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Rick Grimes: Is He a Leader or Has He Become a Tyrant? [Op-Ed]

Before I begin this post, let me clarify that I have been a Rick Grimes fan from the very beginning. And I have hung in there as a believer in the leader of the best band of walker slayers in the zombie apocalypse even when I thought he was unfit. Let’s face it, there was reason to question his stability when he began seeing his white-dress-clad, ethereal-like, dead wife appearing at the prison in Season 3. As he has evolved over time, there were even times when I celebrated his crazy. Joe planned to rape his son, so he deserved to have his throat bitten out. Gareth certainly got what he had coming.

crazy-rickBut I have to admit that at the end of Season 5, I began wondering if Rick should really be leading anyone anymore. I wondered if he had completely gone off the reservation and lost all of his humanity. Yes, the Alexandrians were ill-equipped to survive and they needed to recognize it, and yes, Pete was an epic loser who didn’t deserve to breathe. The difference is, Rick began meting out his own sense of justice, fairness, and his expectations of people even when they had done nothing to him or to those he cared for. He began raving at them maniacally and secretly declaring how he would take everything away from them if he had to. He became a tyrant. And during the Season 6 premiere, the others noticed. I am not just talking about the long-term residents of Alexandria. Clearly, Carter, plotting to kill Rick with other residents was not all-in with Rick’s plan. I am talking about the uncomfortable look on Morgan’s face when he is watching Rick with the gun to Carter’s head, while Rick is declaring, ” You really think you are going to take this community from us? … Do you have any idea who you’re talking to?” I am referring to the uncomfortable way Daryl looked down at the floor while it was happening before reaching his hand out to Rick to encourage him to not kill Carter.

It seems that those who follow Rick now fall into three categories: those who are scared and need protecting (the classic story line of people surrendering their freedom and rights for protection when they are fearful), those who are traumatized or mentally unstable, and those whose reason for following Rick is inexplicable.

Most of the Alexandrians fall in the fearful camp. They don’t know the first thing about protecting themselves. They have been shielded from the horrors outside the walls. They need protecting and know they are not equipped to provide it to one another. They are also fearful of Rick. They watched him shoot Pete in the head and saw his crazy tirade in the public street. They know they had better follow him, or else.

In the traumatized camp we have Deanna. She had her doubts about Rick’s leadership before the trauma of losing her son and her husband – the first personal tragedy she has known since the end of civilization began. Afterwards, though, she is folding to Rick’s leadership in almost everything. Deanna agrees that Pete should not be buried in Alexandria when Rick says, “We don’t bury killers inside these walls.” She then agrees when Rick says that everyone in the walls needs to be armed and trained, a complete departure from her previous position. She is turning her back on everything she stood for and what she believed was best for the community…but then, she is weighed down with grief.

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What I fail to understand is that there are still some strong, principled survivors who choose to follow and accept Rick’s “leadership,” as well, despite clearly recognizing his tyranny. Morgan seems to be unconvinced Rick’s way is the right way several times throughout the episode. He clearly did not support Rick’s tested-by-fire, learn to defend yourselves or die because we aren’t stepping in way of training the Alexandrians. When zombies attacked them, Rick does not come to their aid, and he instructs the others not to help, either…but Morgan does. After, he looks at Rick, who is clearly upset with him, he declares, “You said you don’t take chances anymore.” Similarly, when Morgan is discussing Rick not killing Carter when they discover Carter plotting against him, Morgan says to Rick, “You with that man Carter in the armory. That’s you. You’re still the same man I met in King County. The one that came back and told me it wasn’t over. That was you.” Rick responds, “I wanted to kill him. So it would be easier. So I wouldn’t have to worry about how he’d screw up or what stupid thing he’d do next. That’s who he is. Just somebody who shouldn’t be alive now. I wanted to kill him, but all that hit me..I realized I didn’t have to do it. He doesn’t get it. Somebody like that…they’re gonna die no matter what.” It wasn’t anything good in Rick that spared Carter. He could care less that Carter was destined to die. He knew it was true, and it simply saved him the messy job. Morgan’s reaction was once again a look of somber disbelief at Rick’s barbarianism.

Daryl certainly doesn’t agree with Rick’s plans for the future, either. When Rick tells Daryl he is going to “advise” Deanna that “we aren’t going to go looking for people anymore,” Daryl’s face clearly reveals he thinks that is the wrong decision. Rick asks, “you feel different about it?” and Daryl responds, “yeah, I do.” Later, Daryl tells Rick, “you know what you said before? About us needing to take care of ourselves? Going out and finding more people…that is taking care of ourselves.” I almost cheered. Daryl stood up to Rick! But my enthusiasm quickly faded when he concluded his defiance with, “your call, though.”

Glenn still has his humanity, choosing not to retaliate against Nicholas, who tried to kill him! Maggie and Tara both supported that decision, as well as the one to keep his betrayal a secret so he would not be banished from Alexandria, or worse.

But they are all still following Rick’s lead.

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The question in my mind is, why are these stable, strong characters allowing Rick’s crazy, terroristic leadership? Are they so loyal to him for what he has already done that they will not challenge him out of respect? Do they just believe in him that much? Do they secretly fear him, as well? And will their silence backfire?

Some will argue that Rick is doing what he is doing for the greater good, that though his leadership seems cruel, it is protecting them – merely doing what needs to be done. C.S. Lewis once said, “Of all tyrannies, a tyranny sincerely exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive. It would be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies. The robber baron’s cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated; but those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end for they do so with the approval of their own conscience.”

What do you think? Be sure to weigh in in the comments!

Brandy Elliott

Brandy Elliott

Brandy is a southern girl who loves the beach and Florida State Seminole football almost as much as she loves all things The Walking Dead. In her spare time, she enjoys visiting TWD filming sites, baking, geocaching, playing golf and disc golf, and trying anything new.
Brandy Elliott