The past couple years has been nothing short of tumultuous for AMC’s hit adaptation of the Image Comics series, The Walking Dead. The show has seen significant drops in ratings, mixed responses from critics and fans, and some character departures that were met with trepidation from both viewers and the departing actors.
Fortunately, all this turmoil has not completely smothered the fire of the show. The Walking Dead still slays in numbers compared to other shows on network and cable television, and its core fan base has remained mostly loyal. (There’s still no shortage of “Kill Daryl and We Riot” t-shirts floating around out there.)
But the recent announcement that lead actor Andrew Lincoln, who portrays Rick Grimes, is exiting his role in the show’s upcoming ninth season might stoke the once nigh-engulfing flames of negativity to higher heights than ever -- even though his departure may actually be one of the best things for the show's longer-term health.
In the comic, the character of Rick Grimes is a complex guy. He’s smart, dedicated, and when he flies off the handle, it often comes to the reader as a shock. He’s also a guy who can talk his way in or out of almost any situation. Despite losing a good chunk of his family and friends (and his right hand) along the way, the current incarnation of the character on the page is still relatable to some degree, even when you take in account all the horrible things he has done to stay alive.
The character in the show, however, doesn’t exactly share this same complexity. The engine that propels Andrew Lincoln’s Rick seems to be stuck between two gears: crazy and controlling. Now, one could make a case that this sort of fractured psyche might be a bit more realistic, seeing as how enduring the horrors this man has suffered would push most people to the precipice of madness and then unceremoniously toss them off the proverbial cliff -- but his portrayal on screen doesn’t always make for compelling television. Instead, it leaves audiences surprised when Rick actually shows someone some mercy, and it’s this lack of altruism within the character that makes him oddly rote and often boring. The cycle of violence that has been Rick Grimes life for the last eight seasons has taken a toll on both the character and the audience. At this point, it’s hard to see if the show has anything left for Rick to face and, if it does, whether we want to watch it.