“The Walking Dead” Series Finale Review – A Surprisingly Sentimental and Rewarding Resolution

It’s over.

Over a decade after its initial premiere in October 2010, AMCs “The Walking Dead” has reached its ultimate conclusion. “Rest In Peace” marked not only the last episode of the mega-sized 11th season, but the final episode of the entire flagship series. While there are a plethora of spin-offs featuring fan-favorite characters on the horizon, “Rest In Peace” closed a chapter on the core ensemble’s long fight for survival. 

With dozens of recurring characters, actors juggling other filming commitments, losing its lead character, showrunner shifts, and the occasional controversial moment, finding a way to resolve the longest-running zombie television series seemed like an impossible feat. Despite all the odds, showrunner Angela Kang managed to overcome the show’s typical hiccups for an exceptionally rewarding, and emotional send-off.

“Rest In Peace” starts immediately after the chaos of the previous episode with Judith (Cailey Fleming) bleeding out as Daryl (Norman Reedus) whisks her away into a nearby Commonwealth hospital. As she flashes in and out of consciousness, Daryl has a run in with Commonwealth soldiers and is knocked unconscious. Walkers are approaching the glass-walled hospital and with her last bit of strength the gravely injured Judith barricades the entrances before passing out next to Daryl. As an opening scene for the finale, it simply doesn’t get more high-stakes than this. 

Meanwhile, our survivors are engaging in a brutal battle against the horde of walkers in the Commonwealth (Variants included!). Director Greg Nicotero wastes no time in granting “The Walking Dead” fans a hefty dosage of the grisly gore the series is known for. Within moments, Jules (Alex Sgambati) is devoured by walkers, much to the horror of her husband Luke (Dan Folger) who gets a pretty nasty bite in the leg. This sequence screams classic “The Walking Dead,” with characters falling left and right amongst Nicotero and Co. ‘s consistently superb zombie makeup. As Luke screams for his chowed-up wife, the survivors carry him away from the bloodshed in a haunting sequence. For a show that used to be swarmed with “Where is all the action? Where are the zombie kills?” complaints in its later seasons, “Rest In Peace” surely puts those grievances to rest. 

Alex Sgambati as Jules – The Walking Dead _ Season 11, Episode 24 – Photo Credit: Jace Downs/AMC

What follows next is an extremely graphic sequence with Luke surrounded by Magna (Nadia Hilker), Yumiko (Eleanor Matsuura), Connie (Lauren Ridloff), and Kelly (Angel Theory). Dan Folger gives a gut-wrenching performance as Luke in his final moments, still longing for his wife as his freshly-amputated leg gushes blood all over. Even by “Walking Dead” standards, this scene felt extremely disturbing mainly due to the phenomenal acting work.

As Daryl scrambles to keep Judith alive, walkers invade the hospital (echoing back moments from Season 1’s hospital-set pilot episode). In a last ditch effort, he puts her gurney in a room and barricades the entrance, much like Shane (Jon Bernthal) did to protect a comatose Rick (Andrew Lincoln) all of those years prior. A terrifying variant walker, featuring absolutely incredible makeup effects, uses a rock to bash open the glass walls of the hospital. More survivors (albeit relatively unknown ones) are disposed of by the invading walkers, once-again upping the body-count of this ultimate finale. 

The panic and terror of this hospital sequence comes through effectively, very much amplified by Bear McCreary’s haunting score. The tight, dimly-lit corridors reveal new undead threats around each corner as our survivors dash from room to room pushing Judith’s gurney. The uncertainty of survival rings true on the characters’ faces, ensuring that viewers have no choice but to feel the same way. 

Rosita (Christian Serratos), Eugene (Josh McDermitt), and Father Garbiel (Seth Gilliam) embark on an equally terrifying mission to rescue baby Coco from a walker-infested nursery. Seeing walkers munching on disemboweled corpses as babies wail in the background makes for one of the episode’s most unsettling moments. Bear McCreary’s intense, thumping score serenades Rosita as she goes to town on the undead intruders. After rescuing the babies, the trio battle through the hordes with the infants strapped to their backs, adding an even greater stake to their current predicament. Eugene gets some action as he shoots and batters walkers in all directions, showcasing his complete evolution from timid survivor to fully-fledged killing machine. 

