The Ones Who Live’ Recap, Episode 1

Are you the type of person who whispers “That’s Rick Grimes” every time you watch Love Actually and see Andrew Lincoln? I have incredible news if you secretly long for the hardened action star’s short-lived but impactful romantic-comedy days. Not only is badass zombie killer Rick Grimes back and better than ever on The Walking Dead: The Ones Who Live, but he’s a heart-eyed simp and a wife guy to boot. We won! The “Richonne”-centric spinoff — which was originally developed as a film — delivers on the romance immediately. I couldn’t be more thrilled or charmed!

That said, The Ones Who Live is not all charm. The opening image of the series, which picks up some time after Rick Grimes left The Walking Dead’s narrativeis quite harrowing. The first thing we see is Rick attempting to die by suicide. It’s jarring! How did he get to this point? Why did Rick never escape captivity and return to his wife and children? Where is he? The Ones Who Live quickly answers those questions before asking about a dozen more.

After that freezing cold open, the episode flashes back to “five years after the bridge” — a reference to Lincoln’s last proper episode of The Walking Dead and the last time Rick and Michonne saw each other. In season nine, a bridge exploded, injuring Rick, and a minor antagonist named Anne (Pollyanna McIntosh) seized the opportunity to kidnap him for a secret military operation called the CRM, a.k.a. the Civic Republic Military.

The Civic Republic Military has popped up sporadically on The Walking Dead and its spinoffs for a while. It is probably the largest organized group in the apocalypse, at least in North America, but it’s difficult to know for sure. The CRM’s helicopters and three-ringed logo appeared first on The Walking Dead, and then in Fear the Walking Dead as an ominous but unexplored threat. Anne introduced us to the CRM’s penchant for human trafficking. Isabelle, a CRM pilot and love interest in Fear the Walking Dead, stressed the organization’s need for total secrecy before defecting. And The Walking Dead: The World Beyond took place in and around the CRM’s community in Omaha, Nebraska. That community falls at the end of the first season. (More on that later.)

The Ones Who Live pilot focuses primarily on Rick’s time in the CRM since the bridge incident. We get a taste of his life through conversations with other characters and voice-overs of letters Rick writes to Michonne to feel close to her. The Walking Dead is rarely so … first-person. The episode was like cozying up with a novel about a beleaguered protagonist searching for home, such as The Odyssey, the works of Charles Dickens, or, honestly, Black Beauty. (Sorry to compare Rick Grimes to a horse.)

Sprinkled throughout the episode are dreams Rick has about Michonne. In them, there are no walkers. Rick is just a regular guy lost on his first day of work who sees Michonne on a park bench, asks her for directions, and falls in love at first sight. It’s a friggin’ meet-cute! He comes back to the bench every day to have lunch with her. He brings her a pizza. He talks about proposing. They smooch. It’s pure, unadulterated fluff. The Rick and Michonne romance was not immediate on The Walking Dead and played out mostly in the background. They were allies before they were friends and friends before they were lovers. It’s so nice to see these characters get a chance to really flirt and fawn over each other in a stress- and zombie-free environment — and look damn good doing so, if I may add.

But back to reality. Five years after the bridge, Rick is stuck working on “consignment” with other captives of the CRM. A robotic woman’s voice straight out of a Starship Troopers recruiting video informs us that the CRM grants citizenship in the fully functional “hidden city” of Philadelphia to its captives after they put in six years killing zombies and scavenging for supplies. (We also see that play out with Rick’s new friend Esteban, who is rewarded for his service with a middle-management position. Yay?) But Rick’s uninterested in the City of Brotherly Love. He wants to get back to his family, not disappear. He’s tried to escape before, and he’ll do it again.

We learn that the post-credits scene after The Walking Dead series finale, in which Rick writes Michonne a message in a bottle and surrendered to the CRM’s helicopters, was escape attempt No. 3. Because of that, CRM soldiers keep Rick on a leash on his shifts. Even that isn’t enough to deter him! As soon as he’s out of sight, he cuts off his own hand to sever the tether and make a run for it. It’s metal as hell, but unfortunately, he doesn’t get far.

