[SPOILER WARNING]: Spoilers ahead for AMC’s “The Walking Dead” series.
Glenn and Abraham are dead. Rick is broken. Carole’s a mess. And Daryl’s a prisoner. Last month, everything changed. The much-anticipated and much-hyped Negan and thirsty ol’ Lucille dealt Rick Grimes and company not one but two mortal blows in the Season Seven opener of AMC’s “The Walking Dead.” While nothing in the zombie apocalypse is ever truly certain, one thing is a good bet: with their core leadership effectively out of commission, someone else needs to step up and take the reins in Alexandria.
It’s in that spirit that we rate Team Rick, who, with the rest of Alexandria, need to step up their game if they are ever going to fill the gaping voids left in the wake of Negan’s bludgeoning, heart-rending arrival.
Fans of the comic book have been waiting patiently for the introduction of King Ezekiel and his beloved tiger Shiva for years, ever since his debut during Rick’s war with the Saviors. As the benevolent ruler of the Kingdom, Ezekiel leads a large, self-sufficient community with a significant fighting force that rivals the Hilltop in size and available resources. Although the kingly persona is a fraud, Ezekiel’s dedication to his people’s welfare and safety is beyond reproach, even if his worldview is a little outdated and naïve.
As readers of the original comics know full well, Ezekiel and the Kingdom play an integral role in Alexandria’s war with Negan. How that all plays out on TV is still up in the air. One thing is certain, though. With Rick, Carole and Daryl essentially sidelined by the trauma of their recent experiences, the Kingdom’s strength of numbers will be much needed during the coming conflict with Negan. More importantly, Ezekiel must fully embrace his leadership of the Kingdom as something more than a fence-sitting figurehead if Rick and his allies are to have a chance of surviving the war with Negan and his Saviors.
Another fan-favorite character from the comics to make the transition to the TV show, Morgan — like Ezekiel — is in a prime position to step into a more prominent leadership role. As Carole pursues a more solitary, passive existence that doesn’t constantly involve pulling Rick’s ass from the fire, it will fall to people like Morgan to pick up the slack. Although he stands as one of Alexandria’s most capable fighters, in the past Morgan has also been one of the community’s biggest liabilities.
His recent struggle to maintain his pacifist philosophy might actually be a good sign, though. A war with a faction as unpredictable and brutal as the Saviors is no place for a pacifist. Having said that, Morgan’s wealth of experience as a fighter, and someone who survived the zombie apocalypse for years on his own, make him a valuable asset to the war effort. His finely-tuned moral compass might even come in handy during the war, too — if it stays safely stowed away in his pocket.
So far, luckily for Heath, his appearances on TV have gone much better than his adventures in the comic book… relatively speaking. One of Alexandria’s best supply runners, Heath’s innate resourcefulness and good nature made him a valuable part of the community’s continued survival. Although his initial reluctance to commit cold-blooded murder during Rick’s preemptive strike on the Saviors might seem like a sign of weakness, his humanity and compassion are constant reminders of what Rick and the rest of the Alexandrians are fighting for.
Only time will tell how Heath’s character changes and develops after he learns of Glenn and Abraham’s grisly deaths, but he may just have to follow Morgan’s lead and try to pocket his lofty ideals. After all, war is no place for hesitation or a bleeding heart. The one will get you the other very quickly. If Heath truly wants to protect his community from threats like Negan, he’ll have to take a page from his comic book counterpart and actually get his hands dirty.
Father Gabriel’s character arc has been one of the more fascinating storylines of the past couple of seasons. Arguably one of the most reviled members of the cast when he first appeared, thanks to his self-righteous, cowardly nature, Gabriel’s transformation over the past season especially has been nothing short of miraculous. Finally coming to terms with the harsh realities of life during the zombie apocalypse, Gabriel’s stewardship of Alexandria’s spiritual well-being reinforces the town’s sense of stability and community.
He’s also one of the few people, outside of Carl and Michonne, who Rick trusts to care for Judith while he’s away from home. Recent developments have shown him willing to pick up a weapon to defend his fellow Alexandrians, heralding a new role as the warrior-priest capable of spilling more than just walker guts to defend his flock. While his strong arm and newfound resolve will definitely come in handy over the coming weeks, it may just be Gabriel’s ability to step into Glenn’s role as Alexandria’s conscience that proves most valuable to Rick and his crew.
Unlike a few of our previous entries, Aaron has always known what it would take to protect his community from wannabe apocalyptic warlords like Negan, even if he didn’t initially have the tools or authority to take the necessary steps within Alexandria’s walls. Don’t forget, it was Aaron who first brought Team Rick to Alexandria and lobbied for their acceptance into the community. As the town would quickly come to realize, they were ill-prepared to face the dangers of the zombie apocalypse.
