Rick-rolled? AMC’s ‘Last Stand’ means Walking Dead can run…

AMC once again practised a sleight-of-hand with the fate of a main character - but the decision could pay undead dividends...

There’s a long-standing rule in the reality of the zombie-infested Walking Dead world that there is a limited time in which to stem that debilitating infection and, in extreme cases, amputation may be the only order of the day – essentially cutting off a limb as soon as possible so that the body itself may survive.  In the comics, Rick Grimes loses a hand to that decision and in the tv reality, it’s the entire body of the lawman-turned leader that is getting surgically removed.

It also works as a rather effective metaphor.

For the past few months, broadcaster AMC have been touting the departure of Andrew Lincoln, the British actor playing the Atlanta sheriff who had led the survivors for so long. They worded their promotions carefully, not wanting to show their entire hand, but it was clear that the show was going to go through some major retooling.  Ratings, while still popular in proportion to other shows, had somewhat slumped and the news of Lincoln and fellow cast-mate Lauren Cohan would be exiting the show this season (the former because he said he wanted to spend more time with his very alive family and the latter because of commitments to her new show, Whiskey Cavalier) began to make things look like an ideal dropping-off point. Radical surgery might be needed.

However it turns out that rumours of the show’s undeath may have been exaggerated and as Sunday’s final Rick outing, entitled ‘What Comes After’, drew to a close, it was clear that far from amputation, the Walking Dead world looks set to spread to go to pandemic proportions.

At the end of last week’s episode, we’d left Rick Grimes impaled on a rebar after the world’s most fickle post-apocalyptic equine sent him flying just as the zombie masses… massed. Rick manages to pull himself free and forgives his untrusty steed and gallops/trots away, losing copious amounts of blood in the process. In what was often an overtly melancholy journey through memory-lane, Rick hallucinated various gone-but-not-forgotten fellow travellers including Shane (Jon Bernthal), Hershel (Scott Wilson) and Sasha (Sonequa Martin-Green).  Given Wilson’s real life death shortly after filming, these scenes were particularly poignant. Disappointingly and somewhat jarringly, there was no sign of Chandler Riggs as Carl or Sarah Wayne Callies as Lori who would have been the obvious choices if pragmatic reasons hadn’t got in the way.  In turns incredibly effective and self-indulgent, there were callbacks to the earliest days of the show as well as a revaluation by Rick of what it had taken to survive as long as he did. With blood pouring from his seemingly mortal wound, Rick decided to save everyone by blowing up the recently completed bridge and halting the zombie horde… and was apparently killed in the process. However a critically-injured but still surviving (not dead, just mostly dead) Rick actually headed off to pastures new with his friends unaware of his last-minute reprieve courtesy of Janis/Anne and a convenient med-evac from a mysterious helicopter.

In turn, exiting show-runner Scott Gimple confirmed a range of spin-offs (including a trilogy of  big-budget AMC films featuring Lincoln’s continuing story of Rick Grimes away from the main show.) Gimple gave some meat to previously-announced news of expansion, saying that there were plans to feature Grimes and other characters in a range of formats – mini-series, digital platforms and in different time-periods. He did say that these were being developed with a long-game remit so they wouldn’t all debut at once.  It is believed that the first of the ‘Grimes’ movies will go into production next year. There are rumours that the films could lens in Europe, but either way, the schedule looks to be more comfortable for Lincoln who often noted the time he was spending long periods away from home. Each tv movie could take two months to film, much shorter than the nine months a series usually takes to complete.

In a double-whammy – the main show’s final scenes suddenly jumped ahead about five years – the show introduced us to an older Judith Grimes and brought some new characters in to the mix. It also essentially cleaned the slate for a majority of ongoing storylines. Maggie’s decision to kill Negan was halted at the last second as she witnessed a broken man who yearned for an oblivion she refused to give him and seconds before Rick made the bridge go kablooey, he silently made peace with Daryl.

It’s been indicated that both Norman Reedus and Melissa McBride (Carol) have re-negotiated and now signed lucrative contracts that would keep them onboard and moving more centre-stage with Danai Gurira (Michonne) also likely to sign-up as long as she gets time off for her expanding big-screen career.

The significant time-jump  and rejigging of the cast now allows an almost ‘next-gen’ kickstart to a new era of the show that had become mired in the mix of having sudden shock deaths serving as punctuation to often more mundane stories and a sense of stagnation rather than real momentum. There had been a real danger in the necrotic tissue taking hold but it appears that there’s now a concerted and co-ordinated effort to triage any problems and work forward.   It’s certainly a risk and a radical one at that, but it also opens a ton of possibilities for both the main show and the other related projects. Kirkman’s comic has opened up the story to feature connections with other wider-spread groups, but big-budget television movies and the decision to expand the stories geographically literally opens up the global possibilities of exploring what the zombie apocalypse did to the world beyond Atlanta and the Eastern Seaboard.

So both Rick and the show have a reprieve… but the show’s sudden rush of adrenaline will need to be sustained and it isn’t quite out of intensive care just yet…

In the meantime, here’s a look at what’s to come…