The Walking Dead: The Ones Who Live Finale Recap: "The Last Time"

Rick and Michonne make their last stand on The Walking Dead: The Ones Who Live finale.

"We, together, are the strongest thing. We're love, and love is endless. So we, those gone, all of our lives, those away, they come in one life. We are endless. We're together, pieces of a whole that just keep going for what we gave each other. One unstoppable life. We're the ones who live." — Michonne and Rick Grimes

"I remember it all. What it was like. Who we were. Who we are now." Rick (Andrew Lincoln) and Michonne (Danai Gurira) are intertwined in bed. Strewn around the newlyweds are reminders from their journey back to each other. A red-striped CRM soldier uniform. Souvenirs from their cabin honeymoon. A bloodied hatchet and ax. Nat's "Danger" lighter. A cell phone with Carl's portrait. And the wedding ring that symbolizes an infinite love. Rick slides the ring onto Michonne's finger, and they kiss.

Their mission: Return to the Civic Republic Military's Cascadia Forward Operating Base. Rick receives the Echelon Briefing. Michonne retrieves the dossier that Jadis (Pollyanna McIntosh) left behind with intel on their loved ones back at Alexandria. They expose the CRM to the Civic Republic, then go home. Together.

The Last Time

Rick and Michonne, clad in CRM uniforms, are dressed for battle. As Sergeant Major Rick Grimes hands himself over to the Civic Republic Military at a gate on the perimeter of the Cascadia Forward Operating Base, Michonne infiltrates the army base under the guise of a Frontliner. Rick recalls what his father told him when he set fire to the family farm: "He said I didn't need to be scared, that it was just 'the burning.'"

Rick debriefs Command Sergeant Major Pearl Thorne (Lesley-Ann Brandt), who is happy to see Sgt. Maj. Grimes alive. Rick debriefs his superior officer, telling her how he was returning to base with Consignee Dana Bethune — an undercover Michonne — when their helicopter hit turbulence and was struck by lightning. As the chopper flew low to ride out the storm, Bethune shoved him out as they were going down over water, saving his life. Rick thanks Thorne for vouching for Bethune back at the Harvest Point, but she reminds Rick that he brought her in. As a compromise, Rick credits Okafor (Craig Tate), the officer who put them on their path. A path that Thorne has strayed from ever since she received the Echelon Briefing. Okafor was never committed to the CRM's mission, she says, and that's why he died. "But you lived. I lived," she tells Rick. "We are meant to be a part of this." They are the last light of the world.

Meanwhile, Michonne sneaks into Warrant Officer Jadis Stokes' quarters and rummages through the room decorated with paintings by the artist formerly known as Anne. Michonne finds the dossier hidden inside a wire cat statue like the one that Rick gave Michonne at the Heaps what seems like a lifetime ago. The dossier contains intel on Rick, his wife Michonne, and their home at the Alexandria Safe-Zone, with a handwritten confession: how Jadis secretly brokered a deal and traded the injured Rick Grimes to the CRM. The document is a warning to whoever reads it after Jadis' death: Rick is a natural-born leader, and Michonne's relentless determination makes her an equally dangerous adversary. Rick and Michonne aren't "B's," they are "A's," and they are a grave threat to the CRM operation. Michonne destroys the dossier and strangles a snooping soldier before she can be discovered.

The End and the Beginning

At the perimeter fence, Rick reports to Major General Beale (Terry O'Quinn). He waxes poetic as he clears delts with a killstick, telling Rick that it's "the end of the world and the beginning of the world. And we're the dead ones, Rick." With killstick in hand, Beale imparts his mantra: "The sword that kills is the sword that gives life. And that's us. We're the sword." In his office, Beale has Rick surrender his gun and his prosthetic hand with the blade. He then has Rick reflect on his life, on "all your lives before and after," and all the things he did before this moment. Because, the general says, "After this next moment, everything will change." Beale asks Rick: "What was the worst thing you did to make sure someone else survived?"

There are flashes of Rick stabbing Shane, killing Tomas, butchering the Terminus butchers, and then Rick ripping out Joe's throat with his teeth as he claimed the Claimers for the kill. "I killed someone with my teeth," Rick confesses. "Like they do." Beale has given the Echelon Briefing 2,533 times to 2,533 elite soldiers, but never to someone like Rick Grimes. "This is the first. It's the start of what's next," Beale tells Rick, sat inches away from his gun and bladed prosthetic. "And that couldn't be more appropriate for today. A day completely about tomorrow." 

