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Tuesday, April 2, 2024

“The Walking Dead: The Ones Who Live” Episode 6 Review – A Grand, Emotional Finale to the Rick & Michonne Story

This review contains massive episode spoilers.

Right before he blew up the bridge back in his final episode from the flagship series, a fatally-injured Rick Grimes uttered “I found them” before he was thrust into the chaos of the Civic Republic Military and stolen from his children’s lives for years. Three seasons and six jam-packed, spin-off episodes later, Rick has indeed finally found them, and the long journey of a sheriff from Atlanta faced with the end of the world has reached its conclusion.  

“The Last Time” kicks off with a beautiful dynamic shot passing over a table filled with the remnants of an intensive planning session and candlelit dinner. Michonne and Rick are romantically enjoying the eve before their bold attack on the Civic Republic Military. Above all, “The Walking Dead: The Ones Who Live” has up-held its commitment to being a romance set within the zombie apocalypse. 

The episode’s 53 minute runtime ensures that things move fast, offering little time for exposition about the extent of Michonne and Rick’s plan. Grimes returns back to the CRM, lying about Michonne’s (known as Dana) sacrifice to save him from the crashing helicopter. General Beale (Terry O’Quinn) is ecstatic about Rick’s return, finally inviting him to be “briefed” as a senior officer. 

Rick meets with General Beale for the briefing in his office, all while Michonne sneaks her way throughout the base-camp disguised in CRM gear. Birds-eye view shots emphasize the grandness of the Civic Republic’s base-camp, while shots following Rick and Michonne inside keep things contained and focused (and probably budget friendly). In their meeting, Beale pressures Grimes to tell him about the worst thing he’s ever had to do in order to protect someone he loved. Rick answers, stating that the worst thing he’s had to do is kill someone with his canines. No fan of the flagship series can forget Rick’s epic and vicious attack on the “The Claimers” in Season 4 after they tried to harm Carl (Chandler Riggs). 

Beale further presses and the conversation turns to Carl as Rick explains that the reason he committed such a vicious act was to protect his late-son. Even after everything he’s done, the apocalypse still claimed Carl and he could not be saved from the perils of the new world. “The Ones Who Live” continues to push the connective tissue from Carl’s tragic demise to Rick’s shift in perspective and approach to conflict. 

The entire scene is yet another brilliant showcase of Andrew Lincoln’s acting abilities. The subtle shifts in his facial expressions as the memories of the past flutter by convey so much with so little. Hearing Rick reflect and talk about the loss of Carl along with what he had to do to protect him is emotional and rewarding for longtime fans of the series. It almost may have been more beneficial to limit the amount of on-screen flashbacks and instead let Lincoln’s raw acting convey the emotion of these hurtful memories. 

Meanwhile, Michonne sneaks into Jadis’ room, desperately seeking to find the dossier she hid regarding Alexandria and its inhabitants. Production design phenomenally paints a picture of the Jadis we once knew, as her quarters are filled with artwork and sculptures (including a painting of Father Gabriel (Seth Gilliam). Visually, it showcases that despite Jadis’ uptight, all-business façade as a CRM officer, deep down she was still practicing her love of art in private. Michonne finds the dossier stuffed inside a sculpture of a cat, perhaps a cheeky tribute to the cat sculpture Rick steals from Jadis’ junk heaps to give to Michonne in “The Walking Dead.”

While roaming to the halls of the CRM, Michonne stumbles upon a fallen stuffed bunny, echoing imagery that goes all the way back to the series pilot – the little walker girl clutching a stuffed bunny. The moment symbolized the loss of innocence in the apocalypse, with a virus that did not discriminate against the lives it infested. Michonne quickly realizes the CRM is up to something involving children, a thought that clearly chills her to the bone. Over 10 years after the show’s original premiere, it’s quite cool to see that haunting stuffed animal imagery come back in the final hour of the Grimes and Michonne story.

As Rick is given the “Echelon Briefing” by Beale, Michonne sneaks into an informational screening within the Civic Republic. It is revealed that the CRM plans to overtake Portland, and all of the surviving communities within it. Prior to the destruction, they plan to evacuate a select number of children from each of these communities, ripping them from their families and homes. 

Throughout this series, Michonne has fought tooth and nail to reunite her family, and here we have the CRM preparing to enforce the complete opposite ideology. This clever writing makes the massive, villainous organization have a goal that goes directly against Michonne’s personal core values.

Beale reveals to Rick that the entire population is at risk of extinction if resources keep dwindling at the rate they currently are. Echoing what Michonne is witnessing, Beale explains the CRM’s plan to destroy Portland so that they can “take their (other community’s) resources and ensure supremacy.” If Rick accepts the offer to become a higher-ranking officer in the CRM and go along with the destruction of Portland, Beale promises that he could bring any of his loved ones to live within the Civic Republic. 

