WARNING: The following article contains major spoilers for “Something They Need,” tonight’s episode of AMC’s “The Walking Dead,” which as of publication hasn’t yet aired on the West Coast, as well as the Image Comics series.
To be clear, I’ve never had a problem with Rick sometimes being an asshole on “The Walking Dead.” What I do have a problem with, however, is the show never fully committing to him being an asshole. By that, I mean that the writers always, always, always make him right in the end. Even when his decisions are questionable at best (bullying at worst), he somehow always becomes vindicated for making them.
That refusal to make him an occasional villain nearly sinks tonight’s episode, “Something They Need.” Early on, Tara breaks her promise to Oceanside and reveals its whereabouts (and secret armory) to Rick and the others. Still needing to provide the junkyard gang with more weaponry before they’ll assist with The Saviors, The Alexandrians sneak into Oceanside and take the neighboring community’s weapons at gunpoint.
While Rick gives Oceanside the chance to fight alongside them, it’s still an unquestionably dick move — yet another attempt to force a bunch of people who’d rather keep to themselves into a fight, a fight where many of them will likely die. And this is after so many of them have already been slaughtered by The Saviors. If they prefer to stay secluded, so what? Who the hell are Rick and co. to take their only means of protection and force them to take part in a bloody war?
None of this would be a problem if the show acknowledged how horrible Rick is being. In fact, that would make it all the more complex. It would make Rick flawed, and flawed heroes are almost always interesting. But just as we’re starting to question Rick’s actions at home, a horde of barnacled walkers invade the forest. Despite the fact that the Alexandrians are holding all of Oceanside at gunpoint, they quickly save their captives by mowing down the zombies.
It’s a copout of a story beat that exists solely to remind us that the Alexandrians are the good guys here. Even worse, it works. Although not all of Oceanside’s citizens jump up to join the fight against The Saviors, most of them do. And with their change of heart, complexity is averted. Rick is once again a hero. He’s a hero who is always right, and as such, Oceanside is right to follow him, even though they have every right not to. As much as that adds to the excitement of the eventual showdown with The Saviors (if nothing else, a larger number of participants means some killer action sequences), it’s frustrating to see both the writers and the characters on “The Walking Dead” once again ignore the flaws of the show’s protagonist.
That directly contrasts with the show’s b-storyline, which finds Sasha in captivity at The Sanctuary. As David attempts to rape her in her holding cell, Negan storms in and drives his bowie knife through the man’s throat. As a way to test Sasha’s allegiance, he leaves his knife and the corpse in there with her, giving her the choice whether or not to keep David from reanimating or give in to the suicide wish she’s stated in the past two episodes.
Let’s be clear about one thing: Although Negan claims to detest rape, it’s still a disgusting move on his part. It’s not a valiant rescue on his part — more an exploitation of sexual assault (or at least the threat of it) to bring an enemy over to his side. He probably doesn’t view it that way, but that’s what it is. And that works for his character. Unlike with Rick, the writers actually give Negan some complexity. He can be genuinely against sexual assault while also being violent and sadistic. He can have respect for Sasha while still trying to manipulate her. These aren’t exactly Shakespearean themes, but at least Negan has a conflicted kind of morality.
The same goes for Eugene, who, still reeling from guilt over not assisting Negan’s wives with their own suicide wishes, honors Sasha’s similar request by slipping a poison capsule into her cell. Little does he know she’s probably seeking a weapon — not a pill — to kill Negan, not herself. If only the show would apply similar shades of gray to Rick. But no. He must always be right. He must always be vindicated. And that just makes me dislike him more and more — and for all the wrong reasons. That’s not a great look for “The Walking Dead’s” main character as it heads into another finale.