As the trio climbs up a pipe to escape through a nearby window, Rosita loses her grip and falls in slow motion into the horde congregating below. All is silent as Eugene, Father Gabriel, and the audience believe not only Rosita but baby Coco as well have fallen victim to the clutches of the living dead – that is until Rosita heroically rises up from the horde, slashing walkers left and right before climbing onto a nearby truck. She jumps into the window, safe from the horde with baby Coco… or so we think.

It’s revealed later in the episode that Rosita did not escape unscathed, as she was bitten right behind her shoulder. Her hours are limited, and she instructs Eugene to not cry or tell anyone about her upcoming fate. She cuddles baby Coco, taking in some of the last moments she will ever have with her baby daughter. This sequence shows exceptional acting from both Christian Serratos and Josh McDermitt as they convey the resilience and restrained sadness of the scene. It wouldn’t be “The Walking Dead” without an extremely grim and emotional main character death. 

Josh McDermitt as Dr. Eugene Porter, Seth Gilliam as Father Gabriel Stokes – The Walking Dead _ Season 11, Episode 24 – Photo Credit: Jace Downs/AMC

Other episode moments of note include Aaron (Ross Marquand) talking to Lydia (Cassady McClincy) about her life in the aftermath of having her arm amputated. Princess (Paola Lázaro) breaks her boyfriend Mercer (Michael James Shaw) out of the Commonwealth prison with a well-placed grenade and then jumps into his arms in romantic excitement. Negan (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) and Maggie (Lauren Cohan) bicker about who gets to take the sniper shot at Pamela, with Negan citing that whoever pulls the trigger will be immediately taken down by her supporting forces. In a surprising turn of events, Negan finally apologizes for slaying Glenn (Steven Yeun) and taking him away from both Maggie and young Hershel Rhee (Kien Michael Spiller). Maggie doesn’t forgive him, but by the look on her face these words hit her heavily. 

With Mercer freed and united with the survivors, the group prepares to make one last stand. Pamela (Laila Robins) is instructing Commonwealth soldiers to gun down lower-class citizens who are trying to climb the gates to enter The Estates, the area of the Commonwealth where the wealthiest citizens live. The survivors plead and cry while shaking the gated fence, echoing back imagery of the “DON’T OPEN DEAD INSIDE” door from the series pilot. The living have become the dead. 

A horde of walkers slowly approaches, threatening to corner the pleading citizens all while Pamela watches on. Our survivors run out, guns pointed with Mercer leading a squadron of rogue Commonwealth soldiers. Firearms are trained on everyone, with Maggie lining up her sniper sights on Pamela with Negan beside her. The clock is ticking as the fenced out citizens draw closer and closer to their demise. With the firing of a single bullet, all out war (see what I did there?) could be unleashed. Are the survivors doomed to repeat the vicious cycle of violence that has consumed every safe haven they’ve stumbled on?

Nope. As Father Gabriel sets his sights on opening the gates for the people (a reversal of his locked-away lifestyle within the church from season 5), Daryl and Mercer seek to de-escalate the situation through conversation. “You built this place to be like the old world. That was the f*ckin’ problem!” Daryl says. “We ain’t the walking dead,” he then proclaims as the soldiers backing Pamela begin to realize the error of their ways. Father Gabriel unlocks the gates, letting the citizens pour into The Estate for safety. Our leading survivors slam the gates shut as the walker horde batters up against the iron bars. 

Realizing her plans have been foiled, Pamela wanders towards the gated wall of walkers. They moan and lurch, reaching their hands out towards the once-prestigious governor. For once, Pamela stares at the reality of this new world face to face. Coincidentally (perhaps too much so), the re-animated Corpse of Hornsby (Josh Hamilton) has made it to the front of the pack and stares at Pamela from behind the restraints. 

