- Warning: There are massive spoilers ahead for “The Walking Dead” series finale.
- Andrew Lincoln and Danai Gurira appear at the show’s very end in a scene teasing their future spin-off show.
- Showrunner Angela Kang pushed for their return. Their scene changed the entire show’s ending.
Showrunner Angela Kang knew “The Walking Dead” finale wouldn’t be complete without Rick (Andrew Lincoln) and Michonne (Danai Gurira).
The series’ former protagonist, Rick departed the show in 2018, flying away on a mystery helicopter. Michonne left the series in 2020 in search of Rick, the father of her children. The original plan was for the two to be reunited in a recently scrapped movie trilogy.
When Kang learned season 11 of the apocalyptic drama would be its last in 2020, she told AMC she wanted not one, but both to return for its conclusion.
“I wanted them in the finale from the very beginning of mapping out the season and pitched it that way to AMC and said, “I know it’s not all up to me, but I think the best version of the story is that they come back,” Kang told Insider over Zoom on Thursday.
“Everybody’s like, ‘Yep. We hear you. That’s cool. We don’t know if it’s gonna happen,’” Kang said of the response she received.
Finale director and executive producer Greg Nicotero told Insider on a separate Zoom call they were still going back and forth on whether or not to include Rick and Michonne in early 2022 as they were prepping work on the show’s final two episodes.
“We weren’t sure about their availability. We weren’t sure about how to integrate this Rick and Michonne beat into the current narrative, which was wrapping up the Commonwealth story,” Nicotero said, explaining that they didn’t want to take away from the stories of other major characters, like Negan, Carol, Daryl or Rosita.
“So the real question was: How do we do it? Does it happen? Does it not happen? And we went back and forth on it for a while,” he continued.
Shooting on “TWD” wrapped in March and Rick and Michonne still weren’t a part of the finale. A few months prior, in December, a “Walking Dead” movie was still a lingering possibility.
“Finally Scott Gimple was very, very committed to it,” Nicotero said of the “TWD” universe chief and former series’ showrunner. “We sort of knew in March that we were gonna do this, but we couldn’t get it together in time to shoot it with the regular episode.”
It wasn’t until late summer that everything finally came together.
In July, Gurira and Lincoln made a surprise appearance at San Diego Comic-Con to announce they’d return to the “TWD” universe in a future spin-off show instead of a movie. By the next month, the two were filming a secret coda for “The Walking Dead” finale.
Let’s break down the Rick and Michonne scene, what it means for the future of “TWD” universe, how and when finale director Greg Nicotero filmed it, and how, even after pushing for their return, this isn’t the way Kang wanted to utilize Rick and Michonne in the series finale.
What happens in the coda scene: We see Rick in the past and Michonne in the present
Fifty-eight minutes into the finale, a match is lit and a campfire started. We see a close-up of Rick Grimes. He appears haggard and sweaty with dirt visibly on his face. His image is juxtaposed with a shot of Michonne, who appears more serene and in much better shape. It looks like both of them may be sitting across from one another.
Rick’s jotting some thoughts on paper as Michonne writes in a journal to Judith.
Rick and Michonne start to speak and read their notes aloud and their dialogue starts to overlap. On a first watch, it’s tough to focus on both of their individual speeches.
Rick’s full note reads:
“I think of the dead, all the time, and about the living, who I lost. I think about them all, every day. Their faces. What I learned from them. How they made me who I am. So much more than all this made me who I am. All of our lives, becoming one life. We’re together, pieces of a whole that just keep going for what we gave each other. One unstoppable life. You showed me that. You gave me that.”
Michonne’s full message reads:
“I tried to get to you and your brother again and again. It’s too far for the radio, now. I know that. But I still got you and you got me. We’re connected. We’re still connected to everybody we ever loved. We’ll always be together even when we’re apart. We, together, are the strongest thing. We’re love and love is endless. So we, those gone, those away, we are endless.”
As they speak, images of previous members of “TWD” cast members appear behind them, including, Glenn, Shane, Beth, Jesus, and Abraham. Rick’s final words end on various shots of him and Michonne.
The scene culminates with Rick and Michonne appearing to look at one another from across the same campfire. Then it becomes clear, that’s not the case at all.
The scene fades to black and when it opens again, you realize you’re watching two different timelines play out simultaneously.
At some point between the events of Rick’s final episode (season nine, episode six) and Michonne’s final episode (season 10, episode 13), a barefoot Rick is seen on the run, desperately trying to get back to his family. As a Civic Republic Military helicopter spots him, he tosses his bag with his phone sketch of Michonne and Judith onto a boat before they get too close. (On Michonne’s final episode, she found Rick’s cowboy boots and the phone with Rick’s name etched into it on that very same boat.)