“We will burn things to bring things back. The sword that kills, is the sword that brings life,” Beale explains, referencing Rick’s story about his father’s farm that was first mentioned in episode one of the spin-off. General Beale places his sword on the table in front of Rick, and prompts him to “swear” on it. 

“Swear on the sword, don’t let it take,” Okafor’s (Craig Tate) final message to Rick echoes back to him. 

Grimes’ anger rises as we see flashes of all the horrible people he’s had to dispose of throughout his journey…the Governor (David Morrissey), Negan (Jeffrey Dean Morgan). General Beale is no different. Another survivor convinced that they know the “right” way to keep living, despite the mass loss of innocent lives and cruel, overbearing ruling. Sam Ewing’s magnificent score swells with tension as Rick quickly THROWS a knife at Beale and jumps over the table to tackle him. 

“I never lost my son. I lost myself. He brought me back. My wife brought me back. We’re the sword that kills. We’re the sword that gives life. One life…One unstoppable life. We’re not dead…You are.” Rick exclaims before puncturing General Beale through the heart with the very sword he once wielded. Despite his limited screen time, Terry O’Quinn managed to bring a gravitas and intimidation to the character of General Beale. Watching two masterclass actors like Quinn and Lincoln play off one another in a tense dialogue and action-filled scene is such a treat. Lincoln’s final monologue to a dying Beale is powerful, and ties together themes first presented in the epilogue of the “The Walking Dead’s” series finale. 

With the big bad out of the way, Michonne and Rick’s plan moves into its final stages. Traveling with Beale’s corpse in a rolling chest, Rick has a close encounter with a suspicious CRM guard in an elevator. In order to stop himself from being exposed, we get another classic vicious kill from Rick Grimes as he brutally bashes in the face of the guard with his weaponized prosthetic hand. Rick Grimes will do anything to return to his family, and anyone who stands in front of that will suffer the consequences. 

Lincoln brilliantly conveys the desperation and desire to overcome this attack. As this very well could be the last installment of Rick Grimes’ story, I couldn’t shake a feeling of dread and fear every time Rick was in danger throughout this episode. Grimes always had plot armor throughout the flagship series, but in the finale of his spin-off, it truly felt like all bets were off on his survival (especially considering his fate in the comic series written by Robert Kirkman). 

After the duo reunites, It’s revealed that Michonne has constructed a makeshift bomb with chlorine gas, using knowledge gained from her late friend Nat (who met his unfortunate demise in episode 2). The apocalyptic lovers are preparing the large-scale detonation in a tent located right near a massive briefing that is being attended by CRM Frontliners. It’s a wild plan, and somehow this powerful duo has managed to pull it off with no one in the CRM catching on. 

In a moment of classic “The Walking Dead” macabre humor, Rick and Michonne set up a zombie-fied Beale and the elevator CRM soldier as walking “fuses” to set off the bomb after they cross a certain distance. Michonne is no stranger to using walkers for unconventional tasks, which in itself is a nice callback to the skills the duo have acquired throughout the apocalypse. 

As Rick and Michonne head away from the tent in preparation for the detonation, all seems to be going a-okay…that is until Thorne (Lesley-Ann Brandt) emerges, guns trained on the apocalyptic couple. Rick’s betrayal becomes apparent, and “Dana’s” true identity is now revealed. The conflict with Thorne has been bubbling all season, as Rick constantly tried to keep her on his good side. Chekhov’s gun is aimed right at Rick, and given his fate in Kirkman’s original comic series, it was impossible not to fear that this would be how Lincoln’s heroic character would go out. As Thorne forces the duo to head back into the tent and undo whatever they had prepared, the idea that Michonne and Rick might both go out in a fiery blaze quickly became another frightful possibility. 

This feeling of tension and “no one is safe” mentality is something that I haven’t felt about the flagship series since its golden years, and it was nostalgic to once again have that uneasy feeling about the fate of these characters. Just when a hand-holding Rick and Michonne seem like they’re about to go kaboom, the zombie-fied Beale emerges from the tent, giving the duo enough time to dash for cover underneath a water-drenched tarp as the walkers kick off the explosion. A massive blast decimates the area, immediately killing the crowds of CRM soldiers with chlorine gas. 

Everything is thrust into doom and gloom. Yellowish green gas coats the environment, adding a ghoulish hue to the visuals of the scene. CRM walkers shamble around the mist, silhouetted by the faint lighting of the smoke. The imagery is quite frightening and combined with Sam Ewing’s score truly comes off as an extremely dangerous predicament for Rick and Michonne. In addition to the ravenous horde of heavily-armored undead, a gas-masked Thorne is still on the prowl with her weapon. What follows next is a tense, action-packed, and absolutely gnarly sequence as Michonne and Rick face off against Thorne and the horde. It feels right to cap off the finale of the Grimes story with one last walker-horde attack, complete with an absolute harrowing moment where it truly seemed like Rick was about to become walker chow.