Just when it seems like Pamela will give herself Carol’s comic-book demise, Maggie uses her sniper to shoot the zombi-fied Hornsby, splattering Pamela’s face in his blood. Mercer orders the arrest of Pamela, and the group gets to work enacting a master plan to destroy the horde of walkers. While the calming down of tensions using dialogue from Daryl felt a little underwhelming in terms of de-escalating this season’s main-conflict, the sequence as a whole proved effective and satisfying for the Commonwealth arc. While a blood-splattered gunfight would’ve lent itself to a more harrowing conclusion, the cycle of violence the survivors have tried so hard to break would simply continue on. 

Josh Hamilton as Lance Hornsby – The Walking Dead _ Season 11, Episode 24 – Photo Credit: Jace Downs/AMC

In a shockingly light-hearted, and almost comedic sequence, all of the survivors and Commonwealth citizens band together to stage dynamite barrels around The Estates and within the sewers. The barrels ignite when a vinyl record of the song “Cult of Personality” by Living Colour comes to a halt, casting the entirety of the Commonwealth Estates into a blazing fury of fire and dead walkers. Rivaling the CDC explosion in Season 1, the visuals of this blast almost resemble Hell-on-Earth as walkers melt away amongst a charred wasteland. The explosion seemed a bit overkill considering how close by the survivors would be taking shelter for the foreseeable future, but it did grant viewers some of the coolest and largest-scale walker kills to date. “The Walking Dead” certainly took “go big or go home” to heart with this fiery event. 

In the aftermath of the victory, Maggie finally responds to Negan’s attempted apology earlier in the episode, and emphasizes that she will never forgive him for what he did. She establishes boundaries with Negan, telling him that some days she simply will not be able to work with him. 

“I hear him. I hear him calling for me. And I hear you mocking him while he’s dying. I can’t forgive you. Even though I’m so grateful that you saved my son. Even though I know that you’re trying. I’m trying too. Because I don’t want to hate you anymore. I don’t want to hurt like that. And I don’t want my son to see that anybody has that hold over me.”

As Maggie walks away, we see Negan choke up and begin to cry. This sequence serves as the climax of the emotional conflict brewing between Negan and Maggie this past season. Negan cracks, as the weight of the pain he has caused finally catches up with him once and for all. It’s an incredible testament to the strength of the writing team for these two warring characters to reach a point in the series where they can have such a complex, and weighted conversation about a traumatic event. Additionally, without the phenomenal, and layered, character work from Cohan and Morgan this dynamic storyline could not have been pulled off. 

Later, the survivors reminisce about their victory and future amongst an elegant, beautiful dinner within Alexandria. The happiness amongst the tables eerily resembles the somber dinner celebration fantasy set outside the prison from a few seasons back. All seems well and joyous (Magna and Yumiko get back together!) with the survivors but Rosita looks on with bittersweet happiness. Her time is ticking and she finally reveals to Father Gabriel that she was bit. In probably one of the show’s most peaceful deaths to date, the survivors let Rosita spend her final moments alongside Coco. As Coco is finally ushered away, Eugene comes in to sit beside Rosita for their final farewell. “I wouldn’t be the man the I am today if I hadn’t met you,” Eugene says. They started this journey together all the way in season 4 with Abraham (Michael Cudlitz), and in the end they ended up side by side as victors in the fight for a better tomorrow. 

“I’m glad it was you in the end” are Rosita’s last words. 

As Rosita passes on, we cut to one year later, where Eugene places flowers on a memorial for Rosita and other fallen survivors. It’s revealed that he and Max now have a child, beautifully named Rosie in honor of their friend. The Commonwealth is flourishing and more perfect than ever. Ezekiel (Khary Payton) and Mercer have become governor and lieutenant governor of the Commonwealth, fulfilling Ezekiel’s ongoing drive to lead people through the new world. Bear McCreary’s score reaches whimsical, elegant heights creating an audio-scape for the show that we’ve simply never heard before. It truly feels like a dream for the survivors but luckily it happens to be their new reality. Carl (Chandler Riggs) and Rick’s wish was fulfilled with mercy prevailing over wraith. 