The only reason Rick has survived in the CRM, it seems, is thanks to Lieutenant Colonel Donald Okafor (Craig Tate). He singles out Rick and a woman named Pearl Thorne (Lesley-Ann Brandt). Both of them habitually defy the CRM: Rick has tried to run, and Pearl has tried to kill Okafor. He tells them they are both “A”s according to the CRM’s metric — free thinkers and leaders. The procedure, Okafor says, is to kill the “A”s they find and keep the ordinary people the CRM deems “B”s. He wants Pearl and Rick to join him in a secret program and help change the CRM from within.

“[Escape] cost your hand last time,” Okafor tells Rick. “Next time, it’s your life. Do something with it.” That is a very patronizing thing to say to a man like Rick Grimes, who worked exceedingly hard to build a life and family in the apocalypse and is only talking to Okafor because he was kidnapped … but sir, yes, sir!

Rick goes along with the military man’s plan and gets fitted with a prosthetic knife fist, but only so that he can orchestrate his next escape attempt. He rises through the ranks, keeps Okafor’s secret plan secret from Major-General Beale (Terry O’Quinn), and gets the information from Esteban that he needs to stage his own death and escape via tunnel while on a mission. But that attempt fails, too!

Our intrepid hero next tries to take out Okafor himself. Rick flips out, raging against Okafor and the CRM for playing God with human lives and making choices for him. In their confrontation, we learn that when Okafor was in the United States military; he was responsible for bombing Atlanta and Los Angeles at the beginning of the zombie outbreak. Hey! That’s where The Walking Dead and Fear the Walking Dead took place in their respective first seasons. His web, dare I say it, connects them all.

The lieutenant general then tells Rick that he’s transferring him and Pearl to the Cascades in Oregon to build a military base. Later that evening, back at his apartment, Pearl and Rick turn on the news and learn that the Omaha community has fallen. Pearl seems to have become CRM-pilled, convinced that Omaha was destroyed because they didn’t stay hidden, and smashes a glass. “We all want to be somewhere else with someone else,” she says, “but we got stuck in the right place.” Again, that’s a ridiculous and patronizing thing to say to Rick Grimes. I know times are dire, but his family is only 150 miles away! He’s just in Pennsylvania! They’re in Virginia!

After Pearl leaves, Rick brings one of the shards of glass to his neck. This is the low point we saw at the beginning of the episode. He can’t escape. He’s being moved across the country. And Okafor knows about Michonne. In his last letter to his wife, he tells her that while he couldn’t end his life, he decided to die by disappearing. He burns the iPhone pictures. He goes to Oregon. He stops talking. He buries himself in work.

Then, the superimposed word “NOW” tells us that it’s the present, I guess. Rick pilots a helicopter on a mission with Okafor. But not for long. Something, or someone, shoots down the aircraft. Okafor dies. Rick runs from their attacker in the woods, who turns out to be Michonne! Holy narrative risk, Batman! They really reunited those two crazy kids quickly. I’m intrigued by the choice. I assumed the show would be about them getting back to each other, so I’m excited to see what happens next. The look those two share as the episode fades to black could melt diamonds.

Sometimes, I wonder how I, a millennial woman who habitually avoids most horror movies and didn’t start reading comics until she was in her 20s, became such a Walking Dead fanatic. I’m not “supposed” to like this show. What am I doing here? The best reason I can come up with is characters and relationships like Rick and Michonne. These are intense human stories about people who care about each other in ways that me and my bickering group chat cannot comprehend. And my perspective does have some advantages. When Rick dreamed his way right into a fan-fiction scenario, I did not bat an eye. The Ones Who Live is for viewers like me.

• They call walkers “delts” in the CRM. How very Greek.

• As fans of The World Beyond (there are dozens of us) will tell you, the destruction of Omaha was an inside job. Rick is right to be suspicious.

• Beale was referenced in The World Beyond, too, and one of that spinoff’s teenage characters was his son, Mason (Will Meyers).

• Categorizing Rick as an “A” and not a “B” contradicts the only other time we’ve heard this terminology on The Walking Dead. When Anne kidnapped Rick, she called him a “B.” She specifically said that he was not an “A.” Therefore, I must assume Anne was lying to protect him. That’s nice!

• If you’ll indulge me, I’d like to put something out into the universe. There’s a character on The Walking Dead who disappeared like Rick named Heath, played by Corey Hawkins, and if he showed up in the CRM’s hidden city, I would be so happy.

• How impressive is it that Rick remembers to cauterize the wound after cutting off his hand? I thought I worked well under pressure, dang.

• “The Last Letter I Write to You (That You’ll Never See)” would make a great pop-punk song.

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