As a leader, his decisions don’t just affect him — and the feelings, thoughts, and philosophies that impact those decisions can have far-reaching consequences. The things he experiences through the people he meets and the hardships he goes through change him in unexpected ways that reverberate long beyond the initial event.
One of the most pivotal moments of the entire series occurs in the pilot episode — which says a great deal, given how much it rocked viewers’ worlds when it premiered on Oct. 31, 2010. Sitting on the curb, trying to make sense of an empty world, Rick calls out to a passerby… only to find out it’s a walker.
Morgan Jones and Rick Grimes are blood brothers of a sort, brought back together in Season 3 briefly before the former rejoins The Walking Dead cast of characters in Season 5. He serves as Rick’s conscience, but as the war with Negan and the Saviors takes its toll, their places pivot — and the after-effects of their roles in one another’s lives continue to reverberate as both The Walking Dead and Fear the Walking Dead progress.
Dr. Jenner’s Secret
Viewers of The Walking Dead: World Beyond were treated to a reminder of one of the biggest game-changers in Rick’s post-apocalyptic life, as the series finale showed video footage of Dr. Edwin Jenner. Jenner, Walking Dead viewers might remember, was the CDC scientist who whispered something in Rick’s ear in the finale of Season 1, right before the group fled Atlanta.
It was an accident that nearly cost Rick his son, and while Carl Grimes ultimately recovered, what happened as the result of that shooting changed Rick forever. After all, the premiere of Season 2, in which the shooting took place, led to the introduction of Hershel Greene.
As the patriarch of the Greene farm where Rick and his followers take refuge, Hershel (who would become one of the best Walking Dead characters) would grow into one of the most influential comrades Rick Grimes had on the show. In many ways, he served as a mentor, and his pleas for Rick to serve the better angels of his nature influenced the elder Grimes long after Hershel was killed.
Rick Kills Shane
Throughout Season 2, Rick wrestled with the impending showdown between himself and his best friend, whose growing desperation to survive by any means necessary had led him to question Rick’s authority and abilities as a caregiver.
As the season came to a close, Rick made the decision to do what few people — especially Shane — thought he had in him: eliminate the threat to the group’s unity by plunging a knife into the man he once considered a brother. It was the first of many hard decisions Rick would have to make in the seasons to come, but making it was a turning point in his character development.
It was clear by the advent of Season 3 that Rick’s and Lori’s relationship had deteriorated. Whether Rick or Shane was actually the father of the unborn Judith aside, the apocalypse had proven hard on a marriage … but nothing prepared him for what happens in Episode 4.
Not only does he learn of Lori’s death, but he also has to come to terms with the fact that his son had to shoot her to prevent reanimation, and that despite his best efforts to protect and keep safe those who trust him, nothing is off the table in the new world order. It has a profound effect on him for seasons to come.
Underestimating The Governor
Throughout the third season, Rick underestimated the man who would become his nemesis. From his hot-headed charge into Woodbury to rescue Glenn and Maggie, which succeeded, to his sit-down at the cabin where he arrogantly assumed his own righteousness would prevail, Rick never paid the Governor the distinction that he deserved.
In Season 4, he would pay dearly, as the Governor (one of TWD‘s most intelligent villains) — whom Rick assumed was dead or gone — returns to the prison with a tank and two hostages. One of them — Hershel, Rick’s mentor — is murdered by the governor, the tank ruins the prison as a stronghold, and the group is scattered as its members flee.
Fulfilling The Promise Of The Red-Handled Machete
Few scenes demonstrated just how cold-blooded Rick Grimes had become than, while on his knees and restrained in Terminus, he tells Gareth with conviction and a dead-eyed guarantee that one of the hidden weapons outside the compound was a “machete with a red handle. That’s what I’m gonna use to kill you.”
A few episodes later, as The Hunters converge on Father Gabriel’s church, Rick makes good on that promise in one of the best episodes of the entire series, “Four Walls and a Roof.” There was no hesitation, no wrestling with a struggling conscience … just brutality, and that decision was a turning point that would shape Rick’s character arc going forward.
Broken By Negan
That bloodthirst would serve Rick well, even leading him to question the civility of Alexandria once the group takes refuge there. As a leader who’s come to see the world through eyes of suspicion and lives by a code of shoot-first-and-ask-questions-later, it’s a philosophy that helps him and those he loves survive, even as it costs him his humanity.
That humanity, alongside its frailty and weakness, is brought back into stark focus when the group encounters Negan and the Saviors. Not only does Negan brutally murder Abraham and Glenn in front of Rick, he takes Rick on a ride through the countryside that ends in Rick on his knees, sobbing, begging the man he had threatened a few hours earlier to not chop off his son’s arm. It’s a jarring juxtaposition and would inform Rick’s reluctance to act for the rest of the season.
From the moment that Rick was thrust into the new world of the zombie apocalypse, Carl was his primary motivating factor in every choice that he made, for better and for worse.
Rick became more violent than he ever thought he could be, and he was kinder than he sometimes thought he should be, in service of Carl’s survival. So when Carl was shockingly bitten by a walker, it radically altered Rick’s world for good, and it was clear that he wasn’t sure what to do or who to be without his son.
When the war with the Saviors comes to an end, Rick’s losses have mounted. His son, Carl, has been bitten. Alexandria has been shattered. And the man responsible for it all is bleeding out at his feet, having been surprised by a razor blade swipe as the two tussled during the Season 8 finale.
At that moment, Rick would have returned to his old ways, but the encouragement of his late son, as well as the words of his old mentor, lead him to choose life. Sparing Negan earned Rick enmity from Maggie, but it ultimately led to a richer and more rewarding version of Rick for his final season, as well a more sympathetic — and even somewhat sad — backstory for Negan.
Getting On That Horse
It’s difficult to say whether Rick’s life as it currently stands in the fictional world of The Walking Dead would be different had he decided on another option to lead the walkers away from the bridge repair worksite in the Season 9 episode “The Obliged.” Getting on a horse, though, led to the animal getting spooked, which led to it throwing him, which led to Rick ultimately sacrificing himself to save his people.
As viewers are well aware, he survived and ended up being traded to the Civic Republic Military by the mysterious woman known as Anne/Jadis. What fate has befallen him is still unknown, but it’s safe to assume that if he hadn’t opted for a horseback solution to lead away walkers, he might still be a part of the Alexandria community.