The Walking Dead series finale review: "A mixed bag of a conclusion"

Eugene, Rosita, and Gabriel in The Walking Dead series finale
(Image: © Jace Downs/AMC)

GamesRadar+ Verdict

The Walking Dead series finale makes for a decent enough episode, combining thrilling action sequences that are reminiscent of earlier moments in the show. But it struggles to juggle its overwhelmingly large cast, leans a little too heavily into melodrama, and teases spin-offs rather than concentrates on its conclusion.

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Warning! This review contains major spoilers for The Walking Dead season 11, episode 24. 

Well, that's it. The Walking Dead has finally concluded after 12 years – and the long-running zombie drama's last-ever episode highlights both the best and the worst aspects of the show in recent seasons. The Walking Dead series finale is almost split into two halves; the first section offering up 35 minutes of pulse-pounding action, while the second goes hard on the nostalgia and sentimentality, and the results are a seriously mixed bag.

'Rest in Peace' opens right where the previous episode left off, with Daryl bursting into the Commonwealth hospital, desperately trying to 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, the others rock up to the clinic and get them to safety – their off-screen presence feels a bit like a cop-out, admittedly – and Daryl awakens to Yumiko, Magna, Connie, and Kelly soothing a bitten Luke (Dan Fogler) as he bleeds out on a gurney. The harsh truth is that it's difficult to care about Luke – he's been absent for too long, having never really made an impression to begin with – and his death just uses up valuable screen time. It is worth noting, however, that the actors in this scene do a fantastic job and it is quite touching to see the five together again. 

Surprisingly, given how willing The Walking Dead has been to kill fan favorites in the past, only one major player dies: Rosita. (Pamela lives, even; the gang opting to arrest her before blowing up the mass of walkers that has made its way into the Commonwealth). After saving her infant daughter, Coco, from a bunch of snarling zombies, Rosita finds herself in the middle of the horde with Eugene and Gabriel. Inexplicably, she tells the men to shimmy up a drainpipe and into a nearby building while she holds the dead off – and gets nipped by a rotter in the process. With the bite on her back, amputation isn't an option, so she's forced to accept her fate and enjoy the last few moments she has with her friends and child. It's heartbreaking, watching her smile through tears as she watches her family relax and laugh for the first time in a long time, and Christian Serratos plays it perfectly. Realizing her turn is imminent, Rosita has Maggie help her lie down with Coco, before Gabriel prays by her bedside and Eugene thanks her for helping him become a better man, before she shuts her eyes for the final time. Most of the deaths in The Walking Dead are shocking and sudden, so this makes a nice change, conjuring up images of Carl's slow demise in season 8.

Dan Fogler as Luke in The Walking Dead series finale

(Image credit: Jace Downs/AMC)

'Rest in Peace' features plenty of Easter eggs for long-time fans, from Judith waking up dazed and confused in a hospital – just like her father did way back when – to a fake out death (à la Glenn and the dumpster in season 6), Daryl's declaration that the real enemy "ain't the Walking Dead", and Pamela Milton almost killing herself in the same way Carol does in the Robert Kirkman comics. The best of all, though, is a dinner scene that makes way for the quieter second section, and echoes the dream-like sequence that the old Negan claimed would never become a reality right after he murdered Glenn and Abraham.

A couple of other standout moments center on Maggie and Negan. "You take Pammy out with this thing, hell is gonna rain down on you. And you ain't gonna come back, and you have to come back. So, I'm gonna do it," Negan urges, when Maggie catches him trying to sneak out with the rifle she's loaded to take out corrupt governor Pamela Milton, and he finally, properly, apologizes for killing Glenn all those years ago. 

The interaction is raw and real, but frustratingly, we know that neither of them are in any real danger, given the duo's upcoming spin-off series The Walking Dead: Dead City – a fact that has been hanging over the entire final batch of episodes, consistently robbing scenes of much-needed tension. Later, the pair share another, where Maggie admits to Negan that she won't ever be able to forgive him for what he did, mostly due to the fact that whenever she looks at him, she sees "beautiful" Glenn in his final seconds; bleeding, scared, and calling out for her. ("I remember you mocking him as he died" – a crushing line that causes Negan to tear up). She'd rather remember his "goodness", remember when they were happy. 

It's a moment that has been a long time coming; a different kind of confrontation to the one fans might have expected when Maggie returned at the end of season 10, but a more genuine one. It subtly says so much about grief and vengeance, and how you can move on without fully letting go and it goes some way to justifying why Negan has stuck around all this time.

When the episode jumps forward one year, it looks as if most of the other characters got their happy endings. Ezekiel, a character whose death seemed to have been signposted for a while, has taken on a leadership role at the Commonwealth alongside Mercer, who's swapped his military armor for a more suited-and-booted look – a symbol of the community's new peaceful way of living. Yumiko and Magna have reconciled, Connie is happy at work, Carol has adopted Lance Hornsby's former role, and Eugene has had a baby with Max. 

Maggie is keen to look towards the future, too, and tasks Daryl with going out and exploring the world beyond. He agrees, which leads to a touching conversation between him and "best friend" Carol. "I love you," he candidly tells her – this lone wolf has come a long way since season 1. It would have likely had more impact if the two characters had shared the screen more recently but it's welcome regardless, even if it'll likely upset those who always shipped them romantically…

Lauren Cohan as Maggie Rhee in The Walking Dead series finale

(Image credit: Jace Downs/AMC)

Back in July, The Walking Dead's chief content officer Scott Gimple assured fans that the series finale would concentrate on wrapping up storylines rather than setting up what’s to come. It's a statement that's kind of undermined in the finale's final moments, even if it's undeniably cool to see Andrew Lincoln and Danai Gurira back. 

After Daryl motorcycles off in search of life outside the Commonwealth's walls, Rick and Michonne are seen writing letters around a campfire. At first, it seems like they're together, as Lincoln and Gurira narrate each characters' words, then Michonne stares lovingly at Rick's old boots and a smartphone 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. For now, we don't know where the pair's paths crossed and how they ended up separated again, but we're sure to find out when their own miniseries airs in 2023.

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, as a man from an unseen helicopter above shouts down: "Consignee Grimes, you have been located and are instructed to surrender. It's like he told you. There's no escape for the living!" Right, so Rick's escaped from the CRM, or someplace new entirely, and they've caught up with him? 

It's a super exciting tease for the future of the franchise, granted, but it's jarring in how standalone it is. It also somewhat contradicts the "We are the ones who live" mantra chanted by the likes of Maggie, Aaron, Morgan, and more in a montage right after, and the finale's message of hope, too. Those characters may have found their peace, but villains don't quit and the fight never really ends. 'Rest in Peace', then, is less of a "goodbye" when it comes to most of the characters and more of a "see you later"; the series set to live on through several new shows. Perhaps that's why The Walking Dead series finale feels a little underwhelming as a conclusion: because it isn't one. Not really. And that's a shame. 

Check out our how to watch The Walking Dead guide if you're wanting to watch/rewatch the main series and its spin-offs.

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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.