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'The Walking Dead': Rick's gone and it's time to hit the reset button – again

Andrew Lincoln as Rick Grimes on "The Walking Dead." (Gene Page / AMC)

Spoiler alert: This article discusses what happened in Sunday's episode of "The Walking Dead."

AMC's "The Walking Dead," which has shed an average of 5 million or so viewers in the past year (fear not – it still draws more than 7 million each week, keeping it cable's highest-rated drama by far), Sunday night's episode offered a fitting opportunity to come back for an hour and witness the emotional exit of its lead character, Rick Grimes.

Rick, played by Andrew Lincoln, survived eight-plus seasons in a dreary, often excessively violent zombie apocalypse epic, which began his hap: he was a wounded sheriff's deputy in Georgia who woke from a coma in a hospital that had been abandoned during a sudden zombie outbreak.

Initially reunited with his wife, Lori (Sarah Wayne Callies), son Carl (Chandler Riggs) and his colleague Shane (Jon Bernthal), Rick became the de facto leader of a band of survivors who slowly traveled out of the Atlanta megalopolis (and its infinite supply of zombies). Many arduous seasons later, Rick's group made their way to Northern Virginia in a seemingly hopeless search for safety and security amid stressful group dynamics and deadly conflicts with packs of other humans.

No character on this show ever, regardless of what happened to "The Walking Dead" comic-book characters: Shane became a zombie and was killed; Lori died many years ago, leaving Rick with an infant daughter, Judith. Even Carl, who had grown up from the show's preteen nuisance to one of his noblest citizens, took his own life last year after a zombie bit him.

Countless other friends have come – eaten, murdered, beaten to a pulp. Along the way, Rick changed. The violence and loss took its toll, and his heroism flagged in the face of all that self-preservation. Thanks to far too many violent encounters with the living, the leader of the pack discovered his own inner monster, as well as a potential to be a righteous tyrant. Rick got lost in the post-zombie world's widening chasm of moral choice and viewers stopped worrying so much about zombies. The show was about terrible – with no end in sight.

In the meantime, the fans of the show tuned in, while slowly alienating the rest of us, who grew too weary with the ever-circling plot to go on. "The Walking Dead" is a show for the video game era – resetting and rearranging players without any hope of true conclusion. It offers no narrative payoff for your time investment, other than the standing offer to keep going, full gore ahead.

Sunday's episode saw Rick fending off the zombies once more – which he accidentally imploded last week, then hallucinating his way through some flashback-type settings and founders that have since premiered in 2010.

He visits with dead characters (Bernthal's Shane, Sonequa Martin-Green's Sasha), each urging to be back in the air, where he is in a final scene, and he turns his face into a swift zombie -moving river.

Despite AMC and actor Lincoln's insistence that this is the end of Rick, he was abruptly released, by a character named Anne (do not ask me, I've moved to 500 other TV shows), who summoned a helicopter (!) That scooped Rick up, tended to his wounds and flew off into the far horizon. If that's the last time we ever see Rick Grimes, then I'll eat someone's arm.

Rick or no Rick, "The Walking Dead" thrives on its own intensity, shedding producers and showrunners wherever necessary. The acting is still quite convincing and emotionally sharp – a tone Lincoln helped define. The pace can not be argued with, especially with the show constructs its cliffhanger scenes around cable's incessant commercial breaks. There's a good reason so many people watch the show (and why it still requires its own hour-long, cathartic wind-down immediately after, called "The Talking Dead"). It still delivers on a simple formula.

This was true Sunday, when he left for Rick (Rick's departure), had his thunder impressively stolen by a last-minute swerve that seemed to be open-invitation for lapsed fans to start believing again. In the episode's final scene, the show's timeline shifted six years ago, where a group of humans were rescued from a zombie attack by a gun-packin 'young lass named. , , Judith Grimes.

It's the easiest kind of emotionally symmetry, it's the one more opportunity to press that reset button and lurking in the hordes of "Walking Dead" zomb – I mean, viewers Towards the scent of another reset.

the Walking Dead(one hour) airs Sundays at 9 p.m. on AMC, followed by "The Talking Dead."


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