A mystery voice from the chopper says, “Come on Rick. It’s like she told you: There’s no escape for the living.”
Michonne, meanwhile, is seen on her own adventure, searching for Rick in the vast unknown. She finishes a journal entry to Judith in a warrior outfit, before getting on horseback. Their scene ends with Michonne riding off toward, what appears to be, a horde of the undead, and Rick surrendering to the chopper as he smiles.
“It’s a past and a present story kind of living simultaneously, but it just shows that their intentions are emotionally the same,” Kang told Insider about the scene.
Of the coda, Nicotero said, “‘The Walking Dead’ started with Rick Grimes. It was all about Rick and his story. There’s not really a world where you could end ‘The Walking Dead without seeing where Rick went.”
He added: “She’s in one place and she’s being driven by the desire to find him. Rick’s being driven by the desire to get home, and it’s that they can’t lose hope. And I think that’s really ultimately what the story is. The story is that they have to keep hope alive.”
Nicotero said he believes the coda works in the backdrop of the story because “it just shows that by sheer will that they have been able to survive and to fight another day.”
From the coda, it feels like 2023’s Rick and Michonne series may show two separate timelines playing out until they catch up to one another.
The Rick and Michonne scene on the finale is not the one Kang envisioned
When we asked Kang about the coda, she said she “had a different wish for what we could see” with the duo, but didn’t have time to get into her vision.
“But that’s so dependent on universe things and, at the time, the movie was still possibly being made and so it was complicated,” Kang said.
Nicotero and Lincoln wound up mapping out a lot of the coda during the summer. It became a mad dash to get them into the episode.
“We planned in August to shoot it, which was basically the drop-dead date that we could shoot it before we were unable to deliver,” Nicotero said.
“Andy and I spent a lot of time talking about it,” Nicotero said of the coda. “He stayed with me for about a week in LA before we shot and really sort of worked it out. And then he stayed with me in Georgia when we shot the episode, when we shot the days as well.”
The finale itself wasn’t finished until November 11. A person who worked on the show described it to Insider as “a race to the finish.”
A scene was cut from the finale in order to insert the Rick and Michonne coda
During our interview with Kang, when we asked if she had another conclusion in mind than what we see on the finale, she said, “I actually did have a different end point in mind and we changed some of that in editing.”
Insider wasn’t able to clarify the alternate series’ ending moment with Kang. When we later spoke with Nicotero, we asked him if anything had been cut from the finale.
“There was one scene that was cut,” he said.
“There was a scene that we had shot, but when it was decided to put the coda in, we felt like it would conflict with the Rick and Michonne bit. So we took it out.”
Apparently, it wasn’t just a scene. After our interviews, an individual close to the show told Insider that the “scene they cut” was the show’s original ending.
Just like the comics, the original ‘TWD’ ending flashed forward to an adult Judith and R.J. and replicated an iconic scene
The scene was described to Insider as “a proper ending” for the series that was “symbolic and emotional.”
Here’s how the original finale ending of “The Walking Dead” was described to us:
“After Daryl rode off, we cut forward to the Freedom Parkway, outside Atlanta where the iconic shot of Rick rode down from the pilot. We see an ethanol-modified van, with a young woman and man in the front seats (in their 20s). And through the scene, we come to realize it’s adult R.J. and Judith. Other adult versions of the kids are in the back — Coco, Gracie, etc. They’re out there, looking to escort any survivors back to their communities. Continuing the legacy of their parents. And as R.J. speaks over the radio, he finishes with: ‘If you can hear me, answer back. This is Rick Grimes.’ (Which, of course, is his name — and the line Rick said in the pilot.) Then we end with the voice of a survivor answering back: ‘…Hello?’”
The narration that we’ve heard at the start of the past seven episodes by Judith was supposed to tie into her as an adult at the very end of the series.
The source told Insider that since the original ending wasn’t a “‘universe’ or ‘world building’ ending,” it was likely cut.
“Since it’s in the future and they don’t know what they’re gonna do with the spin-offs, I guess they opted not to use it,” they said of the original ending.
Our take on the Rick and Michonne scene: AMC took Kang’s well-intentioned idea and utilized it to promote a spin-off instead of servicing a more authentic conclusion.
It seems like the network revisited Kang’s pitch after the “TWD” movie fell apart and became committed to adding it into the finale to promote their upcoming “TWD” spin-off. However, instead of giving her creative freedom to write them into the finale as she saw fit, their return was contingent on setting up a spin-off.
For AMC, it’s a win-win situation. Not only does the network look like it did right by the fans by bringing back two beloved characters, but then it also conveniently draws hype to its series.
Though fans are likely excited to see Rick and Michonne again in “TWD” universe, fans should also be frustrated that they were partially robbed of Kang’s original vision.
You can read our full final interview with Kang here.