How Rick Grimes Saved The Walking Dead

I was dangerously close to giving up on The Walking Dead. I had reached a point where I was more than willing to let it slip from my life so I could just focus on the comic series and move on from the show. There was no reward to the viewing anymore, in fact, it was becoming more frustrating than fun. I would no longer be duped. Don’t get me wrong, I love The Walking Dead comic series. When I first started reading the trades I became obsessed. I couldn’t consume the story fast enough. I was plowing through graphic novels at a rate my wallet had trouble keeping up with and eventually found myself going to Borders to return books I hadn’t read yet in order to flip them into new Walking Dead graphic novels. This happened around the release of the ninth volume, and to give you some perspective for how long I’ve been reading, I just started volume thirty. So yeah, I’ve been committed.

When it came to the show, I was all in from the jump. The first season wasn’t like the comic but I was invested. Andrew Lincoln made for a great Rick and Jon Bernthal was the Shane we never got in the pages of the comics. Robert Kirkman was known to say that he thought the book was going to get canceled within the first four issues and hurried a lot of storylines. One of those being the deteriorating relationship between Shane and Rick. With the AMC series, Kirkman was able to explore that a little deeper and the results were fantastic. Shane hasn’t been on the show since the end of season two and I still miss his presence. That isn’t something I can say about the Shane character within the comic.

As the series went on I found myself disagreeing with some of the show’s choices. Mostly with how the Governor was portrayed, he’s a monster in the comic, and how Tyresse was never utilized to his full potential, but I got it. Making the Governor exactly like his comic counterpart was a bit much, although I wish we got the mustache, and Tyresse’s role was being filled by Daryl who everyone knows doesn’t exist in the comics. I grinned and bore a number of these changes and stuck with the show. It wasn’t perfect but I was still enjoying my viewing experience. For the most part.

I had hit an all-time high for the show with the arrival of Negan. After the great mishandling of the Governor, I really needed them to nail Negan and they did not disappoint. The casting of Jeffery Dean Morgan as the barbed wire bat wielding lunatic was everything I could have asked for. This was the Negan we deserved. He came walking out of that RV right out of the comic book and instantly provided me with my favorite moment of the series. Negan’s speech and the season premiere that followed are as good as The Walking Dead has ever been for me. Issue one hundred of the series changed everything and the television show delivered on the importance of the event. I can tell you exactly where I was when Negan first arrived in the comic, reading at my sister’s dining room table in horror as the events transpired. It was violent, it was emotional, and it was devastating and as far as introductions go… it was a big one.

After that though, the show floundered. There were ups there were downs but the biggest problem was the inconsistency in storytelling. Stories that should have lasted a few episodes were drawn out to last entire seasons. Payoffs were lame. And I found myself not caring. It was tough going from such a tremendous high to a tremendous low so quickly.

I had grown frustrated with Scott Gimple as a showrunner and felt that he had no idea how to properly map out or pace a season. On top of that, he was making decisions that seemed like attempts to just grab ratings. Mostly the death of Carl which I feel contradicts everything the source material is about. I was ready to call it quits until I heard Gimple would be moving to oversee the greater Walking Dead universe on AMC and Angela Kang would be taking over as showrunner. I was going to give it one more season. A make or break year. Win me over or lose me forever… and then the show announced Rick was leaving.

Make no mistake about it, I was very vocal in how I felt about The Walking Dead without Rick Grimes. I didn’t think the show could survive. It just didn’t seem possible with how anti-climatic All Out War was and with the death of Carl. I was betting on the inevitable, where The Walking Dead would fold in on itself and slowly vanish off our television screens. It felt fitting for what was surely going to be my final season.

But… I was wrong.

Rick’s final episode changed everything. Literally. The episode didn’t just play as a farewell to Rick Grimes/Andrew Lincoln but to the first nine years of the show. For better or worse everything that came before Rick Grime’s last episode was put to bed, and suddenly the future of The Walking Dead opened up. The ending that was tagged on to an emotional episode that was mostly excellent quickly changed the tone and the outlook of what was to come next. Rick Grimes was gone and the show needed to shift its perspective… to his daughter Judith. With a six-year time jump, The Walking Dead not only felt fresh again but exciting. What happened during those six years? How did we get here? Whose left? Where did everyone go? What is life without Rick like? And most importantly, how did Judith become such an ass kicker?

All of those questions raced through my mind as I found myself being excited for the show for the first time since Negan introduced his bat to Abraham and Glenn. I don’t want to say that Rick Grimes was holding back the show because that’s a foolish comment, but his absence opens the show up to be something entirely new. Old cast members can hang in the background while new characters, like Judith, take center stage. We can invest in new characters again while feeling for the characters who have been dramatically changed by the loss of their leader. The Walking Dead in a five-minute closing tag completly reinvented itself and I couldn’t be more delighted.

Now throw in the fact that the universe is going to expand in new and different ways… those of you who saw the episode (S P O I L E R) know that Rick isn’t dead but was rescued by the mysterious helicopter that has been hovering around for a number of seasons now. Taking him off the show and giving him a movie trilogy to fill in the gaps is just as exciting as clearing the board of the tv show. Suddenly we get something entirely new out of Rick Grimes. A new environment, a larger universe, a man who has lost everything and his quest to either find it again or move on. I want that story. That story has my attention and the fact that it doesn’t wipe Rick Grimes from The Walking Dead universe is such a score because I said it here before… The Walking Dead can’t survive the loss of Rick Grimes, but it can find new life. And I’m here for that!

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