Beale unsheathes his sword — Revolutionary War General Hugh Mercer's sword, the military antiquity that saved his life at the Battle of Fitler Square — and places it before Rick. It's his time to swear on the sword.

The Echelon Briefing

Before: Rick and Michonne are in bed. "Are we crazy?" Rick asks his wife. "Certifiable," Michonne tells her husband. There are flashes of Rick executing Pete Anderson and Michonne plunging a shard of glass into the Governor's eye. 

Now: Beale places a Frontliner uniform with the blood-red stripes before Rick. The major general recounts growing up in Pittsburgh before his journey as a military man brought him to Vietnam, twice, officer training in Fort Benning in Georgia, and then back to Pennsylvania, where he moved through the ranks to command its National Guard. When the military bombed major U.S. cities as part of Operation Cobalt at the onset of the outbreak, Beale alone made the decision to engage with federal forces. The Pennsylvania National Guard waged war on the U.S. Army, fighting the Second Civil War on Pennsylvania ground. There were two fronts — Pittsburgh and Philadelphia, what would become the Civic Republic — but Beale's forces couldn't sustain two theaters of battle. Beale led his troops out of Pittsburgh and let a dead mass swarm and overwhelm the military... and the Steel City. By sacrificing Pittsburgh, Beale saved Philadelphia.

"My dad taught me, for better or worse," Rick responds, "sometimes things have to burn to bring things back."

On the base, CRM soldiers push carts loaded with stuffed animals and other children's items. This triggers more flashes of Michonne and Carl with the cat statue she rescued from a zombie-filled restaurant in King's County, Michonne fighting off the walker herd that invaded Alexandria as Rick raced a shot Carl to safety, a pregnant Michonne cutting down the children who left her scarred, Michonne hugging Judith and RJ... and then Rick and Michonne burying Carl.

The Future

Rick remembers: a childhood memory of a fire burning inside his family's farmhouse. The burning.

"The sword that kills is the sword that gives life," Beale tells Rick. "I killed my past and a whole city so another could live." Beale then reveals the first secret of the Echelon Briefing: the living are fighting a war with the dead they're destined to lose. The most likely outcome? "We're all gonna die." 

Meanwhile, a sleuthing Michonne attends the CEP overview briefing CRM forces on "Operation N1W." The Child Evacuation Protocol will be carried out by the CRM Frontliner embeds living in Portland under false identities — operatives enmeshed in the Portland school system to facilitate an evacuation of selected children. After these assets are extracted and airlifted away, the Frontliners will destroy Portland with chlorine gas and liquidate its population of 87,000 survivors.

Back at the Echelon Briefing, Beale discloses another secret to Rick: the CRM's modeling shows that humanity has an estimated 14 years of life left on this planet. The dead, disease, and starvation will wipe out what's left of humanity, with the most likely outcome being that the planet "will be cluttered with corpses to eventually rot into food for the trees. It all becomes a strange temporary museum to an even stranger species that conquered it and marked it for a blink of its existence." This, Beale explains, is why the CRM is the last light of the world and why they do what they do.

Beale explains that the CRM destroys communities "for resources, for strategic superiority, and to ensure the city's secrecy and security above all." The army has embedded spies in selected communities throughout the continent and the world to monitor them, potentially sabotage them, and to influence their politics and approaches. Until recently, they supplied test subjects for scientific experiments at CRM-run labs. The CRM — not the dead — destroyed Omaha and the Campus Colony, and in 18 hours, Operation N1W will leave the Civic Republic Military as the supreme force on the continent... and maybe the world.

Before: Rick and Michonne in bed. They plot to expose the CRM's clandestine operations to the Civic Republic. If they don't, who will? "This is the sh-t we do," Michonne says.

The Next World

Now: Beale walks Rick through Operation N1W. The Civic Republic Military will destroy Portland, their last alliance partner of the Alliance of the Three, and then declare martial law on the Civic Republic and do away with the Council. Once the CR is under CRM control and all their Alliance partners are dead, the CRM will march across the country and eliminate any growing competition. "We will take their resources and ensure supremacy," Beale says, "and maybe we get to survive." Competition like the Alexandria Safe-Zone. Tank Town (Texas oil fields seen on Fear the Walking Dead.) And Junction 7, possibly explaining the disappeared exiles marked as "Designation 2" and then sent away from the Commonwealth community in Ohio (on The Walking Dead).

