The Walking Dead: Can Rick Grimes Really Change?
This last season, the forth, of The Walking Dead beat me up. I feel like I barely got out alive and had to cauterize a few bite marks. I had been mesmerized since the beginning of the series, but found mid-forth-season; I didn’t like visiting this world anymore. I was sincerely depressed after watching the main character of Rick Grimes played gently by Andrew Lincoln, have everything ripped away from him – again, and again, and a little more – and in something of a Grimes family tradition, be left for dead unattended in a coma, this time by his son. Sometimes the character of Rick frustrated the hell out of me, his militant altruism, while cringe inducing at times, did not inspire a desire to watch him be slowly, bit by bit, piece by piece tortured to death psychologically and physically over a period of four years. Like Carl, I kind of wanted him to die on the couch, not because I didn’t or don’t like Rick Grimes or am working through adolescent angst like Carl, the episode really belonged to Chandler Riggs as Carl, but I didn’t want to see the character of Rick suffer anymore.
The kind air that Andrew Lincoln brings to the part challenges more traditional notions of a male hero (and isn’t appreciated by some) and allows for far more complex interactions and an identifiable human being instead of a Rambo of the zombie apocalypse. But it also makes the devastation the character experiences that much more painful to watch. Even at the end of the particular episode that left me looking for Wellbutrin on a Sunday night, where Carl regains some of his own humanity at the end and embraces his father, and Machete Michonne shows up and helps Rick with Carl, it wasn’t enough as an audience member. I still didn’t want to identify with the main character of the show. A visit to the county morgue might be more cheerful.
Somewhere even in the zombie apocalypse, there has to be some worth to Rick waking up from a coma in the first episode. His best friend, Shane, played by Jon Berenthal, was more than ready to run off with his wife, Lori, and be a father to his son, Carl. Rick’s wife, acted by Sarah Wayne-Callas, was more than amenable to Shane’s plans.
All the various group incarnations seem to need Rick existentially, mostly because he represents human decency and continues to think, then they get angry with him for being decent and taking thoughtful approaches that don’t always work. He never wins, not just at a physical level, always loosing the safe haven he wants more than anything for the people around him, he doesn’t win interpersonally either. Carl can be understood as a teenager, if it still painful to watch him turn on his father, but at a certain point, it’s just this guy dying in inches.
The following episode sans Rick with Carol and Tyrese, showed once again that The Walking Dead isn’t just a good show, but important television, worthy of study. Then in the season finale, Rick does rip out a man’s jugular with his teeth, with a weird mix of revulsion and relief, and it seems he’s finally leaving behind his notion of the messianic: but I’ve been fooled by him before.
I thought Rick got to the pragmatic state he needed to find when he shot zombie Sophia in the second season, accepting his failure to save her. Then he killed Shane, his best friend, after wife Lori created a situation that was impossible to resolve otherwise. Rick did actually get angry with Lori after Shane’s death, which showed some growth in how he related to people. Rick hadn’t reacted to being left for dead by Lori and Shane, using the zombie apocalypse as an excuse to run off together as a couple – with his son – no other friends or relatives with them oddly, and having sex within weeks of his purported demise, and oh by the way, she got pregnant. But after Lori’s death in childbirth, Rick nearly looses his mind in grief and slipped not only back into altruistic, sweet, and oh-so-vulnerable and caring mode, but into someone even more passive. Obviously he loved being a police officer and the guns and the idea of keeping order before the dead rose in droves in Georgia, I swear there’s a song in there, but he even looses that energy and enthusiams, something that sparks life in him, to a placid tilling of the land, just with reanimated corpses on the other side of the fence occasionally serving as mulch.
This season left off where Rick does seem ready to move on romantically. There was a hint that Michonne liked him, but since her character is so important to Carl, Rick probably wouldn’t impede or complicate that and he is always first: dad. Dad sleeping with his son’s best friend is weird. Without being a dad, the television Rick Grimes doesn’t seem plausible continuing to live. Rick has of yet to move his wedding band to his right hand. He can keep it for Carl and the baby’s sake, but in his head he still seems married to Lori. The feeling that the first two seasons played out like an adaptation of Wuthering Heights is only compounded by the fact Andrew Lincoln was cast as Edgar Linton in an adaptation of Wuthering Heights. Even Lori/Cathy haunts the moors, uh, bayou. But unlike Wuthering Heights, Heathcliff is dead. Emily Bronte killed Edgar Linton off fairly young, not Heathcliff. If not always sympathetic in the film adaptations, in the book Edgar Linton is something of an ideal, “eyes like an angel or a dove,” contrasted by the dark brooding passion of Heathcliff, and to repeat something oft said in The Walking Dead, not made for this world.
I think Andrew Lincoln is a brilliant actor. Giving an interview, I wondered why he was using a fake English accent since he has a perfect Georgia accent. I’m still not quite convinced he’s from Great Britain. He brings subtlety and nuance to what is usually a sledgehammer kind of role and part of the appeal of The Walking Dead as a television show. But if Emily Bronte killed Edgar Linton off, who are we to question the wisdom of a Bronte sister? Rick doesn’t have to die, but he can’t keep dying. At least part of Edgar Linton needs to go haunt the moors, uh, bayou with Lori and Shane, er, Heathcliff, just think of a Flannery O’Connor version of Emily Bronte’s novel.
In a way, I’m kind of hoping something happens with Carol and Rick. I know it seems weird and out of the box, but moving towards something other than a simple plot device. Daryl’s flirted with Beth, now he and Carol remain just good friends. Tyrese and Carol are deeply and profoundly connected, in a heartbreaking way, which truly disallows for a romantic relationship. Rick and Carol have a long, complex, even dark history together, but never a close one. Rick did banish her from the prison saying he didn’t want her around his children, but her willingness to go to dark places may very well be what saved his daughter. He didn’t save Carol’s daughter, Sophia, when she was in his care. A relationship would bring round a long evolvement for each character and a change in the dynamic of the group. Rick has always been the father figure, but the group has never had a functional maternal figure, Rick in some ways trying to be both. Carol being the closest thing to a den mother, but distant and offset, sometimes literally, and becoming very dark, seemingly in response to Rick’s unending lightness of being no matter who screws him over. The fact that Rick and Carol are original characters and had moments of genuinely not liking each other needs some resolution. It’s easy to suspect that Carol had/has never really forgiven Rick for Sophia’s death and now that she has had the benefit of forgiveness from Tyrese, she may need to confront that in herself. And if Rick gets all gooey-sweet, saintly again, Carol can just tell him to look at the pretty flowers.