The message etched out by Rick Grimes (Andrew Lincoln) and discovered by Michonne (Danai Gurira) in The Walking Dead's "What We Become" is one of multiple clues pointing towards a "whole story unfolding somewhere," teases chief content officer and executive producer Scott Gimple. It was inside what used to be a U.S. Navy research facility on Bloodsworth Island where Michonne found boots once belonging to Rick, confirming her long held suspicions Rick did not die in a bridge explosion some six years earlier. Taken to a washed up boat by Virgil (Kevin Carroll), Michonne uncovered more evidence Rick was still out there somewhere, including a cell phone marked with Japanese symbols, a drawing of Michonne and daughter Judith (Cailey Fleming), and the signature "rick."
"I can say that both Rick Grimes and Andrew Lincoln would not give up those boots very easily," Gimple said on Talking Dead. "The etching, there's Japanese letters, there's Michonne, there's what looks to be a more current Judith than perhaps Rick [is familiar with] … Is he alive? Is he dead? What's his situation?"
"All I can say is, obviously those are clues that something's going on there, and that there's a whole story unfolding somewhere," added Gimple. "And Michonne might be moving towards it."
Asked why Rick would doodle Michonne and current-day Judith, who is six years older than when Rick saw her last, Gimple answered, "I will say he doesn't necessarily, he doesn't need to have seen her recently. There's a little extrapolation that could be there, too. I'm just saying."
For Michonne, finding proof Rick survived his apparent death at the bridge is "everything."
"She's put something away that could never be put away," Gurira explained. "She's had to move forward and actually compartmentalize a massive hunch that she's always had, that he is not dead, and that there's more to the story of what happened after the bridge."
Gurira noted that hunch was mostly laid to rest in Season 9 episode "Scars," where Daryl (Norman Reedus) and a pregnant Michonne, carrying Rick's son RJ, searched for Rick's body before Judith was briefly kidnapped by Michonne's old friend Jocelyn (Rutina Wesley).
"She came to this very definitive end with that when she lost Judith while she was looking for him constantly, so she put that away to lead her people and take care of who was still here. But it never died," Gurira said. "It's something she really had to allow to go dormant. But of course, he never died for her, he's always right there, so the idea of actually seeing that and experiencing a glimpse of something that could mean something, but maybe not, but it could, is feeding something inside of her that she has been really trying to keep down for so many years and move beyond for the good of everyone around her."
"So it was an awesome thing for me to see Michonne get that, to get connected to him again and to actually have her hunches start to be validated," she continued. "Of course, who knows what happens next."
"That was last year for us, for we the viewers of The Walking Dead," added Gimple of Rick's final episode, aired in November 2018. "But for Michonne, it's been many years. So she has put that away, and the memories have become blurry. So to see this, it just pulls her through time. It's a whole other world, and a world that she didn't even dare consider."
Michonne's feelings tie into the meaning of the writing: "Believe a little bit longer," a message confirmed by showrunner Angela Kang, who says the phone is "obviously a hint at some larger story that took place." That story is expected to be told in the Walking Dead feature films following Rick after his disappearance from Virginia.