The Walking Dead: The Ones Who Live ending, explained

Fans have waited almost a year-and-a-half since The Walking Dead ended, longer since the character Rick Grimes (Andrew Lincoln) left the show, to find out what happened to him.

The Walking Dead: The Ones Who Live finally answers that question. It also follows Michonne’s (Danai Gurira) journey to find him and wraps the story up with a nice, neat bow in the final episode.

Rick and Michonne are ready to take down the CRM

Jadis after being bitten looking contemplative in a scene from The Walking Dead: The Ones Who Live.
Gene Page / AMC

In Become, the penultimate episode of the six-episode season, a fight between Rick, Michonne, and Jadis (Pollyanna McIntosh) leaves the latter severely injured and then bitten on the neck by a walker. In her final moments, Jadis decides she wants to die the person she was, not the one she became. She reveals the location of her dossier that outlines everything about Rick, his family and friends, and the Alexandria community so he and Michonne can find and destroy it, keeping their family and friends safe.

She also begs them not to take down the Civic Republic Military (the CRM). Sadly, they aren’t willing to oblige with that last request. Knowing Major General Beale (Terry O’Quinn) was about to reveal the Echelon Briefing to Rick, which outlines the entire scope of the CRM’s plans, Rick realizes this is the perfect opportunity to take down the CRM from the inside.

Rick and Michonne in plainclothes with backpacks kneeling and facing one another in a forest on The Walking Dead: The Ones Who Live.

Following Jadis’ death (who is shot in the head by Rick at her request) and a lovely marriage proposal (Rick is ready to make it official with Michonne), the pair prepare for their big plan. They will return to the CRM and destroy it from the inside.

Becoming the moles for the big fight

Michonne in a CRM uniform, her helmet off and hands up in a scene from The Walking Dead: The Ones Who Live.
Gene Page / AMC

In the show’s final episode, The Last Time, both Rick and Michonne are in the CRM. Rick gets his sit-down with Beale. At the same time, Michonne sneaks into Jadis’ office, finds the dossier, and angrily tears it to pieces.

Rick learns that Beale believes humans only have about 14 years left on Earth. With the CRM eliminating diseased, damaged populations, they can start anew. “The sword that kills,” he says, “is the sword that brings things back.”

There’s a split second when it appears Rick might actually be rethinking his plan, especially when Beale says Rick can bring back anyone he wants to spare from decimation, from whatever mysterious place he has always been trying to return. That doesn’t sway Rick, though. He lunges at Beale, murders him, then dumps his body in a bin and wheels it away.

General Beale trying to hurt Rick as he kneels and blocks a sword with his prosthetic arm in a scene from The Walking Dead: The Ones Who Live.
Gene Page / AMC

The plan is to leave now that the mission has been achieved. But Michonne is horrified by a presentation she witnesses detailing plans to abduct children from Portland. CRM soldiers will be bringing them to the Civic Republic before gassing everyone else in the city. She can’t, in good conscience, leave knowing what is about to happen to other innocent people, and she convinces Rick of the same.

Using an intricate network of connected explosives along with Beale’s reanimated body and that of another CRM soldier, they set up an elaborate trigger. Once the walkers pull the wires connected to them far enough, everyone at the all-hands meeting will blow up. The plan works perfectly until Pearl Thorne (Lesley-Ann Brandt) shows up, pointing a gun to their heads. Rick and Michonne duck for cover just in time, re-emerging after the explosion to deal with both Thorne and a herd of newly minted CRM soldier walkers.

The dynamic duo get to work, as they usually do, to finish the job. Michonne kills Thorne, and Rick narrowly escapes a swarm of walkers. Fans are teased for a brief moment that he might have been bitten, but both climb to safety, emerging unscathed.

How does The Walking Dead: The Ones Who Live End?

Rick and Michonne hugging Judith and RJ in a scene from The Walking Dead: The Ones Who Live.
Gene Page / AMC

The Walking Dead: The Ones Who Live ends in as fairy tale fashion as possible. Following the explosive events, a CRM radio news report discusses the deaths of the high-ranking officers, including Beale, and the “shocking revelations” about their heinous activities. A unanimous decision by the Civic Republic called for emergency oversight, with lower-ranking officers cleared of any wrongdoing since they didn’t know what was really going on. A new council is also overseeing the military.

As a helicopter flies away, and others are seen in the distance, we learn that Civic Republic citizens are free to leave at will, and any person or community that needs assistance or airlifting will be helped. Rick and Michonne achieved the drastic change Rick initially thought was impossible.

Rick and Judith hugging on The Walking Dead: The Ones Who Live.
Gene Page / AMC

The season ends with Michonne calling Judith on the radio as their helicopter is touching down. “Shoto, it’s Daito,” she says. Rick and Michonne run towards Judith, Rick’s adopted daughter, and RJ, Rick and Michonne’s son. The children embrace Michonne with Rick standing awkwardly in the background. Judith is the first to approach him, crying in his arms and telling him she knew he was still out there and just “never wanted him to feel alone.”

RJ, meanwhile, asks Rick if he’s the Brave Man, to which Rick replies that he is, “but maybe,” he adds, “you can call me dad.” RJ smiles and tells Rick he knew he would come back because he “believed,” calling back to the Japanese markings etched into the cell phones Rick kept with him all those years.

The family, together for the first time, engage in a loving embrace. It’s the happy ending fans have been hoping for, but it’s also bittersweet. Given how the story wraps up, it’s unlikely The Walking Dead: The Ones Who Live will return for a second season. But for fans who have been itching to find out what happened to Rick, why he hadn’t tried to come home, if Michonne ever found him, and how the story ends, there’s finally closure.

Stream The Walking Dead: The Ones Who Live on AMC+.