The Walking Dead ending explained: Your biggest questions from the series finale answered

Norman Reedus as Daryl Dixon and Melissa McBride as Carol Peletier in The Walking Dead series finale
(Image credit: Jace Downs/AMC)

After 12 years of being on our screens, The Walking Dead has finally come to an end – and while several of the characters' stories will live on in various spin-off series, the original show has officially concluded. Given that the finale had the task of wrapping up such a long-running narrative, there's a lot going on within its 65-minute runtime, so we don't blame you if you missed something.

We've pored over 'Rest in Peace' and answered your biggest questions below – so if you want to know who died, what happened to big bad Pamela Milton, and more, keep scrolling. The end of the original show doesn't mean the franchise is over, either, so if you're keen to learn more about what's in store for the future of The Walking Dead, we've got you covered. 

Before we dive in, it goes without saying that this article contains spoilers for the Walking Dead season 11, episode 24 ending, so if you've yet to watch The Walking Dead series finale, we suggest you turn back now. Unless you don't mind ruining it for yourself ahead of time, anyway...

The Walking Dead ending explained *spoilers*

The Walking Dead series finale opens right where its predecessor left off, with Daryl bursting into the Commonwealth hospital, desperately trying to find surgeon Tomi and get help for a wounded Judith. Walkers swarm the outside as Daryl collapses, forcing Judith to try and barricade the doors before she also blacks out. Fortunately, though, the others rock up to the clinic and get them to safety.

Elsewhere, Rosita, Gabriel, and Eugene successfully find the former's daughter, Coco, and another missing baby that had been taken by a vengeful Pamela Milton in her war against Eugene. (She'd convinced herself he was responsible for the death of her son, Sebastian). 

Eventually, the gang get Judith to Tomi, and he stabilizes the youngster before they set out to help out the people who have been trapped inside the Commonwealth with the horde of "smart" zombies. After convincing Pamela to open up the Estates, the rich folk's neighborhood within the gated community, and Mercer arresting her for her crimes, Daryl and co rig the place with various explosives and blow up the horde. 

To celebrate their victory, our heroes sit down for a big, family meal – much like the one Negan said would never happen after he killed Glenn and Abraham in the season 7 opener. Outside, a tearful Negan apologizes to Maggie for murdering Glenn all those years ago, to which she admits she'll never be able to forgive him despite him finally "earning his place" within their group. 

Then, the episode jumps forward one whole year and it's revealed that Ezekiel, Carol, and Mercer have taken on leadership roles within the Commonwealth. Elsewhere, Aaron and Lydia carry out regular supply runs, and Connie has landed a job in administration. Eugene has had a baby with Max, and Yumiko and Magna have rekindled their relationship. Lots of happy endings all around, basically!

At the end of the episode, Daryl shares a heartfelt goodbye with his bestie Carol before taking off on his motorcycle, presumably in search of Rick and Michonne, and a standalone epilogue reveals the duo's respective whereabouts.

Who died in The Walking Dead series finale?

Christian Serratos as Rosita in The Walking Dead series finale

(Image credit: Jace Downs/AMC)

Given the perilous situations our survivors frequently find themselves in in The Walking Dead series finale, it's kind of wild that less than a handful of characters died in the last-ever episode – and only one of them was a major character. 

First to go in 'Rest in Peace' is Jules, Luke's Oceansider girlfriend, as she caught up in the horde of "smart" zombies that have broken into the Commonwealth and eaten her alive. Next is Luke himself, having been bitten on the leg while trying to save Jules. Despite Yumiko, Kelly, Connie, and Magna's efforts to amputate his infected limb, the music enthusiast winds up bleeding out on a hospital gurney, before Magna drives a knife into his brain to ensure he doesn't turn.

The only impactful death of the episode, though, is Rosita. The character has spent the last couple of episodes frantically searching for her missing daughter, Coco, after Pamela Milton had the Alexandria gang rounded up following her son Sebastian's death. Having taken the train back to the Commonwealth, Rosita, Gabriel, and Eugene quickly locate the babies but their rescue operation hits a snag when they get stuck in a vehicle, surrounded by zombies. Running out of options, the trio – Coco strapped to Rosita's chest, and the other baby on Eugene's back – burst out of the ambulance and fight their way through the horde, before Rosita suggests the men shimmy up a nearby drainpipe and enter the closest building via an open window. Given the great lengths she's always gone to protect Coco, it seems like a baffling decision from Rosita, and it's even more unbelievable that Gabriel and Eugene would follow the suggestion, but they do...

Eugene and Gabriel climb up the pipe and make it to the window but Rosita gets pulled down into the swarm of walkers during her attempt and for a second, you think both she and Coco are goners. Miraculously, she bursts from the snarling rotters brandishing her sword, taking out a few of them as she clambers to the roof of the ambulance. She jumps from there onto the pipe and eventually makes it through the window – phew! – but things aren't as triumphant as they seem.

