"Walking Dead" grumble thread: The end of the Rick Grimes era is almost upon us

I knew Andrew Lincoln was leaving, I did not know that AMC would begin advertising that fact replete with a countdown. Just two more Rick episodes, they warned us after last night’s hour.

Is that a threat or a promise?

Presumably it’s a reaction to declining ratings. The only trick the show might have left to pull back the millions who wandered away in frustration over the last few years is to promote a near-total reboot. The core cast minus Rick will still be there, but it’s always been a show about Rick. (To its great disadvantage.) Without him, it’s essentially a whole new show. If ever you were looking to give it a second chance, now’s the time.

We should be realistic about these things, though. “The Walking Dead” is TV’s version of the war in Afghanistan: The people in charge rotate in and out but it grinds on remorselessly without purpose all the same, seemingly forever, with many more bad days than good ones. Maybe a new general can turn things around. Two more weeks.

Last night’s episode was a good day. There was genuine suspense about who was murdering the Saviors; there was a hint that the long-long-longstanding mystery of who’s flying the helicopter occasionally seen in the skies will be solved; and there was a rare satisfying ending, with Maggie and Daryl tacitly endorsing Arat’s execution for murdering the Oceansiders a bit too enthusiastically in her prior life as a Negan henchman. Here again, as with her death sentence for Gregory, we have Maggie acting ruthlessly but not vengefully. She doesn’t condone the death sentence until she’s told that Arat murdered a young boy on grounds that there could be “no exceptions” to violations of Negan’s code. This is what makes her turn on the show interesting: She’s willing to kill the helpless but only as a matter of justice, not revenge.

But that’s a fine line and she knows it, and she’s bothered by it. When the Oceansiders tell her that her hanging Gregory was their inspiration for executing Justin and Arat, she’s troubled. It’s not the same thing, she thinks. But it is, sort of. Maggie acted under color of (what passed for) law as leader of Hilltop in stringing Gregory up whereas the Oceansiders are practicing pure vigilantism, but the sentence in the latter case is just even if the process isn’t. She’s wrestling with how to deal that. It’s made her character newly compelling and her quest for revenge on Negan newly suspenseful. He deserves to die, but how much process is he due? If they drag him out of his cell and beat him to death we’d again have an example of a just sentence served unjustly. Michonne was tinkering with a “charter” for Alexandria last night when the episode opened before pausing for a little morning nookie with Rick. Looks like we’re headed for a confrontation between the Alexandrians and Maggie over whether to handle Negan the law-and-order way or the Maggie “Hang ‘Em High” Rhee way.

Which would be a good thing, if not for the fact that it portends some sort of kangaroo-court trial for Negan coming up in which Jeffrey Dean Morgan will strut and chew scenery for the entire hour. That’ll be a bad day. But as I say, there are many more bad days than good ones.

As for Saint Rick, I’m curious to see how they dispense with him since he’s a character who’s unkillable under the conventions of this show. No zombie can take him. No rando survivor can take him either. And it’s unimaginable that the writers would complicate fan support for the new hero-in-waiting, Daryl, by having him ice Rick. Conversely, it’s hard to see Rick exiling himself by leaving Alexandria without Michonne. Why would he want to? His whole shtick lately has been building a new civilization. Now he’s going to skip town and live off the land with his baby girl? Ridiculous.

It’ll be Negan or Maggie. Negan would be the easy solution since the writers are clearly positioning to reintroduce him into the show soon anyway. There’d be no more fitting way in which to open Pandora’s box and set the devil loose again upon the world than by having him kill the prince of peace. Maggie would be a harder solution since killing the show’s alpha male would lend her a veneer of evil that she doesn’t deserve; they’ve spent weeks developing her as a real person with conflicting motives, only to have her liquidate Rick Grimes? Nuh uh. The only way Maggie kills Rick is if it’s accidental or near-accidental, in a fit of rage followed by a long stretch of remorse. If, say, Rick intercepted her and Daryl en route to finish off Negan and the ensuing quarrel resulted in Rick buying the farm, maybe that could be done elegantly and convincingly. Maybe.

Or maybe no one will kill Rick. Maybe he’ll simply ascend into heaven, body and spirit, like Jesus.

In lieu of the usual show clip that no one watches, here’s something below that didn’t fit anywhere else today. Exit question: What was that “Are you an ‘A’ or a ‘B’?” business with Anne and Gabriel? She tells him she thought he was a “B” — presumably a beta, or follower — before saying she was wrong and knocking him out. Rick and Negan are definitely “A” material, i.e. alpha, per the writers. Are Gabriel’s “A” credentials merely the fact that he refused to instantly accept Anne’s offer to come with her to her secret destination? The guy’s first impulse upon receiving that invite from her was to go running to Rick to tell him about it. If that ain’t a “B,” buddy, I don’t know what is.

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