The missing Rick Grimes (Andrew Lincoln) is a no-show in the first season of The Walking Dead: World Beyond, but the spinoff could explain why Rick hasn't returned home more than six years after he disappeared. Rick and Anne (Pollyanna McIntosh) went missing from The Walking Dead aboard one of the helicopters piloted by the Civic Republic Military, the authoritarian arm of the Civic Republic's Civilian Government. A decade into the zombie apocalypse, the CRM routes an asset identified as gifted teenager Hope (Alexa Mansour) towards a CR research facility in New York State where her scientist father, Dr. Leo Bennett (Joe Holt), is among the minds working to bring back the world.
In World Beyond, we learn the "secret non-public Civic Republic" is entered into a pact with communities in Omaha and Portland as part of the Alliance of the Three. Sometimes called "the Hidden City" because of its classified location somewhere in the Southwestern United States, the top-secret Civic Republic doesn't let anyone in or out and restricts incoming or outgoing communications.
Elton (Nicolas Cantu) surmises that the Civic Republic stays hidden because of its high resource output: they refine fuel, fly helicopters, grow crops, operate technology, and are supported by sophisticated governmental systems. But those resources aren't to be shared: the CRM liquidated the Nebraska Campus Colony and slaughtered almost all of the 9,671 citizens living within its walls because they were "going to be" a threat, according to Lt. Col. Elizabeth Kublek (Julia Ormond).
The Civic Republic is "the last light of the world," according to Kublek, and the final hope for rebuilding the future. Not only does the CR control such amenities as energy, medicine, and water, the 200,000 souls living in this utopia participate in a functioning economy and operate under the rule of law.
When Hope attempts to escape from CRM soldier and spy Huck (Annet Mahendru), she's told they'll come looking. Hope is labeled an "asset," but others in her group are put in danger when they're determined to be "expendable."
Huck informs Hope that "the world's future is at stake," making it essential that she reaches the CR research facility in New York and work with other bright young minds to bring back the world. If they fail to make progress within the next 30 years, CRM scientist Dr. Lyla Bellshaw (Natalie Gold) projects human life will be gone from the planet.
The CRM eliminates any liability or threat to that mission, as we saw when Isabelle (Sydney Lemmon) killed fellow soldier Beckett (James Armstrong) in the name of "operational security" on Fear the Walking Dead.
It's this same reason that Huck separated Hope from her group and sabotaged their 1,100-mile journey to New York: the CRM would terminate them all if a CR location were compromised. The CRM will hunt down and kill defectors to preserve their secrets, as we saw when they fired at Will (Jelani Alladin) after he fled the CR research facility.
When Hope asks what would happen if she runs, Huck tells her, "To you? Nothing. But they'll find you. They always find you."
On The Walking Dead, Anne labeled Rick a "B" — not an "A," which appears to indicate a zombie test subject — when she told the CRM that Rick is hurt but strong after he survived a near-deadly bridge explosion.
If "B" indicates an invaluable asset needed to help bring back the world, it implies Rick has so far been unable to escape the clutches of the Civic Republic on the other side of the country. It further suggests that the CRM is holding Rick under threat to his family, partner Michonne (Danai Gurira) and children Judith (Cailey Fleming) and RJ (Antony Azor).
This could explain the image of an older-looking Judith etched into a cell phone that Michonne found inside a boat washed ashore on Bloodsworth Island. Michonne also found Rick's boots, telling her he survived his presumed death at the bridge, and a logbook documenting the boat's recent stops: Tampa Bay, Florida; Hopewell, Virginia; and Bridgers Shipyard in New Jersey.
Answers behind Rick's seven-year absence, and why he still hasn't made it home, will come in the Walking Dead films scripted by World Beyond co-creator Scott Gimple.
In 2018, Gimple told THR the films are "about who he is and who he's going to be — and certainly how he deals with the situation he's in. We know Rick Grimes; he would want to be home."