Later, she reveals to Eugene that she was bitten on the back by a walker when she fell. Knowing she only has a precious few hours with her found family and daughter left, Rosita quietly enjoys the gang's celebratory dinner, before telling Gabriel what happened in a whisper, too. As her death, and subsequent reanimation, draws closer, she has Maggie and Carol help her onto a bed next to Coco, and the threesome share a cuddle as Daryl smiles fondly from the doorway. Then, Gabriel kneels at her bedside and prays for her peaceful passing, before taking the little one away. "We'll see you again someday," he says tearfully. Lastly, Eugene pulls up a chair, and admits: "I wouldn't be the man I am today if I hadn't met you." "I'm glad it was you in the end," Rosita replies, as she shuts her eyes for the last time.

In the episode's 'one year later' sequence, it's made clear that Eugene and Max have named their daughter 'Rosie' as a tribute to their fallen friend.

"[Christian] felt that the end of [Rosita's] story should be that she sacrifices herself or dies in the pursuit of trying to save her child and the next generation," showrunner Angela Kang recently told Variety. "We try to take those sort of things into account, if actors come to us and go, 'I think it's important that the end of my story feels like this' and that's kind of the collaborative part of what we do. We gave that a lot of thought and talked about it with various people who get to approve or not approve certain decisions. 

"I think Christian did an amazing job in the episode. I cried the whole time, as she was doing her scenes. It was really cool to see just the friendship that Christian and Josh [McDermitt, who plays Eugene] have in real life. It wound up working really beautifully."

What happened to Pamela Milton?

Laila Robins as Pamela Milton in The Walking Dead series finale

(Image credit: Jace Downs/AMC)

Corrupt Commonwealth governor Pamela Milton proved a real villain. Her mission to reestablish the old world was fueled by her desire to restore her power and privilege, which was bad enough, but things really took a turn after Eugene accidentally pushed her son Sebastian Milton into a zombie during a riot, which ultimately led to his death.

Hellbent on making Eugene pay, she sent her troopers after him, and kidnapped all of his known associates; most of which were sent to Outpost 22, a hard labor camp which saw the workers help build the Commonwealth train's tracks. Pamela also tried to force Yumiko into prosecuting Eugene for the murder of Sebastian, but Yumiko defied her in the end and opted to defend him instead. 

Things went from bad to worse when our heroes attempted to sneak back into the Commonwealth to find the missing kids and were ambushed in Union Station by Pamela and some of her soldiers. In the shootout, Judith Grimes was shot by Pamela – who was aiming for Maggie – which only ramped up Maggie and Negan's want to take her out for good. And when the "smart" zombies invaded the Commonwealth, she ordered her army to divert them to the lower class quadrants to give the community's elite a higher chance of getting to safety. 

Despite all that, Pamela Milton didn't die in The Walking Dead series finale; she was arrested and thrown in jail by Mercer, Daryl, and the group after they saved as many people of the Commonwealth as they could and blew up the herd. Before that, though, Pamela has momentary crisis of faith and leans herself into a zombified Lance Hornsby, as if she might be purposefully welcoming death as a way to punish herself for her crimes. 

In an interesting turn of events, Maggie, who's hiding out of sight with a rifle, shoots the growling Lance in the head, waking Pamela from her guilt-ridden stupor. Though, you could argue she didn't do it for Pamela's benefit; her actions were likely inspired by Negan saying, "For someone like that, prison is a fate worse than death."

Where is Daryl off to?

Norman Reedus as Daryl Dixon and Cailey Fleming as Judith Grimes in The Walking Dead season 11, episode 18

(Image credit: Jace Downs/AMC)

Right at the end of The Walking Dead series finale, Maggie approaches Daryl (Norman Reedus) and says she's been thinking about the future, and how it's about time the gang try to find out what's beyond the Virginia state line. Armed with the knowledge that Rick is still alive – a confused Judith having spilled the beans when she was in and out of consciousness earlier on in the episode – Daryl agrees to go out and see if anything or anyone is out there.  

We know that Daryl's travels will eventually lead him to Paris, France, so he'll likely have to ditch his motorcycle for something a little more long-distance friendly at some point. More on that below, but for now, we know his searching will likely see him link up with "his brother" again...

"I really do think that some of the stuff came from some suggestions and ideas from Norman," director Greg Nicotero recalled to Entertainment Weekly. "Because there was one point when Norman was talking about how cool it would be for Rick Grimes and Daryl to reunite in some capacity. And I thought, 'Oh, that's a really great idea. I would've watched that show.' That was a year-and-a-half ago. And then the conversation started."

Did Rick Grimes return?

Andrew Lincoln as Rick Grimes in The Walking Dead

(Image credit: Jace Downs/AMC)

Fans have been voicing their desire for Rick Grimes to return to The Walking Dead ever since, well, he left the show in season 9. In the series finale, they finally got their wish, as Andrew Lincoln reprised the role of the beloved character – and he wasn't the only one that made a comeback, either.

