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We finally know what happened to Rick Grimes on The Walking Dead

Fans finally have an important clue about the fate of former Alexandria leader Rick Grimes (Andrew Lincoln), and it has big implications for that trilogy of Walking Dead movies that AMC has been teasing.

Thanks to Michonne's (Danai Gurira) exit from the series on "What We Become," season 10's 13th episode, we now have a bit more information about that fateful day at the exploding bridge back during season 9 and Rick's mysterious abduction by helicopter. At the time, AMC kept pretty mum about the circumstances of Lincoln's departure, and many fans assumed that the character who led the series since its 2010 bow would meet an untimely end. Fortunately for fans of Grimes, Lincoln only wanted a reprieve from the oppressive summer shooting schedule, and was more than willing to return for the much-discussed series of films.

According to ScreenRant, instead of perishing in a fiery blaze, Rick was abducted by the mysterious CRM Group and helicoptered off to parts unknown. Since that moment, quite a bit of time has passed in-series. During the latter half of season 9, The Walking Dead leapt forward six years to reveal a network of communities with Alexandria at the center, thriving under the leadership of Gurira's Michonne. After the time jump, the survivors were quickly embroiled in a new conflict with rival group the Whisperers, and little was ever revealed about the intervening years or Rick's absence — that is, until last week.

Rick is still out there with the CRM Group

On "What We Become," Michonne stumbled upon a pair of Rick's boots, easily recognizable to his former lover. She forced Virgil to show her where he found the boots, and he led her to an old, deserted ship. There, she discovered the episode's most important clue: an iPhone that displays a drawing of Michonne and Judith with Rick's name scribbled at the top — along with, interestingly, what appear to be some Japanese characters. The iPhone certainly seems like the kind of technology that only the CRM Group would have access to, so we can safely assume that Rick is either working directly with them, or freshly escaped from their custody.

"The boots are an iconic part of Rick's costume, would've been on his person at the time of the bridge explosion, and would be immediately recognizable to Michonne, so that's how we came to have this first clue," said Kang."

The Walking Dead showrunner Angela Kang provided to Business Insider some additional — and extra-intriguing — insights about this moment. 

"The boots are an iconic part of Rick's costume, would've been on his person at the time of the bridge explosion, and would be immediately recognizable to Michonne, so that's how we came to have this first clue," said Kang. "The phone is obviously a hint at some larger story that took place."

According to Scott M. Gimple, the former showrunner of The Walking Dead and the current chief content officer of the zombified media brand, the phrase etched below Rick's name carries a significant meaning. Kang told Business Insider that Gimple confirmed the "intended translation" was "believe a little bit longer." (The message wasn't written by Rick, however.)

As viewers, we already knew that Rick survived the explosion on the bridge — but up until this moment, Michonne had presumed her former partner to be dead. This new evidence is enough to send her gallivanting off to find her lover, and out of The Walking Dead TV series for good.

This revelation could connect to another piece of the Walking Dead universe

Though Rick is firmly out of the flagship Walking Dead series, his story within the ever-expanding media franchise far from over. Over the years, AMC brass and Gimple have been vocal about plans to grow the franchise into several different entertainment spaces: spin-off shows (like the forthcoming one entitled The Walking Dead: World Beyond), video games, and films not made exclusively for television. In November 2018, not long after Andrew Lincoln took his last turn as Rick Grimes on The Walking Dead during season 9 of the show, AMC announced that it had put into development three feature-length Walking Dead films — all set to star Lincoln in a leading role. 

Per The Hollywood Reporter, Gimple confirmed that "the story of Rick will go on" in the movies. "Rick Grimes is an amazing character and Andy has done an amazing performance. There were story ideas brewing that, as the years went on, seemed very compatible with continuing to tell the Rick story in another format that would allow him time with his family," he stated. 

Fans obviously haven't seen the last of Rick — and now that the O.G. Walking Dead series gave a more clear-cut answer to Rick's fate, it's easy to theorize that the first of the three in-the-works movies will kick off with Michonne attempting to track him down. (Gimple has already teased her involvement in the flicks, saying she "has to participate" since she's so captivating on screen.) While we still don't have any specifics about the CRM Group or Rick's actual location, it's clear he hasn't forgotten about his family, and the upcoming film trilogy could begin by focusing on Michonne's efforts to find him. Viewers may be sad to see Michonne take a bow on the flagship series, but the prospect of her returning to The Walking Dead universe in a film trilogy that explores the fate of Rick is pretty tantalizing.