A voice of reason who is willing to do whatever is necessary to defend his home and loved ones, Aaron will have to take on even more responsibility in light of Alexandria’s recent losses. His experience surviving outside the walls is invaluable, but even more importantly, the respect he’s earned amongst his fellow Alexandrians positions him to step into the void left by Rick’s newfound impotence. We’re not saying he could ever truly replace Grimes as Alexandria’s war leader, but his stature in the community will help hold everyone together until Rick recovers from his recent neutering.
Okay, bear with us on this one, and know that you’re going to have to set aside whatever man or woman crush you may be nurturing for that dreamy Daryl Dixon and hear us out. Forget about that time Dwight stole Daryl’s stuff and then used his vaunted crossbow to skewer Denise’s melon. Forget about the psychological and physical torture he’s inflicted on Daryl as his primary warden. And please try really, really hard to forget that time Eugene sank his choppers into Dwight’s knackers — if only because it’s one of the most disturbing, traumatic scenes in network television history.
Set all of that aside, because when all is said and done, Dwight might just be the ace in the hole Rick needs to defeat Negan. His knowledge of the Savior’s operation is invaluable to the Alexandrians, but it’s his hatred of Negan for stealing his wife and mutilating his face that may be even more important in the coming war. If the TV show follows the comics — as recent episodes seem to indicate — then Dwight’s role in the impending conflict may be even more pivotal after the dust’s settled, as a capable and well-respected leader in his own right.
One of the more delightful cast members to join the show in recent years, Enid’s transformation from a broken, reclusive wallflower into a hardened survivor with a heart of gold has been a marvel to witness. Providing a wonderful, age-appropriate romantic foil for Carl, Enid also shares a deep connection with Maggie, thanks to her friendship with Glenn. A true survivor, who watched her parents die, Enid’s tragic emotional journey has only made her a stronger, more vital member of Team Rick.
One of the few people, who can truly relate to Carl (perhaps even more than his own dad), Enid recently displayed a hard-earned maturity, figuring out his true reasons for accompanying her to the Hilltop and refusing to join him on his suicide mission to kill Negan. It’s this unique perspective and insight into the zombie apocalypse that will truly prove her worth on the Hilltop. We’re betting that, much like Carl’s ability to adapt quickly to the harsh new rules of their world, Enid’s natural survival instinct and newfound purpose by Maggie’s side will prove more valuable than anybody realizes right now.
Doggedly loyal and determined to earn redemption for her role in the Governor’s costly siege on Team Rick’s prison home, Tara has yet to learn of Alexandria’s tragic losses to Lucille’s insatiable thirst. Like all survivors of the zombie apocalypse, Tara has known more than her fair share of loss. Her guilt over Hershel’s beheading drives her to strive for redemption as a member of Team Rick. Although she’s seemed content to play a more supporting role in Alexandria as a runner, she is a capable fighter with police training, who isn’t afraid to take harsh measures when necessary… or flip Rick off, when he’s being a first-rate a*hole.
This last trait may just be Tara’s most valuable, because at the end of the day, Rick needs people around him who are honest, reliable and unafraid to speak their minds. If Tara can do that — in the midst of an invading zombie horde, no less — then she’s got what it takes to dial it up a notch (or two) in preparation for the coming war with the Saviors.
Eugene Porter is the smartest man in the room. Some might say he’s a little too smart for his own good, considering how he manipulated Abraham’s group for so long before they met up with Team Rick. Whatever your opinion of Eugene, you have to give the man props for his survival instincts. He’s hardwired to survive using whatever means are at hand. That might mean sussing out a way to manufacture ammunition or it may mean taking a monstrous chomp out of some unsuspecting dirtbag Savior’s family jewels. In either case, we’re convinced Eugene’s usual struggle with cowardice is no longer a factor.
Indeed, Team Rick will need his cold, logical mind and whatever remains of this coward’s built-in survival instinct to make it through the coming conflict. Eugene’s ability to see solutions to problems that aren’t even problems yet puts him a good 10 steps ahead of everyone else when anticipating real world dangers to Alexandria. Unfortunately, staying 10 steps ahead of Negan might not be enough. Even still, with Rick currently content to bend the knee, someone needs to be working in the background for a better solution and we’re betting that someone is Eugene.
The past couple of seasons have been rough for everyone in Rick’s group but Sasha has paid a particularly high price for her survival. Still reeling from the losses of her brother Tyrese and her lover, the ever-indefatigable Bob, Sasha was forced to watch as her new beau Abraham made out with Lucille and took one for the team, in the Season Seven opener. Flirting with a death wish that would make Carol proud, Sasha has in many ways usurped Ms. Peletier’s role as resident female badass in recent episodes.
A natural fighter and crack shot machine-gunner, Sasha’s martial abilities will no doubt come in handy in the war with Negan. However, it may be her growing bond with Maggie, rooted in the shared losses of Glenn and Abraham, that proves to be her most valuable asset. As Maggie moves to consolidate her Hilltop powerbase, she’ll need all of the loyal friends and allies she can find to ward off Gregory’s inevitable plots to regain his position as the community’s leader. As such, Sasha’s place is by Maggie’s side, her no-B.S. attitude and supreme competence serving as both shield and sword for Hilltop’s new regime.