A group of armored CRM walkers surround Rick as he struggles to evade them. The sequence uses several POV shots to place viewers directly within the gathering of salivating walkers, emphasizing just how serious the predicament is. While Rick struggles, Michonne faces off against Thorne using none other than Beale’s trusty sword (comedically gifted to her by Rick). The duo both overcome their adversaries, with Rick somehow using a grenade to blast away the surrounding walkers and remain unharmed (further inspection makes it clear that he shielded himself with several other armored walkers as the explosion went off). Michonne uses Beale’s sword to disarm Thorne, quipping “Love doesn’t die.”

Rick finds a pistol and we get a nice classic Rick Grimes-with-a-pistol moment as he quickly disposes of several incoming walkers. Michonne and Rick scramble onto a shipping container, just barely escaping the clutches of the walker horde reaching up towards their food. The birds-eye framing of Rick climbing onto an object surrounded by a horde calls to mind the visual of him climbing onto the top of the RV after Negan’s brutal batting session in Season 8 or even the tank sequence in the series’ pilot episode. What makes this instance different is that Rick is no longer alone, he’s standing beside the love of his life, Michonne. 

As we pan out from the crumbling remains of the CRM, a radio-cast announces several changes being put into effect in the aftermath of this drastic event. The CRM will vow to welcome new survivors and will cancel all plans to take over Portland. A helicopter flies through the wilderness, this time not sporting the familiar 3-circle logo of the CRM, but a singular circle. Unity, not division. 

An intimate shot shows Michonne’s hand, wedding ring included, clutching Rick’s shaking hand. The beautifully tender shot conveys so much about Rick’s emotions on this helicopter trip, as the duo approaches a moment that’s been extremely anticipated. 

As the helicopter lands, and a freshened up Rick and Michonne step out, we see none other than Judith Grimes (Cailey Fleming) and RJ (Antony Azor), sporting Carl’s hat, sprinting towards their parents. The shot reverse shot almost directly mirrors the moment Rick Grimes reunited with Carl and Lori back in Season 1. Michonne is finally reunited with her children after promising them she’d return with the “Brave Man.” Judith squeezes her tight. Rick watches on, evidently nervous to re-enter the lives of these kids after such a long absence. Judith is the first to look towards him, gently walking into his arms as a beautiful, yet subtle symphony plays out. Rick and Judith are now reunited – a character that literally started as a newborn in the series now standing side by side with the man who raised her. It’s such a wonderfully emotional moment, framed against the backdrop of a dream-like, nature environment. 

“I knew it dad, I knew you were still out there.” Judith says.

And then, after so many years, Rick Grimes finally meets his son RJ. 

“Are you the brave man?” RJ asks with shyness.

“I am…” Rick replies. He fixes the hat on RJ’s just as he would to Carl. 

“But maybe you can call me dad.”

“I knew you’d come back.” RJ chimes. 

“How?” Rick asks.

“I believed.”

And then the entire Grimes family embraces. Together as one. One unstoppable life. The score swells with triumph as helicopters carrying supplies fly by in the sky, serenading a well-earned reunion that not even the walking dead could stop from happening. 

And there we have it. Rick, Michonne, Judith, and RJ finally back together again. Could the episode have been stretched into two to really emphasize the challenge of overcoming the CRM? Yes. Was the master plan and its effectiveness a bit over the top? Certainly. Should the grenade blast have killed Rick? Probably. But you know what, after years of facing vicious walkers, twisted survivors, and unimaginable loss, Rick and Michonne have continued to conquer the unthinkable. Sometimes it’s nice to watch the fictional heroes we so dearly love finally get their happy ending. And for a series that has continued to push its fans through the ringer with devastating twists, watching the Grimes family reunite felt like a much needed warm hug. As someone who started watching this series at 12 years old, I’d be lying if I said this final sequence didn’t get my 23 year-old self genuinely emotional. Countless fans have grown up with these characters, and when they’re beaming with joy, we feel it too. 

“The Walking Dead: The Ones Who Live” is a phenomenal achievement. Each episode constantly raised the bar and featured top tier acting from Andrew Lincoln and Danai Gurira. The cinematography was always superb, making the world of The Walking Dead look as grand and polished as it ever has before. Sam Ewing’s score was nothing short of perfection, and I cannot wait for it to hit Spotify. The narrative progressed at a swift, but effective pace, always ensuring that each episode was filled to the brim with meaningful story progression. The fans so desperately wanted the resolution to Rick Grimes and Michonne’s story and they sure got it. 

4 out of 5 skulls

The post “The Walking Dead: The Ones Who Live” Episode 6 Review – A Grand, Emotional Finale to the Rick & Michonne Story appeared first on Bloody Disgusting!.


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