For once, it wasn’t because of scheduling.
This interview contains spoilers for The Walking Dead Season 9, episode 5, “What Comes After.”
Although Rick didn’t die in Andrew Lincoln’s final episode of The Walking Dead, our hero was visited by several “ghosts” from his past while attempting to outrun a herd of walkers and make it back to his family: Jon Bernthal’s Shane, Scott Wilson’s Hershel, and Sonequa Martin-Green’s Sasha – each of whom gave our bleeding hero some much needed advice and motivation when it seemed he might be ready to give up and become zombie chow.
Many fans were disappointed that Chandler Riggs’ Carl and Sarah Wayne Callies’ Lori didn’t make an appearance for Rick’s swansong, given their close connection with the character, but Walking Dead showrunner Angela Kang tells IGN that their close familial bond is exactly why the writers chose to keep Carl and Lori out of sight.
“We really took this concept of something called the Third Man phenomenon; a lot of times when people are on the brink of death, it’s a very common phenomenon that people who survive it, they believe that they saw somebody who came to help them, either somebody that they knew or sometimes just a total stranger like a sherpa appears out of nowhere to lead them down the mountain and it turns out that person was never there, it’s like a survival instinct that kicks in of some sort,” Kang explains.
“Creatively I felt that Rick’s hallucinations, these dreams that he’s having of Shane and Hershel and Sasha, they’re giving him specific things he needs in the moment to keep going: Shane’s giving him this primal courage, Hershel’s reminding him of the heart of everything, Sasha imparts some wisdom and gives him the bigger picture, and he keeps looking for his family,” Kang adds. “But I think if he were to see Lori and Carl in this afterlife, he might want to just stop because he’s found them, he’s home. His brain won’t even allow him to see them because he has to keep going for the family he still has, so that’s the heady part of it, and we never really need people to understand it, but that was our thinking behind why he does not see the two of them.”
Kang also tells us that the show’s six-year time-jump was designed in part to get Rick’s daughter Judith to the same age that Carl was when the series began, and also as a way of bookending Rick’s journey.
“There was something that felt like it really brought the story to an exciting place because we’ve never done a jump in time that long, but also it felt like it was a fitting end to this story of Rick’s journey,” she says. “He started off looking for his family and then he lost Lori and Carl who were the first two people he was looking for, but he found so much more. We’re left behind with this child who… there’s no reason why this child should’ve survived except she did, and it’s because of this community and this family that they’ve found that has protected her, and she has grown and thrived, and there was something about that felt like a nice little capper to the story of Rick’s arc on the show, but also rockets us into the next little chapter of the story that we’re telling.”
For more from Kang, check out why episode 5 is (surprisingly) the last we’ll see of Maggie this season, and read Andrew Lincoln’s take on ending Rick’s story with the three upcoming movies that The Walking Dead has planned. And below, check out the first photos from episode 6 to see how the rest of the characters look after a six-year time jump.