Last week I wondered who would get the honor of finally dispatching Papa Grimes and sending TWD into the post-Lincoln era. Would it be Negan, reentering the world with a flourish after being freed from jail? Him killing Rick would confirm Maggie’s and Daryl’s belief that he should have been executed. Or would it be Maggie herself who took Rick out, signaling a complex new direction to the show in which old friends turn against each other in wrestling for control over the direction of civilization?

I was way off. Turns out the writers are sending Rick off the way all great heroes are sent off: By having him thrown from a horse and impaled on a stray piece of rebar.

That was how Achilles and Odysseus met their ends in Greek epics, wasn’t it?

The horse’s role in Rick’s end is an obvious bookend to the beginning of the series, when he rode into Atlanta on horseback. Ashes to ashes, dust to dust, horse to horse. Judging from the preview at the end of last night’s show, next week might be a full hour (or hour and a half, befitting a Very Special Episode) of Rick Grimes’s death throes. Obviously he’ll hoist himself off the rebar and stagger away from the herd; the writers aren’t going to have him torn to pieces by the undead, even though that would be amazingly ballsy and intense and a rare moment when the dread of living in a world like this is fully brought home to viewers. Somehow he’ll complete his final mission of leading the zombies away from camp and then sacrifice himself. Last night Daryl proposed taking out the dam in order to wash the zombies away, an idea that Rick rejected because it would wash the bridge away too. Maybe he’ll think better of it and end up being washed away himself when he makes it happen.

Looks like we’re getting a Jon Bernthal cameo as Shane, too. That was the back of his head in the previews last night, wasn’t it? We may do a whole tour of bygone cast members as Rick gradually fades into oblivion — Shane, Glenn, Abraham, Lori, and of course, “Coral.” A show this cheesy is almost obliged to reunite the hero with his family in death. The only suspense: Will we get a glimpse of Zombie Rick? The cheesiest ending I can think of would be Rick making it to the dam, expiring just as he’s about to destroy it, reanimating as a zombie, but somehow retaining just enough of his heroism to flip the switch or whatever and destroy the dam anyway. And then cut to those dreamlike sequences from last season of all the Alexandrians — even Negan — smiling and tending their garden and having a gay ol’ time. Rick’s going to spend eternity in a happy, utopian post-apocalyptic survivor’s camp. Maybe the zombies will sing instead of eating people.

This review at io9 does a serviceable job with the other particulars of last night’s hour. This is true, I think:

It’s amazing how different the show feels now. There are more storylines happening simultaneously, but they all have their own momentum, and very little time is spent dawdling. These stories are working together to keep not only each episode exciting, but the entirety of the season, too, since if one plotline ebbs, others flow to maintain the excitement. I’m not saying it’s perfect, or that it doesn’t stumble occasionally, but that’s a hell of a lot better than the show has managed for years, when it would regularly trip, fall to the ground, and just lie there for hours at a time, assuming that everyone was fascinated.

It does have an element of propulsion now that it’s lacked for many years. The show became infamous for plots that wandered as aimlessly as the zombies that populate it. It seems to have found direction, which is promising.

I’m not as warm to the Meaningful Conversations with which it’s belabored as io9 is, though. Five of the best minutes TWD’s ever done came in last night’s opening montage, with Michonne tending to domestic duties during the day and heading out furtively at night to get a hit of adrenaline by chopping some heads. Rarely has this show made its point so economically, almost without dialogue, and with as much panache. That sequence prefaced her chat with Negan, when he made the case that she and he are far more alike than they are different. That was supposed to be profound but it’s one of the show’s most recurring and stale themes. The entire story of Rick Grimes is his struggle with how different he should be from warlords like Negan and how different he can afford to be. Negan’s take on that is fatalistic: There’s a certain class of bad-ass survivor that’s drawn to ruthlessness like moths to a flame, with Michonne’s overnight excursions the proof. They can’t help it. It’s their nature. Rick, who spent seven years as a living, breathing rebuke to that belief, is about to kick off. Who takes his place as the anti-Negan now? Or does anyone?