Despite dips in ratings and mixed reactions from its fan base, AMC’s The Walking Dead continues to trudge along. After Sunday's episode, however, it continues without the voice of its poster boy, Rick Grimes. Eight long years after the show's debut, actor Andrew Lincoln has left the survivalist-horror drama, if not necessarily the franchise.
For some, this decision is seen through a cynical lens, one in which AMC is throwing a Hail Mary in an attempt reclaim its viewership glory days, hence all the marketing regarding Rick’s departure. It’s easy to understand Lincoln's decision to bow out, considering he's spent nearly a decade portraying the character and had to shoot the series away from his home and his family. That said, while Andrew Lincoln is a fine actor, we’re not too choked about seeing Rick go.
The issues we have with the portrayal of Rick onscreen have nothing to do with Lincoln. He’s an actor with great range and has crafted a unique version of the character. Any sort of odd choice Rick makes within the show is not his fault; Lincoln has always done his best with the material he has been given. When we say good riddance to Rick Grimes, we are not saying good riddance to Andrew Lincoln. So, why do we feel Rick getting the ax is a breath of fresh air?
Rick Grimes Is Kind of a Jerk
We try to separate comic book adaptations from the source material as best we can. We understand that what works on the page may not translate to television or to film, for myriad reasons. However, when characters seem like they've had their core elements stripped away, it can leave a bad taste in viewers' mouths. That is not the same thing as altering an origin story, or any other surface element.
What transforms a character into a wholly different beast is when the element that them so likable or empathetic in the first place is diminished. For instance, a lot of fans took issue with the version of Superman in Man of Steel because he wasn’t the beacon of hope we had become accustomed to. Instead, he was brooding and conflicted. While that might make for some compelling drama, the fact that Big Blue is a man with the heart to match his strength is the reason he has endured the test of time.
Rick Grimes has met with the same fate. The Rick we love from the comics is by no means a man without sin; he’s done his fair share of horrible things and has suffered some massive mood swings brought on by the crushing weight of his responsibilities. But Rick Grimes, who Robert Kirkman has led through an undead-infested world month after month for 15 years is, at his core, a good man whose heart is in the right place. Rick in the comics understands that giving a person a sense of purpose can help them to overcome their despair and rage. Blood for blood isn’t always the answer, even in a lawless world.
We don’t get that from the TV version of the character. The live-action Rick often has a sense of kill or be killed, one that speaks to primal instincts rather than diplomatic solutions. While that mindset can be cathartic for some viewers, when it’s compared to the compassion and strength Rick displays in the comics, it just comes off as bullish.