In The Walking Dead’s mid-season finale we met Virgil. Is his orange backpack a significant Easter Egg that hints at Rick’s return?
The Walking Dead has several iconic items that have been passed down between characters through the show. We’ve seen Hershel’s watch and Rick’s sheriff’s hat act as symbols of the passing of the torch as characters die and leave their legacy. It seems now we can add the orange backpack as one of the shows repeating symbols.
We first saw the backpack in season 3’s “Clear”, when Rick took Michonne and Carl to King Country to find guns in order to fight the Governor. On their way there they pass a desperate hitchhiker with an orange backpack who begs them for help. Rick ignores the man’s plaintive cries, not once but twice, and drives on. On their return home, they see the inevitable result of their decision, as his severely chomped body is lying by the side of the road. They stop only to retrieve his backpack before driving on.
It’s a significant event as it comes in the midst of the “Ricktatorship” when Rick decreed his say was the only rule, and he trusted no one.
Orange backpack guy epitomises Rick’s thought process at that time – protect your own, screw everyone else. It’s a philosophy that was being tested with the arrival of Michonne. Rick is still unsure of this stranger who showed up at the prison with baby formula and news of Glenn and Maggie’s captivity when he takes her on this trip.
The orange backpack next shows up during the flu outbreak in season 4 of The Walking Dead. When Glenn wakes up in the rubble of the prison, destroyed by the Governor, he uses the backpack (which Carl had used to take his belongings into quarantine) to gather the few personal belongings he can find before heading out to find Maggie and the others.
Before he gets too far he discovers a terrified Tara, huddled behind a fence protecting her from the roaming walkers. Glenn knows instantly she is one of the Governor’s army, yet he sees from her gun that she didn’t fire a single shot in the fight.
Glenn chooses to trust in Tara because he knows they need each other to survive, and together they set out on the road to locate Maggie and any survivors.
The orange backpack then becomes a symbol of choosing to take a chance on people, something that’s put almost instantly to the test when Glen collapses (still suffering from the flu) and Abe, Rosita and Eugene come upon the struggling pair. In the end, Glenn, Tara and Abe’s army form a bond that results in a (temporary) happy ending when they are all reunited.
Thus, Virgil showing up with the orange backpack is a call back to these events. It calls back to the pivotal moments when our heroes have found themselves at a crossroads, deciding whether to trust strangers or turn them away.
In Virgil’s case, Michonne initially treats him with suspicion – as Rick treated orange backpack guy – but a callback to Siddiq and Rick’s own words makes her reconsider. She is reminded of Rick’s desire for who he wanted them to be. He wanted them to be people who took in strangers, who took a chance on someone new, not leaving them by the roadside to be devoured.
And so, when Michonne returns Virgil’s backpack to him, it’s added symbolism to the fact she’s honoring Rick and the lessons he learned.
However, it is also possible that the orange backpack has further significance. The original appearance of the orange backpack was in the first key episode in the evolution of Rick and Michonne’s relationship. It is during “Clear” that they begin to bond, and begin flirting for the first time.
When it reappears in Glenn’s storyline, it is along for the ride as he searches desperately for the love of his life – a search which proves successful and brings a moving reunion with Maggie.
Thus, perhaps it is interesting that an orange backpack has shown up when Michonne is parted from Rick. Although she doesn’t know Rick is alive, perhaps the appearance of an orange backpack is a clue that Virgil is going to lead Michonne on a path that will reunite her with the love of her life in the future of The Walking Dead.