The last time we saw Rick, he was whisked away in a helicopter by Jadis (Pollyanna McIntosh) and her morally questionable allies within the Civic Republic Military. At the time, the former Deputy sheriff was gravelly injured, having been impaled on a metal rod while trying to divert a horde of walkers away from Alexandria's camp. Not to mention the fact that he was also caught in the explosion of the joint community bridge in his efforts to stop the swarm.

But, back to 'Rest in Peace'... After Daryl bikes off in search of life outside the Commonwealth's walls, Rick and Michonne (Black Panther's Danai Gurira) are seen writing letters around a campfire. It looks like they're together at first; Lincoln and Gurira narrating each characters' words – Rick writing to Michonne, while Michonne pens a letter to Judith. But that's proven not to be the case when Michonne stares lovingly at Rick's old boots, and the phone engraved with cartoons of herself and Judith, before it cuts to Rick and it's revealed he's in possession of the same mobile and boots. 

Bundling everything in a bag, Rick – wearing a Civic Republic Military jacket – makes his way to a muddy waterfront, and stares out onto a desolated city skyline. Above, a helicopter hovers as a man shouts down: "Consignee Grimes, you have been located and are instructed to surrender." Rick flings the backpack up and onto a boat nearby; the vessel on which Michonne found the journal, boots and phone with Virgil before she left the show in season 10 to find Rick, and suddenly it becomes clear that Rick's scenes are set earlier in the timeline than Michonne's. 

"Remain in place and put your hands up. Come on, Rick. "It's like he told you. There's no escape for the living," the man in the helicopter continues via loudspeaker. Rick grins and places his palms to the sky. What's he planning?

Rick Grimes returns in The Walking Dead series finale

(Image credit: AMC)

Talking to EW after the series finale aired, the franchise's chief content officer Scott Gimple, who is set to act as showrunner on Rick and Michonne's upcoming series, explained: "To finish the story of The Walking Dead, we needed Rick and Michonne. And to show Rick and Michonne, we had to show them in circumstances that they're in. And it really was like, no matter where these characters are, the situations they're in, whether they're living or dead, they're forever connected by their time with each other. That they are part of a family that is unbreakable. And that is in some ways one long life, which is something thematically we have invoked throughout the series and in the even earlier moments of this finale. That's what we started with."

In her scenes, Michonne is seen donning a samurai-style get-up and riding toward an unfathomably large crowd of zombies. In the same interview, Gimple teased that there's "a story behind" Michonne's new clobber "that will be told" in her and Rick's show. "Rick is in very different circumstances, and it isn't just geographic," he said. "Obviously, there's a lot going on, and that armor that she wears is part of a big story with her."

Speaking of geography, it's likely that Rick is on Bloodsworth Island or on the outskirts of Philadelphia in this scene, given the city's skyline and the fact that the CRM's government is based there – something that was revealed in the second season of The Walking Dead: World Beyond. The latter location was glimpsed in a trailer for the now-scrapped Rick Grimes movies, too, which is further evidence, and finally, Michonne stumbled across the boat containing Rick's belongings in Maryland, which shares a border with Pennsylvania.

Before The Walking Dead's time-jump in season 9, Yumiko's group resided in a mansion just outside of Philadelphia. We're unlikely to see the five of them in Rick and Michonne's show – it would've pretty mean not to mention him to Judith if they knew him way back when, but it cements the area's significance and connections to the main series.

What's next for The Walking Dead franchise?

Danai Gurira as Michonne in The Walking Dead season 11

(Image credit: Jace Downs/AMC)

It turns out that The Walking Dead isn't well, dead, after all. Despite the emotional goodbye of the series finale, the stories of several of our favorite characters will be continuing. First up, we have The Walking Dead: Dead City in April 2023, which sees Maggie and Negan taking on Manhattan in a six-episode mini-series. There's also a Daryl Dixon series, which is due out in 2023 as well. He'll be heading out of the US to Paris, where he'll be dealing with the "smart" zombies who were introduced in The Walking Dead: World Beyond.

As you might have guessed from the closing moments of The Walking Dead finale, we'll also be seeing Rick and Michonne again. We got a glimpse of what they've both been up to at the end of the episode – if you need a quick refresher, Rick's in some trouble with a CRM helicopter while Michonne seems to be following clues to find her husband. The limited series was originally supposed to be a trilogy of movies but the shift to episodes was confirmed at San Diego Comic-Con 2022. 

Elsewhere, the original spin-off Fear the Walking Dead is also continuing. We're currently into season 8 after filming started in August 2022. Plenty more to get sink our teeth into, then.

Check out our how to watch The Walking Dead guide if you're wanting to watch/rewatch the main series, Fear the Walking Dead, and more. If you'd rather look forward rather than backward, have a read up on all of the upcoming Walking Dead spin-offs announced so far.

Amy West

I am an Entertainment Writer here at GamesRadar+, covering all things TV and film across our Total Film and SFX sections. Elsewhere, my words have been published by the likes of Digital Spy, SciFiNow, PinkNews, FANDOM, Radio Times, and Total Film magazine.

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