So successful that it redefined the zombie apocalypse genre, the Walking Dead franchise is a master of grabbing viewers and readers from the first moment. However, Rick Grimes’ infamous first Walker kill was originally intended to be even more shocking.
In the first issue of The Walking Dead, Sheriff Rick Grimes wakes up in a zombie-infested hospital after recovering from a coma. Rick makes the unfortunate discovery that the world is several days into a zombie outbreak, with his new primary objective being to survive and find his family. After escaping, Rick discovers an injured zombie that is unable to attack him, having crashed a bicycle which he takes in order to continue searching for his family. After stocking up on arms and ammunition at the local police station, he returns to the same zombie and shoots it, shedding a tear before moving on.
The Walking Dead Deluxe series is currently remastering the original Walking Dead series by Robert Kirkman, Dave McCaig, and Tony Moore. This includes additional creator commentary from Kirkman in his “Cutting Room Floor” segment which is invaluable for showing fans what could have been. In the annotations for issue 1, Kirkman states that Rick’s first zombie kill was originally meant to be a child. Saying:
Bicycle girl was originally planned to be a kid. Between the plot and the script, I decided an adult woman cyclist would be sadder, or have more of an emotional connection to Rick? Don’t know if I agree with that at this point, might have been better as a kid. … I probably changed Bicycle Kid to Bicycle Girl so that Rick could actually ride the bike. It’d be harder and kind of goofy for him to be riding a little kid’s bike to his house. Good call, old Robert.
Rick mercy-killing this zombie is seen as a tragic but humanitarian gesture – a decisive act of empathy that shows the kind of hero Rick will become in the near future. In fact, Rick’s first ever Walker killing is so narratively important that she was given a web series on AMC that showed fans who she was before she was infected. Starting off the series with a child killing could have been incredibly controversial, but would also have been deeply meaningful as – at this point in the story – Rick doesn’t know the fate of own child, Carl, and fears the worst.\
It’s hard to imagine the opening to such an iconic series done any other way, but The Walking Dead Deluxe series offers new details that allow fans to consider ways the story and its biggest scenes could have been different. The annotations also give valuable insight into the narrative Robert Kirkland was crafting at the very start for Rick’s character. Euthanizing a child zombie as Rick’s first decisive action is extremely dark. However, this establishes Rick’s unflinching empathy by being willing to kill a child to end their suffering. It’s clear that empathy was always a priority for Rick Grimes’ character in The Walking Dead, even if it was always going to be shown in a truly taboo-busting way.