Norman Reedus as Daryl Dixon, Lauren Cohan as Maggie Rhee, Lauren Ridloff as Connie, Seth Gilliam as Father Gabriel Stokes, Angel Theory as Kelly – The Walking Dead _ Season 11, Episode 24 – Photo Credit: Jace Downs/AMC

Carol (now once again sporting her recognizable short hair) has a tender moment with Daryl as they sit alongside a stunning pond. Daryl is heading out on an undisclosed journey and this may be the last time he sees Carol for a long time. “You’re my best friend” she says in an exchange of dialogue that feels as if it could be also coming from Norman Reedus and Melissa McBride themselves. The bond Carol and Daryl have shared throughout these 11 seasons has been nothing short of extraordinary and heartfelt to witness. The true definition of found family. 

Before Daryl boards his motorcycle to drive off, Carol tells him that she loves him and Daryl returns the sentiment. Carol, Judith Grimes, and Rick Grimes Jr. (Antony Azor) watch as Uncle Daryl drives off past the lush greenery of the brand new Commonwealth. McCreary’s score once again takes on a hopeful cue as we see Daryl free again riding the countryside on his motorcycle. He zooms past a gaggle of walkers (one of which is played by Greg Nicotero!), emphasizing that the dead still walk. We fade out as Daryl rides off, seemingly serving as the final shot of “The Walking Dead…”

Until a match lights up in the darkness, revealing none other than the return of Andrew Lincoln’s RICK GRIMES! Covered in mud and sporting a CRM bomber jacket, he writes a letter to Michonne. The letter reminisces about all the survivors Rick came to know along his journey. In another location, Michonne (Danai Guira), sporting an incredible new costume, writes a letter to Judith about her journey to find Rick’s whereabouts. The cross-cut scenes serve as a through-line to how Rick’s belongings ended up on Virgil’s (Kevin Carrol) boat in Michonne’s final Season 10 episode. “We are the ones who live,” Rick emphasizes as a montage of almost every single series main character flashes on screen along with their voice-over repeating the mantra. 

Andrew Lincoln as Rick Grimes – The Walking Dead _ Season 11, Episode 24 – Photo Credit: Curtis Bonds Baker/AMC

Every survivor that was a part of the leading ensemble’s journey for survival lives on amongst each other, no matter if they are living or dead. Everyone had a hand in the success of bringing the next generation into the new world. As the sequence ends the episode cuts back to Judith and R.J. as they look over the vast countryside. “We are the ones who live,” Judith echoes, emphasizing the full-circle conclusion of “The Walking Dead’” series-long conflict and goal. The last visual of this dark and often twisted television series is a stunning wide-shot of Judith and R.J. looking out over the Commonwealth countryside filled with color and glowing with life. The Grimes legacy lives on. 

“The Walking Dead” successfully ushered in its conclusion by integrating the elements that made the show so strong to begin with, including blood-splattered zombie action, haunting character demises, tense emotional moments, and the empowering strength of working alongside a found-family. Almost all of the leading characters received a conclusive resolution, with most achieving happiness in a shocking departure from the show’s usual grim tone. Perhaps some of the elements of the ending were a bit too happy-go-lucky but in a show where everyone has gone to Hell and back I think a bit of levity is well deserved. 

Despite the onslaught of spin-offs creeping up on the horizon, each of the spin-off characters received conclusive moments within this finale that very well could have served as their final character appearances (even the Rick and Michonne sequence works on a stand-alone level). The story of a zombie apocalypse is never-ending, and it’s safe to say the world of the series will continue well after its self-proclaimed “finale.” What matters is that the survivors achieved their goal of creating a better tomorrow for the next generation. 

Norman Reedus as Daryl Dixon, Melissa McBride as Carol Peletier – The Walking Dead _ Season 11, Episode 24 – Photo Credit: Jace Downs/AMC

“The Walking Dead” was always a show about evolution – evolving how we survive, yes but also how a legendary series evolves over a decade-long run. “The Walking Dead” ended as an entirely different beast than it was back in its earlier seasons, but one thing that has remained consistent throughout is its dedication to the characters. “The Walking Dead” is a character-study through and through, and on that front the series finale exceptionally honors the legacy of the series. 

“I think about them all everyday. Their faces. What I learned from them. How they made me who I am. So much more than all of this made me who I am.”  – Rick Grimes. 

Rest in Peace

“The Walking Dead”

October 2010-November 2022

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