This post contains spoilers for The Walking Dead Season 9, Episode 5, “What Comes After.”
It should surprise no one that The Walking Dead bid its hero, Rick Grimes, farewell on Sunday night with a sea of Easter eggs—and dead bodies. After nine seasons on the show, Andrew Lincolns final episode was an odyssey through time, with re-staged moments from Season 1 and callbacks galore. There were heart-to-hearts, memorable shots, and locations with special importance. But did you catch them all?
“I Found You”: The very first episode of the series sees Rick Grimes shot in action and comatose through the beginning of a zombie apocalypse. When he wakes up and sees the world has fallen to pieces, Ricks prime objective is to find his family, Lori and Carl. He tears around shouting their names. Ricks aim in his final episode is similar only this time hes looking for family in a broader sense. Carl and Lori are dead, but Rick still has Michonne, Judith, Maggie, Carol, Daryl, and the rest and when he finds them—both in dream and in real-life—he reacts with the same dazed relief as he did in Episode 1 when he mistook a stranger for his son: “I found you.”
The Burgers: AMC made it clear that there would be a number of cameo appearances in this episode but I suspect nobody was anticipating the the burgers from the very first shot of the series would be on that list. And yet here they are. The simple meal and chat that Shane and Rick shared in simpler, pre-zombie times pop up again when Jon Bernthal makes his appearance in the episode. The view Shane and Rick share in this Season 9 dream sequence is a little different, however. Theyre looking out the window at a flipped car.
That would be from the shootout scene directly after the burger chat in Episode 1. All of Ricks memories are blurring together. I guess severe blood loss will do that to you.
“Whats Your Wound?”: The repeated refrain of “What Comes After” comes directly from some of the first words Lennie Jamess Morgan spoke to Rick when they met in Episode 1. After being stunned unconscious by Morgans son Duane, Rick is struggling to say anything at all which made Morgan worry he might be one of the non-verbal zombies. He demands to know the nature of Ricks wound in order to confirm the man is alive at all. Of course, the phrase takes on a more philosophical/psychological meaning as Rick wanders through a dreamscape.
The Long Road to Atlanta: Perhaps the most iconic image from the series premiere came when Rick rode a horse down a deserted highway into the abandoned city. The shot was so stunning it was the center of the marketing campaign back in 2010. So, of course, the show re-created it for this episode this time with a gaping side wound and a grey beard.
The Doors: If theres another iconic shot from the series premiere its the “Dead Inside” doors that rattle and shake as Rick slowly creeps towards them. These doors have been duplicated for Ricks dream only this time the graffiti reads “Dead Outside.” Is that supposed to refer to Rick? Well, as we see by episode end, hes not dead at all.
Helicopters: Ricks been peering up at helicopters in the sky for a little while now foreshadowing a possible eleventh hour rescue. But viewers may not recall that the very first copter Rick spotted actually showed up in Episode 1 in downtown Atlanta reflected in the side of a skyscraper. It was Ricks first indication that some larger, organized group of survivors might be nearby. In other words, the show has been teasing Ricks fate from Day One.
Hershels Barn: Ricks hallucinated reunion with his old friend-slash-farming guru took place in a fascinating location: the inside of Hershels old barn, where hed corralled a bunch of zombies, including undead members of his family and Carols dead daughter Sophia. As Rick and Hershel speak, theyre standing in a doorway shaped exactly like the one Hershels barn had before the entire farm burned down. And one part of their exchange, in particular, is telling: “I need to find my family,” Rick said. “I need to keep them together.” “No you dont,” Hershel replied. “You only think you do.” By staging this conversation in the barn, it takes on new meaning. The barn, after all, became a symbol of Hershels desire to keep his own family together—even if that meant letting them wander around a barn, decomposing. As for what it all means? Perhaps, its that sometimes letting go is the healthiest thing we can do.
By far the most surreal moment of the episode came when Rick found himself standing in the middle of a sea of corpses—one littered with the bodies of his friends, both alive and dead. Look closely, and youll spot Maggie, Rosita, Jesus, Carol, and someone who at least looks a lot like Shane as well. (Given Bernthals return for his burger scene, it could be him!) Sonequa Martin Green even showed up briefly, back in character as Sasha, for a quick chat about loss and What it All Means. But the most prominently recognizable body is one we only see from behind: although we never see Emily Kinneys face, as the camera pans over a dead girl wearing a yellow polo and sporting a blonde ponytail, fans likely immediately recognized Beth Greene. Beth was one of the shows strongest symbols of kindness and light, and it seems like no coincidence that Rick found her toward the end of his foggy journey toward some kind of enlightenment.
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Get Vanity Fairs HWD NewsletterSign up for essential industry and award news from Hollywood.Laura BradleyLaura Bradley is a Hollywood writer for VanityFair.com.Joanna RobinsonJoanna Robinson is a Hollywood writer covering TV and film for VanityFair.com.