SPOILER WARNING: The following article contains spoilers for Episode 4, Season 9 of The Walking Dead.
Tonight, The Walking Dead might have just clinched how Rick Grimes will leave the series. The man who’s led the show from its nascency only has one episode left before leaving for good and irrevocably changing the face of one of the most popular shows in television history.
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Andrew Lincoln announced his departure from the series he’s helmed for nine seasons earlier this year, citing the desire to spend more time with family start a new chapter in his career. But rumors also swirled that he’d been creatively frustrated with the decision to kill off Carl, which makes sense, given how important Lincoln always believed Carl was to Rick’s motivation.
Carl has continued to serve in that capacity even from beyond the grave. It was essentially his dying wish that Rick offer amnesty to the Saviors and try to build a better world run by mercy and compassion. Rick’s been so committed to bringing that vision about, he’s grown blind to the fact that it might not work.
This week, those problems came to a head when Daryl actively aided Maggie in her assassination of Negan by intentionally keeping Rick away from Alexandria. The two wind up trapped in a pit near the bridge as two different walker herds close in on them. As they try to find their way out and work together, Daryl forces Rick to face the possibility that Rick’s grief might be motivation for him to forgive the Saviors, but he can’t demand it work that way for everyone else.
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He pleads with Rick to let Carl go and abandon a utopia that might not be realistic, no matter how much Rick wants to create it in his son’s honor. Rick seems like he’s finally hearing Daryl for the first time in a long time, but they don’t get much further before gunshots ring out nearby and the two men are forced to get out of the pit with more urgency.
Things don’t get much better once they’re freed, what with two walker herds approaching. Rick decides to stay and lead them away from the bridge as Daryl rides off to see what’s going on, but the herds spook his horse and he gets thrown. He’s impaled on a piece of steel poking out of some reinforced concrete, putting him right back in the same position he was in in the pilot – wounded, alone and beset by monsters.
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The episode ends on a cliffhanger, with no hope of rescue since Rick can’t move and no one’s around to carry him to safety. It’s doubtful we’re going to see an entire night dedicated to him writhing on a rock only to be devoured by walkers. Of course, it’s even more doubtful that Rick suffering a catastrophic injury in his penultimate episode will lead to anything but his tragic demise.
How exactly everything will actually play out remains to be seen, but it’s looking more and more likely that Rick Grimes will follow in his son’s footsteps when it comes time to leave the show he started nine years ago.
Airing Sundays at 9 p.m. ET/PT on AMC, The Walking Dead stars Andrew Lincoln, Norman Reedus, Lauren Cohan, Danai Gurira, Melissa McBride, Lennie James, Alanna Masterson, Josh McDermitt, Christian Serratos and Jeffrey Dean Morgan.