Rick palms his knife. There are more quick flashes: Rick waking up to wilted flowers at the hospital. Seeing Michonne for the first time outside the prison fence. King Ezekiel. Daryl. Negan. Morgan. Eugene. Carol. Maggie. 

Inside the N1W briefing, Michonne clicks her walkie-talkie. Before: Rick and Michonne are in bed together, revealing more of their plan. They'll return to the Civic Republic in Jadis's helicopter, with Rick flying them to jump points for refuels. If Michonne encounters trouble on base, she'll key the walkie. Now: Michonne's signal comes over Rick's radio. Her eyes widen in horror as she realizes the crates filled with children's toys and other "comfort items" are tools to attempt to soothe the traumatized children extracted from Portland. She pictures her children — Carl, Judith, and RJ — and steps out of the theater as a CRM officer drones on about how the extracted children could "prove to be the difference in our civilization's survival," scavenging a future from the imminent ruin of Portland.

At the Echelon Briefing, Beale tells Rick that Sgt. Maj. Grimes could become the next leader of the CRM within the next decade. After all his escape attempts, Rick was dead to the CRM... and then he returned. It's a powerful story that the CRM may need to win the hearts of the citizens who will see some of their freedoms delayed yet again once the army declares martial law. Rick grips his knife, listening with intent as Beale talks about sacrifice. When he asks Rick to name the closest person to him who has died since the fall, Rick answers: his son, Carl. He's who Rick saved tearing out that man's throat, but in the end, he couldn't save Carl. If Rick swears on the sword, Beale gives his word: whoever Rick was trying to get back to can come to the Civic Republic and be spared from the CRM's march on the world. Rick's grip on his knife loosens.

Portland will die, and the last light of the world will continue to burn. "The Next World will begin, and through that, somehow, some way, we will survive," Beale tells Rick. "We will burn things to bring things back. The sword that kills is the sword that brings life."

The Sword That Kills

Beale parts Rick's gun and his prosthetic. The sword is before him, ready for Rick to swear upon it. "Swear on the sword," Rick remembers Okafor saying. "Don't let it take." As Beale looks into Rick's eyes, he sees it: fire. Beale grabs the gun as Rick lunges, sparking a brawl that sees the Major General use his sword to kill. "The world isn't gonna end," a defiant Rick says, countering Beale's sword as he takes another swing: "It is. I'm trying to make sure we don't!"

Rick disarms Beale, then runs the sword through his outstretched palm. Beale blames Okafor. There may be no escape for the living, but there's no escaping the dead. "I never lost my son. I lost myself. He brought me back. My wife brought me back. We're the sword that kills. We're the sword that gives life. One life. One unstoppable life. We're not dead," Rick tells Beale, impaling him with the sword that kills. "You are."

Rick reaches Thorne over walkie-talkie to tell her that Beale went into the woods to be in solitude before the all-hands summit, then transports Beale's body in a rolling cart onto a service elevator to the ground floor. After a CRM soldier notices Rick's cargo is dripping blood, a fight ensues that ends with Rick beating the man to death with his prosthetic hand, pummeling him so hard that he turns his face into bloody pulp inside his battered helmet. Michonne finds Rick and alerts him of Operation N1W, telling him they can't go home until save an entire city of people from the CRM. "We have to stop them," Michonne says, "because we can stop them."

The Burning

Thorne becomes increasingly suspicious of Rick after failing to find Beale at the perimeter fence. She pieces it together: "Dana" is the one Rick was trying to get back to. The one he told her isn't "gone." Thorne hunts down Rick, who is wiring a crate of M67 Frag grenades with Michonne — a plan she says was inspired by the pyro Nat. Rick considers just leaving, but Michonne reminds him it's "what we have to do. What sort of world are we making for them if we walk away from something like this?"

Rick knows she's right. But he's mad at the time he missed — eight years — that he didn't get to see their children grow up. "I know we can't, but I just... I think about that time, and I just want to go back," Rick confesses. Michonne kisses him. "We are back," she says. To that, Rick replies: "And this is the sh-t we do."

