It’s the end of an era! Andrew Lincoln said goodbye to playing Rick Grimes in his last ‘TWD’ episode ever — but what happened to the show’s beloved lead?

And just like that, The Walking Dead has lost its lead man! Andrew Lincoln, 45, won over audiences way back in 2010’s first episode and fans have been following along on his harrowing zombie apocalypse journey ever since. Over the course of nine seasons, characters have switched loyalties, killed each other, been overcome by walkers — the list goes on and on — but Rick has always been a constant. In fact, he was the only cast member left standing from the AMC show’s premiere! So it’s no surprise that saying goodbye to a staple like Rick would take an entire episode.

It picked up right where Rick had left off — in the stickiest of situations! He was impaled, a piece of rebar jutting out of his stomach, only made worse by the fact that an insanely huge herd of walkers was surrounding him. In his most badass moment ever (and that’s saying something), Rick hooked his belt around another piece of rebar above his head and pulled his body off of the metal. You can’t make this stuff up! But as difficult and as painful as that looked, his escape was far from over.

Rick scrambled up onto his horse, the same one who had bucked him onto the rebar, and held on as it slowly ambled away from the herd. Clearly weak and losing blood fast, he kept slipping in and out of consciousness, experiencing epic dream states. In them, current and former cast members reminded the lead man to keep fighting.

Shane kicked things off with the reunion fans have been waiting for since his season one death. Rick’s ex-partner didn’t want to hear any apologies for his murderous end or answer any frantic questions about where Rick’s family was. Instead, he told Rick to reach deep inside the angry, animal part of himself and keep going. Hershel said something similar, reassuring Rick that he wasn’t done yet in front of a gorgeous sunset. And Sasha, who killed herself in a last ditch effort to ambush Neegan as a walker, left Rick with this: “You did your part like I did mine, like the others did before us. The others draw strength from us. We change each other. It never ends.”

But it was Rick’s last imaginary visit from Michonne that really spurred him on. “Fight Rick. Fight for me. Fight for all of us,” she urged him. Although he was moments away from death and his horse had just ditched him, Rick knew he had to get the herd to follow him across the bridge he and his men had been rebuilding. If it broke beneath them, it would keep the walkers from reaching those he loved. But before he pressed on, Rick squeezed in one last sweet moment with Michonne. “You’re my family,” he said. “I found you.”

The majority of the episode alternated between Rick having these hazy visions and weakly killing zombies, but a slight detour was taken to finally put Maggie and Neegan face to face. The widow, played by Lauren Cohan, 36, had been desperate to kill the villain since he beat her husband Glenn to death. But when given the chance to enter his cell and get the justice she craved, he begged for her to kill him — and she turned him down. “I came to kill Neegan,” she said, locking him back up, “and you’re already worse than dead.”

She left Neegan in jail, reuniting with Michonne outside — and it’s a good thing she did because they received word that Rick needed her help. The only problem? When they found him, along with Carol, Daryl and many others, he was on the other side of the bridge where they couldn’t reach him. They screamed for him and tried running around the herd, but Rick didn’t want their help. “I’m dying,” he said, holding up a blood-soaked hand. So instead of letting them save him, he saved them by shooting at a box of dynamite on the bridge and blowing the entire thing up. The walkers who didn’t die instantly walked straight into the churning river.

But while it may have seemed like Rick died in the huge explosion — Michonne and Darly sure thought so, if their tears were anything to go by — he was actually washed down the river. That’s how Jadis, played by Pollyanna McIntosh, 39, found him spread out on the riverbank. Since she just so happened to be awaiting help from a helicopter, thanks to some mysterious ties from her past, she begged them to take Rick up as well. “I’m trying to save a friend who saved me,” she said into her walkie talkie.

So what did Rick Grimes’ final moments on The Walking Dead look like? Not being blown to bits, but instead, opening his eyes in the back of a helicopter with Jadis. Where were they headed? The jury’s still out on that one.

And it looks like it’ll be out for awhile. The episode ended with an actress, who looked about ten, saving a few strangers from walkers while wearing Carl’s hat. She introduced herself as — you guessed it — Judith, which means the show has taken a huge time jump.

Is this how showrunners are going to explain Lauren Cohan’s exit? Only time will tell — but no matter what, this twist is too exciting. We can’t wait for next week!

The Walking Dead airs on Sunday nights at 9:00 on AMC. Tune in!

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