The Walking Dead’s most introspective theme has always centered on a difficult question: What is the difference between the good guys and the bad guys? For fans of the series, Rick Grimes has been a stalwart antihero. His behavior often fluctuates between reasonable and extreme. But fans and TWD’s characters alike have accepted Rick, warts and all, because his cause — to survive, and eliminate the truly evil among them — seems worthwhile.
But after an unexpected encounter with an old friend in Season 8, Rick’s had to reflect on who he has become. Is Rick really one of the good guys? Or is he, in some ways, a monster?
1. Rick’s encounter with Morales isn’t exactly a happy reunion
In The Walking Dead’s second Season 8 episode, “The Damned,” Rick comes face-to-face with an old friend. He hadn’t seen Morales, a survivor back in Atlanta, since late in Season 1.
He’s shocked to see his old ally — especially since he is now a full-fledged Savior.
But it isn’t just the fact that he’s reconnected with Morales that leaves Rick feeling a bit off-kilter. Morales’ blunt assessment of Rick’s behavior rattles him — and with good reason.
2. He’s changed a lot since the two last saw each other
In The Walking Dead’s third Season 8 episode, “Monsters,” Rick and Morales learn that they have more in common now than they did at the beginning of the apocalypse. They’ve both endured tragic losses that have changed them on fundamental levels. “I lost my family,” Morales tells him. “I lost my mind.”
And they’ve both learned the hard way that in order to survive, they’ll have to take extreme measures from time to time. Rick is clearly disgusted that Morales has become a Savior. But Morales reminds Rick that in many ways, he isn’t much different than Negan to begin with these days.
Rick initially rebukes Morales’ claim. He knows that his cause is right, and reminds his long-lost ally that Negan brutally killed their mutual friend, Glenn. But Morales won’t back down.
After his encounter with Morales, Rick begins to grapple with hard facts. He, too, has created a lot of collateral damage in his attempt to fight the good fight. To Morales, and by extension the rest of the Saviors, Rick, not Negan, is the monster.
And the Saviors aren’t the only ones he’s hurt.
3. Rick is willing to do just about anything to survive
In Season 1, Rick was steadfast in his belief that he and his allies didn’t have to kill the living to survive. Since then, he’s changed his tune considerably. He didn’t come to that decision easily. And he’s debated everyone from Shane, to Hershel, and Morgan, as to what the right course of action when their lives are always on the line.
His journey toward a new world order has not been smooth. He’s made plenty of mistakes, suffered several near-complete breakdowns, and frightened those he loves with his erratic behavior.
But it would be easy to argue that he’s just reacted the way anyone would to extraordinary circumstances. Except, he has shown he’s capable of the kind of ruthlessness that would make Negan proud.
4. Rick is capable of monstrous things
In “Monsters,” when Morales holds a gun to Rick’s head, he questions whether Rick would shoot him if their fortunes were reversed. Rick swears he would try to find another way, but it’s clear they both know that he likely would not have offered Morales a chance at redemption.
For several seasons, Rick has proven to be a methodical and often merciless killer when it comes to his enemies. And on a few occasions, he’s shown that he’s capable of true blood lust.
Whether he’s ripping an enemy’s throat out with his own teeth, or beating a cannibal into a pulp on the floor of a church, Rick has had some truly brutal moments. And if Negan is a monster for bashing Glenn’s brains in, well then Rick has to consider that he, too, has that same darkness inside him.
But there is one thing that’s kept Rick from truly becoming a monster.
5. Rick has been a monster in the past, but he’s changing again
Rick has it in him to lose all sense of his humanity. But he still has a conscience, and it’s become an increasingly large part of his decision-making process. In the Season 8 premiere, he fired a warning shot at, instead of killed, a survivor he thought posed a threat to Carl.
And immediately before he encounters Morales, he realizes that the Savior he just killed had a family — including an infant child. He is clearly moved by the realization, and devastated that he unknowingly created an orphan. Later, in “Monsters,” he struggles with Daryl’s decision to kill not only Morales, but the Saviors that have already surrendered.
It’s clear that Rick’s conversation with Morales made him think seriously about how he’s handled his enemies. And with the ongoing war, and the inevitable casualties that are still to come, Rick may have to make some hard choices.
6. Rick’s monstrous side could rear its ugly head again
Since the Season 7 premiere, Rick has been clear about his primary objective: to kill Negan. His desire to overpower him is still as strong as ever since he’s taken the fight to the Saviors.
Negan has had the upper hand for most of their contentious relationship. But a moment will inevitably come when the tables have turned. And if there is ever a moment for Rick to go full dark, it will be when he holds Negan’s fate in his hands.
But just because he’ll likely get the chance to totally lose it and take his revenge doesn’t necessarily mean he will.
7. Rick could surprise everyone, including himself
In the Season 8 premiere that at some point in the future, Rick will still be living a kind of idyllic, serene existence. In that time, he barely resembles the grizzled, vengeful man that we’ve come to know.
And we also saw that at another point in the nearer future, Rick will once again be teetering on the edge of total despair, and perhaps even madness. Though we don’t know the cause, we do know that he’s grappling, in that moment, with a very important decision — whether he will choose mercy or wrath.
The fact that he’s struggling at all shows that something fundamental has changed in Rick. And there may come a time, and soon, when given the opportunity, he will make a less monstrous choice.
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