Any good story is bound to have that one character who is one horse short of being an honest-to-goodness cowboy. I’m not talking about the “shoot ’em up” guys that do it because they have a gun fetish, but the guys that fight to uphold their morals. Morals they learned with a hand on their momma’s apron hem and had drilled into their heads by hard working fathers. Rick Grimes came into existence long after the Cowboy Era, yet he still fits the part. Heck, when he made his first appearance on television they even gave him an actual horse–well until it was eaten by a horde of hungry zombies.
Who is Rick Grimes? He is a character from The Walking Dead—a series of graphic novels by Robert Kirkman turned into one of the world’s hottest cable television shows by AMC and an insanely talented production crew. They have created cast of characters I have a great deal of love for:
- the tormented former lawman Shane Walsh,
- a squirrel-tossing badass Daryl Dixon,
- the honorable Glenn,
- an elder statesman, Dale, and
- a woman on the hunt Andrea.
If you aren’t watching the show you should be. From the moment the show begins viewers are taken on the undead ride of a lifetime, watching a cast of beleaguered humans fight not only to survive, but to retain that which makes us most human.
Rick is a man of many morals. With a veritable shopping list of good qualities Rick—payed by Andrew Lincoln—will do almost anything to honor, he is a man to be admired. But his decisions often leave something to be desired. He suffers from tunnel vision that can turn ‘doing the right thing’ into foolhardy or dangerous missions—with the potential for truly disastrous results.
[***WARNING: Spoilers ahead***]
The tie that binds Rick’s principles is the ideal that he must do anything to keep his family safe… or is it? Rick’s dilemma isn’t so much how to keep his family safe, it seems, but more of how will he do it while on a one-man mission to save every stray person they encounter. He spreads himself too thin trying to be there for everyone, often leaving his wife and son to fend for themselves. He even went so far as to leave their sides the day after they learned he hadn’t died in the hospital to save, of all people, Merle Dixon– the man that’d nearly gotten them all eaten alive in Atlanta during a supply run. Was the risk to his family worth it to save one man? A lot of the other characters said no. They felt let down, even if his wife understood that he felt obligated to a man he’d just met and had been threatened by.
Rick’s sense of responsibility—and guilt—can be a very real danger to the main survivor group as we saw in the case of the situation with Sophia. Lori was right when she said no one else in the main survivor group jumped to leave their hiding place and race to her aid like Rick did. It was a great moment for Rick and the preservation of humanity in a world gone mad. But what followed…was disaster. Shane was right when he said Rick was leading the group on a search for her long past a timeframe when finding her alive and well was likely. Rick’s persistence nearly cost Daryl Dixon his life. Would Rick show the same determination for any member of the group? Did he push a continued search for Merle? In both cases, Rick was, at least, partially responsible for the predicament…yet, Merle’s fate remains unknown.
Rick felt obligated to Hershel for the use of his land as a safe haven for his crew of survivors and for the medical help–without which they’d have lost both Carl, T-Dog and Daryl. Hershel is a strict man, runs his house with an iron fist, and expects to be obeyed. Rick’s approach is honorable, it’s the cowboy way…but there has to be a limit somewhere. I’m going to argue a barn full of zombies qualifies. Rick’s response had me nearly in tears—I began to think he was as deluded as Herschel. Did he truly believe, for even a second, that those zombies were anything less than a deadly and immediate threat?
And then Rick pulled the trigger.
I’d bet the farm that the closing scene of season two’s mid-season finale gave us more answers than most viewers were able to see through the shock and horror. When Shane ripped open the barn to force the group to deal with the zombies within (think closet. think skeletons.) Andrea, T-Dog, Glenn and Daryl swallowed bile to step up to the line, …and hold. Rick did not. It was only when a zombified Sophia lurched across the fallen mass of walker remains that Rick raised his weapon.
Many fans have said that this proves Rick can make the hard decisions. I disagree. If Shane had not been there to initiate, Rick would have avoided confrontation and put the group in more danger. Rick, unfortunately, was responsible for Sophia’s demise. Unfortunate because he really was trying to do the right thing. That was his blood to claim. The blood of an innocent child, smeared all over the hands and spirit of a truly righteous man. Rick had to pull the trigger, he had to pay the soul-shattering debt.
That he was willing to step forward and take on that responsibility may simultaneously give him strength—and rip him apart.
With special thanks to R.C. Murphy