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How 'The Walking Dead' series finale lays the groundwork for all those undead spinoffs
The undead franchise is about to expand like never before.
Twelve years, eleven seasons, and nearly 200 episodes later, AMC's The Walking Dead shambled over the finish line Sunday evening with the global premiere of its series finale — aptly titled "Rest in Peace." What began with Rick Grimes (Andrew Lincoln) waking up in a lone hospital bed to discover that the world had been overrun by reanimated corpses ended with an emotional standoff against the Commonwealth and its power hungry leader, Governor Pamela Milton (Laila Robbins). Fittingly enough, the finale hit the ground running with Rick's own daughter, Judith (Cailey Fleming), barricading a healthcare facility against a horde of advancing walkers. Pure poetry!
The mothership series has concluded, yes, but it is most certainly not the end for a mega-franchise centered around a mysterious pathogen that pretty much makes you immortal...albeit with the nasty side effects of losing your former sense of self and gaining a macabre taste for human flesh. Long before tonight's Season 11 swan song, the network confirmed a trio of spinoff projects, which meant a number of our favorite characters would survive the finale and live to fight another day.
Now, as the undead saga stands on the precipice of expanding like never before, let's take a look at how The Walking Dead denouement lays the groundwork for the standalone adventures of Daryl Dixon (Norman Reedus); Maggie Rhee (Lauren Cohan) and Negan (Jeffrey Dean Morgan); and Rick and Michonne (Danai Gurira).
***WARNING! The following contains major spoilers for the series finale!***
Having come so close to losing his wife and unborn child just a few episodes ago, Negan finally understands the profound heartache he visited upon Maggie when he savagely beat Glenn (Steven Yeun) to death with a baseball bat in the Season 7 premiere.
He sincerely apologizes to Maggie, who later says that while she can never forgive him for what happened, she is grateful for his selfless acts of atonement (mainly protecting Hershel from the Commonwealth). If Negan wants to stick around, he's more than earned that right. He and Maggie will never be best friends, of course, but the pair have finally discovered a small shred of common ground and can rest assured that they'll have each other's backs in a future life-threatening situation.
With that said, it's not made clear how Maggie and the former leader of the Saviors end up Manhattan-bound in The Walking Dead: Dead City (slated to premiere in April). What's more: we don’t actually see Negan in the flash forward to a year later, although he is heard in voiceover when Judith gets her monogrammed compass back.
The only thing we really have to go on is Maggie's last bit of dialogue, which implies further exploration of the *ahem* world beyond: "I want to talk about the future. There's a lot out there to find out about, and I think it's time we did." She’s no stranger to the call of adventure, having left Hilltop behind to seek out other communities with Georgie in Season 9.
This is also applies to Daryl, who, according to Connie (Lauren Ridloff), has been exploring the frontier like a cowboy. After all, Mr. Dixon's always been a free spirit, feeling more at home in the wild than he ever did behind walls. He shares a touching goodbye with Carol (now enjoying Lance Hornsby's old job) and promises Judith that if he hears anything about Rick and Michonne on his travels, he'll bring them home. His farewells squared away, Daryl dons his poncho, hops on his trusty motorbike, and rides off into the unknown.
Again, no real set-up for his European spinoff (currently without an official title), which will take place against the backdrop of France. "He wakes up and finds himself somewhere on the European continent and tries to piece together what happened. How did he get here? How's he going to get home?" AMC Networks head honcho, Dan McDermott, teased in September. As of this writing, Clémence Poésy (Harry Potter) and Adam Nagaitis (Chernobyl) have been cast in key supporting roles.
And now, for the most exciting part, the thing most of us were hoping for: the return of Rick and Michonne — both of whom will be the subject of a currently-untitled AMC+ limited series (described as "an epic and insane love story” by The Walking Dead brand manager, Scott M. Gimple) sometime next year.
The finale closes out with the duo reflecting on the loved ones they've left behind over the years. Riding across the post-apolcayptic landscape like a badass samurai, Michonne has apparently tried to make contact with Judith and R.J. (Antony Azor), but her search for Rick has taken her far outside the usual radio frequencies. "He's alive out there," she declares. "I will find him because I know he's trying to find us."
Rick, meanwhile, currently lives up to his surname, covered in grime, and rocking a weathered jacket bearing the three conjoined circles of the mysterious Civic Republic Military (which whisked him away alongside Jadis back in Season 9). It seems he cannot escape their reach and is forced to surrender to one of their helicopters, but not before an enigmatic smile breaks across his face.
Seasons 1-10 of The Walking Dead are currently streaming on Netflix. The jumbo-sized final season can be found on AMC+.
If you're looking to satisfy your zombie craving immediately, head over to Peacock and check out the movie that kickstarted the entire genre: George A. Romero's Night of the Living Dead. Or check out the SYFY original series, Day of the Dead.