I started watching The Walking Dead about two years too late. A friend kept telling me “It’s not about zombies” when I’d protest and tell them I’m not a horror show kind of gal. Finally, I tried it and saw that they were right. It was not at all about flesh eaters. It was about so much more. It was about what people do in crisis. Who we are when the going gets worse and worse.
A big draw of the show has always been Rick Grimes character played by Andrew Lincoln. In the early episodes, he is the main focus and we are taken on his journey to beat past the apocalyptic world he suddenly finds himself in to re-unite with his family. It is a true heroes journey. This is what made fans who had not read the beloved graphic novels buy in. We loved Rick. He was every man, but he was better also. He had the kind of courage we all aspire to and yet also the raw, flawed grit any lead needs. He was conflicted, yet resolute. He kept us all coming back week after week.
In other seasons, the show has gradually experimented with giving more air time to the characters they’d built up such as the redneck, bow and arrow aficionado Darrell, who is an addition not from the graphic novel, or Glen who went from a weak seeming nerd to a power house zombie slayer and love interest of his co-star and viewers have stayed. The allegiance to the show was not due to our keen interest in these diverged paths as much as wanting to know “How will this story line affect things for Rick?”. It’s all been about the Rick factor.
The show’s producers and writers have underestimated this especially in this season. So far, only the first episode had our scarred hero and they tried to overshadow him with Jeffrey Dean Morgan’s portrayal of the heinous Negan while the other two episodes have taken us on behind the scenes looks at what Carol, who we’re struggling to like, is going through, and then Darrell’s new world of imprisonment. Though Negan was a formidable foe, Rick still came out as what keeps your eyes glued to the screen. He ran the gamut of emotions during the forty five minutes that felt like five, and created a heart pounding tension with his choices.
Already this season, the show has had notable drops in its numbers of viewers. Everyone wants the paths to lead back to Rick and his crew. In an age where we have so few heroes, we need to see him the same way his make shift family on the show needs to see him. His presence is the type of John Wayne-ish icon that we’ve lost in this generation of television. In his world where now, the dilemma is so much less about the zombie trauma itself and more about what the trauma has brought out in people, Rick has remained a steadfast hero with heart.
Hopefully the ratings drop will show the creators that they need to get back to the basics. I will still watch as I’m loyal that way and my curiosity is peaked, but let’s be honest, every episode I’ll be looking for Rick.