearance would be fun, the character never played a key role in Rick's life, so the final spot on the list goes to Merle Dixon.
Michael Rooker's character had a lasting impact on the fan base and had some heavy interactions with Rick Grimes early on in The Walking Dead. The character was a prime example of the type of human the survivors should never be and he didn't need the apocalypse to take on such a lifestyle. If fallen characters are going to appear to welcome Rick to the other side, Merle could be one of the faces fans would instantly recognize which could appear for such a moment.
Thought Merle was really on this list and Negan's victims were not? Stop!
Glenn saved Rick from the jump, rescuing him from a tank surrounded by zombies during his first trip to Atlanta in The Walking Dead's pilot episode. Then, Abraham Ford came along and was a loyal soldier in Rick's army. Both characters will brutally slain by Negan in the Season Seven premiere, after long journeys by Rick's side.
Glenn and Abraham are both deeply missed by The Walking Dead's audience and their return would be more than welcome!