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The Poetry of Violence: Breaking Rick Grimes

Updated: Aug 10, 2020

By the end of The Walking Dead’s seventh season premiere, Rick Grimes is a broken man. And it’s his own damn fault.

And as I watched the man that once personified cold, hard resolve unravel into a quivering, stuttering husk of a human being, I was struck by the inevitability of it all. The very events that shaped Rick into the ruthlessly pragmatic leader he needed to be also presaged his eventual downfall.

In the earlier seasons, the central conflict arose primarily from Rick’s desire to protect his newfound family from the unrelenting cruelty of a decaying world while still maintaining some semblance of morality. He was willing to resort to violence, as his best friend Shane could attest, but only when more peaceful alternatives had been exhausted.

And then The Governor rolled a tank through the prison that Rick had built into stable (though not necessarily thriving) community, ruining everything. When the one-eyed tyrant was finally slain and the dust settled, our hero had lost a mentor, dozens of innocents he had sworn to protect, and his infant daughter (as far as he knew, anyway), all because he’d hesitated to snuff out the embodiment of pure evil. In hindsight, his relative innocence would have been a small price to pay in order to avert such senseless slaughter.

Thus, Rick turned increasingly towards preemptive violence to prevent future disasters. Not only did he lure the cannibalistic denizens of Terminus—a Woodbury-level threat, at least—into a trap and mercilessly, sadistically, almost gleefully butcher every last one, he even began weeding out new companions whose perceived “weaknesses” he believed would drag the group down. Rick became the same sort of monster he fought against for the greater good of his loved ones, and for a time, it actually worked out in his favor. It’s hardly surprising, then, that he chose to kill two birds with one stone by gunning for The Saviors, simultaneously eliminating a potential enemy and trading the enigmatic Negan’s blood for a lucrative alliance with another sizable settlement.

By the time he realized that he was, to borrow his vernacular, “fucking with the wrong people,” it was already far too late.

Indeed, once you set aside any lingering resentment you might feel toward the cliffhanger controversy, the Season Six finale reveals itself as a beautifully crafted parallel narrative about two extremists finally confronting the shortcomings of their respective philosophies. Morgan—the pacifist who, having achieved his own measure of redemption, has spent the better part of a year refusing to kill under any circumstance, believing that all life is precious and everyone deserves a second chance—guns a man down to rescue Carol, acknowledging that there is, in fact, a time and place for bloodshed.

Meanwhile, proud, invincible Rick Grimes, who believes he can overcome any challenge as long as his friends are by his side, learns the bitter truth as he encounters larger and larger gangs of vengeful Saviors along the road to Hilltop: sometimes, being too trigger happy invites disastrous consequences.

[Originally written October 24, 2016.]

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