Meanwhile, the CRM Frontliner Corps have gathered for the CRM summit: an all-hands briefing outside of tents containing the chlorine gas canisters destined for Portland. Rick and Michonne wheel in the cart carrying Beale's body and a case of grenades, carefully unloading the explosives and rigging the tent to blow as they string together wires attached to the canisters of chlorine gas.

"This is it," Rick tells Michonne, giving her Beale's sword. "This is the last we're apart." Using a zombified Beale and the soldier that Rick killed in the elevator as triggers, the couple tethers the walkers with wire to the rig and then draws them out of the tent as they make a run for it. They almost get away — until Thorne intercepts them at gunpoint. She orders Rick and "Dana Bethune" to undo whatever they did, but Beale is a ticking time bomb. "It never died. It won't stop," Michonne tells Rick, taking his hand in hers. "It can't stop." A zombie Beale emerges from the tent rigged to blow, which then explodes as Rick and Michonne take cover beneath a large CRM flag doused with water.

Rick and Michonne burn the CRM to the ground. The Cascadia Forward Operating Base is in smoldering ruins as deadly green chlorine gas permeates through the air, liquidating the Frontliner forces in one fell swoop. Rick and Michonne escaped the explosion unscathed, but so did Thorne, who has donned a gas mask. The CRM soldiers who weren't blown to bloody bits have turned and descend on the only survivors of the explosion.

Pulling cloth masks over their mouths, Rick charges Thorne in the green haze where every breath is death. Michonne makes a run for another gas mask as Thorne rants at Rick, whose soldier training comes in handy as he lifts Thorne and hurls her with all his might. "You destroyed our chance," the last-living Frontliner yells. "You destroyed the whole world!" A mass of zombified soldiers come between them, forcing Rick to fight off the walker army as Michonne comes out swinging with Beale's sword — a sword that kills Thorne with a stab to the gut.

"In a dead world, love is dead," she tells Michonne, who fires back: "Love doesn't die." Rick is swarmed by walkers... and pulls the pin on a grenade. The huddled mass of walkers explode into bits of bloody mush, and with them, Michonne's love. Except love doesn't die. Rick emerges from behind the zombie bodies he used for cover, stumbles out of the gore, and is embraced by Michonne.

"Okafor was right," a dying Thorne realizes as she gives her gas mask to Rick. "You just have to hope Beale was wrong." Rick and Michonne escape the carnage as the military force of the last light of the world burns to ash.

The Ones Who Live

A series-ending montage reveals that Rick and Michonne exposed Operation N1W to the Civic Republic, confirming that the CRM's Frontliner force and CRM Force Command died in the attack that foiled the Portland plot. The Civic Republic Council votes unanimously for emergency oversight over the remaining forces of the CRM, restoring oversight of the military to the Council. The Council also overturns CRM guidance: citizens of the Civic Republic are now free to leave at will, and the once-hidden city will welcome new citizens. The last light of the world lives on, with Michonne and Rick remaking the CRM as a force that will now engage with, assist, and aid the survivors and communities they come across.

Rick and Michonne make a cross-country helicopter trip home. "Shoto? It's Daito," Michonne says into a walkie-talkie. A CRM cargo helicopter touches down in a picturesque forest glade, and Rick and Michonne step out into their homecoming. The Grimes children — Judith (Cailey Fleming) and Rick "RJ" Grimes Jr. (Antony Azor) — come running to their parents. Judith has her father's colt python holstered on her hip and her short sword on her back; RJ wears the King County Sheriff's Department hat that Rick handed down to Carl, which he passed to Judith, and then big sister to little brother. Michonne embraces the kids first as Rick, for the first time in eight years, sets eyes upon the family he thought he'd lost.

After all those years gone "bye," Rick Grimes found his family. The tearful reunion culminates in Rick and Michonne's son asking his long-lost father: "You're the Brave Man?" Rick straightens the sheriff's hat and answers, "I am. But maybe you can call me Dad." 

"I knew you'd come back," RJ tells Dad. "I believed."

As CRM aid helicopters fly overhead into the new world remade by Michonne and Rick Grimes, the Grimes family embraces as one — one unstoppable life. They're the ones who live.

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