The Walking Dead Director Breaks Down Rick & Michonne Epilogue (Exclusive)

Warning: this story contains spoilers from The Walking Dead series finale. "We're the ones who live." With those words in Sunday's "Rest in Peace" series finale of The Walking Dead, Judith Grimes (Cailey Fleming) revealed the secret saying shared by her parents: Michonne (Danai Gurira) and Rick Grimes (Andrew Lincoln). In "Try," the Season 5 episode of The Walking Dead written by now-showrunner Angela Kang, the line originates with Rick. After first arriving at the Alexandria Safe-Zone, Rick declares of his tried-and-tested group of zombie apocalypse survivors: "We know what needs to be done and we do it. We're the ones who live."

Spoiler alert: In the final minutes of The Walking Dead's series finale, Lincoln and Gurira make a special appearance in a five-minute epilogue ending "Rest in Peace." The show's final scene reveals what came after Rick's fateful helicopter flight in Lincoln's last episode, Season 9's "What Comes After," and what became of Michonne, not seen since Season 10's "What We Become." Since she left, Michonne has been on a mission to find Rick and bring him home to their children: Judith and Rick "RJ" Grimes Jr. (Antony Azor).

"The show was always Rick Grimes' journey. You can't really wrap up the story of The Walking Dead without Rick Grimes," series executive producer and episode director Greg Nicotero exclusively tells ComicBook. "It didn't feel right, it didn't feel authentic."

The Walking Dead Ending, Explained

Last we saw Rick, he was gravely wounded after blowing up a bridge to save his family and friends from a walker horde. Answering what happened to Rick after he was flown away aboard a Civic Republic Military helicopter with Jadis (Pollyanna McIntosh), the scene reveals Rick is a "consignee" of the CRM. 

Over on The Walking Dead: World Beyond, Jadis confirmed she traded Rick to the CRM for a new life and admittance into the Civic Republic, a hidden civilization of 200,000 survivors living in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Rick's grimy workwear and kill stick weapon indicate he's a worker for a Civic Republic Cull Facility: decontamination centers where workers execute mass cullings to clear entire states of walkers. Before being promoted to soldier, Silas Plaskett (Hal Cumpston) was one such worker on Season 2 of World Beyond.

The show's creators "went back and forth quite a bit" on whether to end The Walking Dead with Rick, Nicotero explains, only because "we don't want to interfere with the character arcs" of the show's current cast of main characters. "We didn't want to do that, so we didn't want it to be a situation where they're fighting zombies, and then Rick Grimes shows up to save the day."

"We wanted to serve the story arc that the writers had created over the last 30 episodes or so [of Season 11], but we couldn't end The Walking Dead with Rick Grimes being taken away in a helicopter and there's no mention of him ever again," Nicotero says. "So it was very important for us to really sort wrap up the show the way it started, which is seeing who this person is and where he is on his journey."

Rick's journey continues in the Rick & Michonne spin-off series, described as an "epic love story" reuniting Rick and Michonne on AMC and AMC+. Scott M. Gimple, the chief content officer of AMC's Walking Dead Universe, will serve as showrunner on the series he created and executive produces with Lincoln and Gurira. 

During the flagship show's last San Diego Comic-Con panel in July, Lincoln and Gurira made a surprise appearance and announcement: the big-screen Walking Dead movie trilogy in development since 2018 was dead. "Richonne" would live on, Rick and Michonne's stories continuing on the small screen in a six-episode first season set to premiere in 2023. 

Just two weeks later, Lincoln and Gurira reprised their roles, filming the last episode-ending epilogue in secret months after series wrap on the eleventh and final season.

"We filmed that sequence August 8th and 9th of this year. So we wrapped Walking Dead, I think, April 1st," the director says. "And then it was written by Scott Gimple, and Andy had a lot of input on it, as did Danai. So it really was a great opportunity for me to be boots on the ground with Scott Gimple again, because he wasn't the showrunner on The Walking Dead the last couple seasons."

In giving viewers their first look at the Rick & Michonne spin-off, Nicotero explains, "The idea really was that it was intended to be these short, small impressionistic images that tell us that Rick is still alive and he's still fighting to get home, and Michonne is out there, and she's still fighting to find him."

Rick and Michonne's voiceovers become intertwined as they narrate the scene, each writing letters to their loved ones back home: Rick's letter to Michonne, Michonne's letter to the Grimes children. The sequence pays tribute to the dead and the living loved and lost across 11 seasons, 12 years, and 177 episodes of The Walking Dead. 

"And in this particular moment in time, they're thinking about each other, and they're thinking about the people that they love and the people that they've lost," the director says. "And to do that, and to know that the reason that they are still dedicated to their fight, is because of the people that they lost and the people that they love. So, that was what it was all about. And without a doubt, I feel that we captured that spirit, and the spirit of moving forward what the world has in store for them."

The coda concludes with Michonne, the katana-wielding warrior, riding on horseback into a canyon overrun by a horde of the undead. On a riverbank outside the Civic Republic, a black CRM helicopter — like the one that took him away from his family more than six years earlier — thwarts Rick's escape attempt.

"Consignee Grimes. You have been located and are instructed to surrender. Remain in place with your hands up," the pilot tells a defiant Rick, the chopper hovering overhead. "Come on, Rick. It's like she told you: there's no escape for the living."

Rick smiles. Before we fade out to white, Rick says: "We're the ones who live." At the Commonwealth, The Walking Dead ends on Judith and RJ Grimes looking to the future. "We get to start over," Judith tells her younger brother. "We're the ones who live."

What Is the Rick and Michonne Spin-off About?

AMC describes Rick & Michonne: "This series presents an epic love story of two characters changed by a changed world. Kept apart by distance. By an unstoppable power. By the ghosts of who they were. Rick and Michonne are thrown into another world, built on a war against the dead... And ultimately, a war against the living. Can they find each other and who they were in a place and situation unlike any they've ever known before? Are they enemies? Lovers? Victims? Victors? Without each other, are they even alive — or will they find that they, too, are the Walking Dead?"

The Walking Dead: Rick & Michonne begins production in January and premieres later in 2023 on AMC and AMC+.

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