The Big Picture

  • Rick Grimes’ departure left a significant void in
    The Walking Dead
    , impacting the show’s dynamic profoundly.
  • The series emphasized Rick’s leadership qualities, guiding the group through challenges and forming alliances.
  • Rick Grimes served as the unifying force against antagonists, his absence leading to a weakened group dynamic.

The Walking Dead, based on Robert Kirkman‘s popular comic book series, had a mighty impressive run on AMC. The series, which follows post-apocalypse survivor Rick Grimes (Andrew Lincoln) as he wakes from a coma and tries to figure out why zombies (known as walkers) are overtaking the world he once knew, has spawned a number of spinoffs. Norman Reedus‘ fan-favorite character has ventured to France in The Walking Dead: Daryl Dixon, and unlikely teammates Negan (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) and Maggie (Lauren Cohan) take on Manhattan in The Walking Dead: Dead City. Perhaps most exciting is how our fearless leader Rick and the tough-as-nails Michonne (Danai Gurira) have returned to the franchise with The Walking Dead: The Ones Who Live.

Nothing was ever the same on The Walking Dead after Rick Grimes was whisked away in a helicopter in Season 9 following the bridge explosion. Sure, the show carried on for three more seasons, which included a six-year time jump after Rick’s departure, but what he took with him when he left the horror phenomenon was irreplaceable. The void that was left by the group’s first and most natural leader proved to be too much, and though the show did an admirable job of cobbling together pieces from a handful of supporting cast members to cover for the loss, no one was ever able to rise to the level of Lincoln’s turn as Grimes.

‘The Walking Dead’s Rick Grimes Commanded Respect From the Beginning

Rick Grimes was the glue that held the group together. Ever since the pilot, when he wokr up from a coma to a world filled with walkers, he immediately showed a natural gravitas and strength that the show would rely on for many years. In a world turned upside down, he was the steadying factor whenever the group faced long odds. He proved his merit early on when Shane Walsh (Jon Bernthal) challenged Rick for the mantle of the alpha dog. Rick’s even-keeled and level-headed response to adversity is what separates him from Shane, and the audience knew it right away. His restrained temperament would ultimately earn him the respect and support of the rest of the group as they struggled to find their footing in the wake of the end of the world as they knew it. After Rick’s departure, factions immediately started to form and the solidarity waned.

As the group made their way out of Atlanta in the first several seasons of The Walking Dead, they started to find other survivors. In a world without rules, it required someone with a strong hand to discern who the group could trust and who they needed to steer clear of. Even going back to the second season, establishing a good-faith bond with characters like Maggie and Hershel Greene (Scott Wilson), it was Rick who extended the olive branch and integrated the two groups. When the show added interlopers that would eventually become stalwarts like Michonne Hawthorne, Sasha Williams (Sonequa Martin-Green), and Abraham Ford (Michael Cudlitz), it was Rick who led in the vetting process and ultimately weighed the merit of their addition to the group. When he was no longer there, the cohesiveness and ad hoc judicial process became less thorough and led to further splintering among the group’s core and eventual newcomers.

Rick Grimes’ Led the Fight Against Negan and the Governor

Image via AMC

When the group inevitably ran into those individuals with nefarious intentions, they could always count on their leader to represent them and draw the line with those who sought to overtake them. As ne’er-do-wells like Daryl Dixon’s brother, Merle (Michael Rooker) Philip “The Governor” Blake (David Morrisey), and, of course, the barbed-wired bat-wielding Negan came onto the scene, Rick drew the proverbial “line in the sand” and was the united face of the original group.


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As soon as evil misfits emerged, like the Wolves, the Saviors, and the cannibals at Terminus, it fell on his shoulders to determine how to deal with the show’s villains and he did so with unmatched courage and wisdom, preferring diplomacy to bloodshed. When they lost those qualities with Rick’s departure, the group struggled to delegate authority and present a galvanized front. They were much more susceptible to interlopers and infiltrators who had their own agendas and ulterior motives. When villains like Alpha (Samantha Morton) and Beta (Ryan Hurst) led the Whisperers’ assault on Alexandria in Season 10, their response was splintered and uncoordinated. The result was a deadly breach that cost many lives.

‘The Walking Dead’ Could Never Replace Rick

The very nature of The Walking Dead is an emotional roller-coaster. Through it all, Rick was the rock during the highs like the birth of baby Judith (Cailey Fleming) and the far too frequent lows, like the grisly beating death of Glenn (Steven Yeun) at the hands of Negan and the loss of Rick’s wife Lori (Sarah Wayne Callies) during childbirth. The audience consistently looked to Rick for some sort of vicarious reconciliation. His menagerie of emotions took us on a ride, and we felt all the joy and the pain distilled through the performance of Andrew Lincoln’s nuanced and all-too-human portrayal of Rick Grimes. When he left, he took with him all those emotions that we had felt over nearly a decade, and suddenly all that was left was a feeling of emptiness in the show and in the audience’s heart.

While we were still invested in Daryl Dixon, Maggie, Carol, Michonne, and Morgan (Lennie James), it was far too great of a hole to fill after having taken the tumultuous ride with Rick for so long. Seasons 9-12 were even able to get Lauren Cohan to return to the show in an effort to re-establish an alpha-type, take-charge kind of leader, but by that time, the group had split and taken up in three different settings that included Alexandria, Hilltop and The Kingdom. (Which brought with it another attempt to replace Rick in Khary Payton‘s King Ezekiel). The schism proved to be too much for a singular leader. Through both the gravitas of Lincoln’s portrayal and the eventual division of the original group into three separate groups, the impact of losing the singular leadership of Rick Grimes left many of us longing for a return to the way it was.

The Walking Dead is available to watch on Netflix in the U.S.

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