Thanks to the comics, we all knew Rosita’s relationship with Abraham wasn’t meant to last. It still didn’t make her reaction to his violent encounter with Lucille any easier to watch. In fact, it made the whole tragic scene resonate all the more painfully, as the camera flipped between the two women for reaction shots. But that’s all in the past and the key to surviving the zombie apocalypse is moving forward. For Rosita, that entails finding a suitable target for her rage.
As Alexandria struggles to recover from that tragic night and adjust to life under Negan’s rule, Rosita’s ability to contain her thirst for vengeance seems increasingly harder to contain. With Rick effectively hobbled and losing more respect from Alexandrians every day, Rosita’s ability to remain calm in the face of his inactivity will be sorely tested. If she can wait out Rick’s crisis of faith, she’ll have more than enough targets for her rage, when war inevitably breaks out with the Saviors. Until then, Rosita’s greatest challenge might just be staying alive in the face of her increasingly reckless behavior.
Like Ezekiel, Jesus’ introduction to the TV show was an event long-time readers of the comic books had been anticipating with bated breath for quite some time. Both characters represent the existence of a wider world than we’ve been exposed to in both media. Jesus especially symbolizes the hope of a better world through cooperation and good will, brokering the deal that brings Alexandria into an alliance with the Kingdom and the Hilltop.
Unquestionably the most accomplished fighter Team Rick has ever encountered, the mysterious Jesus just might be one of its most important members. Supremely competent and always level-headed, Jesus possesses the kind of quiet leadership skills that often get overlooked by louder, more bombastic talking heads. That’s what makes him so effective, though. While everyone else is reaching for the talking stick, Jesus is already acting, leading by example, whether he’d admit it or not. Content to play a supporting role to those more suited to public leadership, Jesus’ value to Rick’s impending war with Negan cannot be overstated. Just wait and see.
Remember those first few seasons of “The Walking Dead,” when everybody was convinced Carl was quite possibly the stupidest kid around and likely to get all of his friends and family killed? Well, it was never really like that in the comics. In fact, in the comics, Carl adapts to the zombie apocalypse better than any of his adult companions. It’s nice to finally see Chandler Riggs reach an age where depicting what is essentially a child soldier with no qualms about killing is palatable to squeamish TV audiences (not to mention TV execs). His maturation into one of Rick’s most trusted soldiers has been fun to witness.
But fun-time may be over for Carl for the foreseeable future. Unimpressed with his old man’s sudden lack of fortitude, Carl embarks on his own quest for vengeance, taking upon himself the responsibility of ending Negan’s life once and for all. In the long run, Carl may just be the toughest S.O.B. on this list, but his youthful recklessness may just curtail that fact if he never makes it to adulthood. With rumors swirling that Riggs may take a powder from the show to attend university, anything is possible.
Sleek, silent, deadly. These three words pretty much summed up Michonne for most of her first few seasons on “The Walking Dead.” She was the cool one; the one with the samurai sword and a mysterious past she never talked about. Over the course of the last few years, Michonne has come out of her shell and tried to put up her sword on more than one occasion. Her emotions, long suppressed and considered a liability, may now serve her better than her katana ever did.
As Rick continues to try to regroup emotionally and physically from his emasculation at the hands of Negan, it has been Michonne, who has been his rock, standing beside him, even when she didn’t agree with his decisions. Caught between her love of Rick (and Carl) and her need to stand and fight Negan’s oppressive regime, it may very well be Michonne’s emotional stamina and sense of justice that finally spur her lover to action. Whatever the case, it doesn’t seem likely that she’ll be putting that sword up again any time soon.
1. Maggie Rhee
Okay, let it be said now. If you watched last Sunday’s episode of “TWD” and didn’t cheer when Maggie slugged the terminally creepy Gregory proclaiming, “My name is Maggie Rhee!” then you really just don’t get this show. Perhaps more than any other member of Team Rick, Maggie has suffered the most loss since hooking up with Grimes and his crew, culminating in the heart-wrenching loss of her husband Glenn during Negan’s bombastic and bloody introduction.
To see her standing triumphantly over top of that cringing fraud Gregory epitomizes everything “The Walking Dead” is supposed to be about. This was never a story about zombies. Rather, as creator Robert Kirkman has always maintained, it’s always only ever been about people — what we’re willing to do to survive, how much we’re willing to sacrifice and knowing when to draw the line. Ultimately, “TWD” is a story about the survival of hope, not people. People are a dime a dozen. They find all sorts of ways to survive. Just ask Negan.
Someone who survives on hope, by making the world better a place than they found it? Those people are unstoppable. Just ask Maggie Rhee.
Whaddya mean these folks ain’t so tough!? Let us know who’s tougher in the comments!
The Walking Dead currently airs Sundays on AMC at 9 PM EST and stars Andrew Lincoln as Rick Grimes, Melissa McBride as Carole Peletier, Norman Reedus as Daryl Dixon and Chandler Riggs as Carl Grimes.
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