7:15am PT by Josh Wigler
How 'Walking Dead' Just Set Up Hope for Life After Rick Grimes
[This story contains spoilers for season nine, episode three of AMC's The Walking Dead, "Warning Signs."]
Soon, Walking Dead viewers will exist in a world without Rick Grimes — at least, one in which Andrew Lincoln is not a regular part of the series.
Whatever happens next for the zombie-killing hero, could Rick's legacy on the flagship series endure beyond the fate that awaits him this season? The latest episode of the series posits a way in which the Grimes family will live on long after his ambiguous fate comes into full circle, thanks to a tender moment between Rick and Michonne (Danai Gurira).
Early in the episode, Rick and Michonne enjoy their first real moment of stress-free bliss since the duo became an item back in season six. Michonne works on building out the charter for the people of the Alexandria Safe-Zone, as a means of creating a better future for everyone. Soon, Rick puts forth another idea for a better future beyond creating a charter: creating a child.
It's a bittersweet notion, of course, given Lincoln's looming departure from the role of Rick Grimes. Even if Rick and Michonne are able to conceive a child, he may not be around to meet his new baby. But it's a sign of hope in the face of not only losing Rick, but also the wake of losing Carl (Chandler Riggs) in season eight — another way in which the Grimes family name can live on beyond Michonne and Judith once Rick's gone. (Viewers will recall that Judith is the daughter of Rick's late wife, Lori, and his one-time BFF Shane.)
According to showrunner Angela Kang, the idea for Rick and Michonne's exploration of conceiving a child together occurred naturally in the writers' room.
"It arose out of conversations we were having in the writers' room about what are the ways in which they're thinking about the future," she says. "A thing that's very true in human history is there tend to be baby booms after war. People feel they've survived something, and they want to celebrate and rebuild. This felt very true to us."
As Kang has already stated, much of season nine was birthed from the notion of life after war, as writers and Lincoln alike looked at the time after World War II in how to craft the final story of Rick Grimes. The latest development for "Richonne," as the couple has come to be known within the fandom, springs directly from that research.
"This is a couple that's been through so much together," says Kang. "We're exploring through Carol (Melissa McBride) how Ezekiel (Khary Payton) proposed marriage to her. Do Rick and Michonne do the same thing, or does the way they signal their commitment to each other as a couple look a little bit different? We wanted to see how different people would approach this situation, and this felt like it was true to them."
It also pays homage to Rick's ongoing relationship with Carl — at least, the memory of his fallen son: "In the show's story, which is different from the comics' story, Carl is gone. That's a major part of what's keeping Rick going now."
In Kang's mind, Rick and Michonne exploring the possibility of parenthood not only signals "their commitment to each other, but also their hopefulness for the future."
"They've been able to raise Judith," she says, "and she's happy and healthy and safe in a world in which Lori (Sarah Wayne Callies) once stated there's no way a baby could survive the apocalypse. It's a signal as to where they believe they are in the progress of things."
It is indeed a signal of progress — but it's a signal that will come under immediate threat whenever the series deals with its plans to write Rick out for good.
Follow THR.com/WalkingDead for full coverage of season nine.