Comic book and show creator Robert Kirkman has said on more than one occasion that the term "the walking dead" could easily refer to the zombies plaguing this world, or the group of survivors pressing on as their own mortality bears down on them. As Rick ambled through the episode, fading in and out of consciousness, his pacing began to blend with the horde behind him. The ghosts and demons of his nine-season past were finally catching up to him.
These ghosts came in the form of Shane (Jon Bernthal), Hershel (Scott Wilson) and Sasha (Sonequa Martin-Green), and each vision was more emotionally gutting than the one prior, each with a purpose. Shane pressed Rick to use his rage to keep him alert, Hershel gave Rick a heavenly vision of what's waiting on the other side of this hellish existence, and Sasha comforted Rick, amidst a sea of dead bodies filled with familiar faces, that he has successfully served his purpose -- that his mission was not a failure and his life was not lived in vain.
Saying goodbye to Rick is one thing, but the return of Wilson to the role of Hershel packed an extra-special emotional punch, as Variety reports the actor died from cancer in October. That said, it felt as if the whole episode was one long eulogy writing itself in Rick's wake -- as he walked in his own footsteps through the hospital halls of the show's pilot episode, it was evident that his life was flashing before his eyes -- and ours.
At the episode's climax, Rick found himself facing down the army of the undead on a shaky bridge that just wouldn't collapse. As Michonne (Danai Gurira), Daryl, Maggie, Carol (Melissa McBride), and the others looked on from a distance, Rick made the realization that the family he'd been looking to protect this entire time were the ones still living whom he had been keeping at a distance. That moment of clarity came in the form of a quick decision: Rick shoots a load of dynamite on the bridge, sending the carcasses of the undead, and presumably his own, into a fiery oblivion.