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Spoilers below for anyone who hasn't yet watched The Walking Dead's latest episode, in which Rick Grimes said bye-bye.
When "What Comes After" hit its end credits, The Walking Dead had left viewers in a massively confused state. Not only was Rick Grimes still alive, but the six-year time jump revealed his legacy has been extended thanks to the badass evolution of Judith Grimes. Also confusing was the glaring absence of Chandler Riggs' Carl and Sarah Wayne Callies' Lori, but showrunner Angela Kang said leaving them out was intentionally part of the plan. Here's how she explained it:
There's a reason. We dove into this idea of the 'third man phenomenon.' When people are close to death, sometimes they imagine seeing somebody that they knew or that they don't know that helped drive them to survive and keep them going. We had these three particular characters [Shane, Hershel and Sasha] who are sort of filling an emotional need for him in the moment, but Rick's entire journey is looking for his family, and I felt, creatively felt, that if he sees Lori or Carl he would feel like, 'OK, I fulfilled my mission. I found them. I'm home. I can lay down and die now.'
Hearing Angela Kang say that does help to dilute some of the curiosity tied to the show not bringing in the characters that Rick knew and loved the most through those earliest years. Rick needed the kind of inspiring hallucinations that would light a fire under his ass, even if they also happened to be pretty dark and depressing.
If Rick would have stumbled back into the West Georgia Correctional Facility at some point in the episode, and found Carl and Lori sitting together in the same spot where Lori died, that might have destroyed viewers. Especially if he would have feasibly found mental peace in their presence, leaving him to stop fighting to stay alive.
He needed to keep going for the family that is still there, and so to have that kind of restlessness of like, 'I still haven't found them. Where are they? Where are they?' bringing him back to realizing his family has always been there all along ? that the people he's fighting for now are still his family ? that's what keeps him going. So he can't find them, otherwise it'd be too easy for him to give up.
All things considered, it would have been pretty messed up had Rick chosen to welcome death after dreaming about Lori and Carl. Not to insult them or anything, but Rick had been living for a long while without Carl, and even longer without Lori. So I can't imagine fans heaping praise on the character had he mentally brushed aside Michonne and Judith and the rest to find peace with his deceased family members.
For all that fans didn't get to see Sarah Wayne Callies' Lori, her voice did indeed get used during the emotional episode. Of the various voices heard saying, "What's your wound?" Lori's was the one the came in just before Rick caught up with Shane. So at least that was threre to drive him forward, and it wasn't even on the end of a broken telephone.
Sarah Wayne Callies had previously told CinemaBlend she'd be up for returning to The Walking Dead under the right circumstances. While Rick's final episode may not have made the cut, it's certainly possible that Lori and Carl could both factor into either Rick's standalone movies on AMC, or in one of the myriad spinoffs and specials that are being planned.
The Walking Dead is taking viewers into its future timeline during the next three episodes ahead of the hiatus, so be sure to tune in every Sunday night on AMC at 9:00 p.m. The entirety of fall TV will certainly have something to offer viewers needing more to watch when The Walking Dead goes on hiatus.