‘The Walking Dead’: Has Rick Grimes Become a Villain?

Lucas DeRuyter
TV Horror
TV Horror The Walking Dead

Rick Grimes has always been the main focus of The Walking Dead. Despite a couple of side stories and distractions from time to time, the show has always followed his story. However, sometime between killing his best friend, losing his wife, and killing dozens of people, Rick has now become one of the show’s many villains.

Rick Is Choosing to be a Bad Person

Rick talking with his dead friends.

Since the series began, Rick has been in charge of a group of survivors. However, his leadership style changes drastically depending on the events going on around him. When times are good, he is the calm and cooperative leader of a pseudo-democracy; but when times are bad, those around him live under a harsh “Ricktatorship.”

This shift in leadership style is a result of so many people dying under his watch. The guilt of being unable to protect innocent people like Sophia and Dale is driving him mad. This is seen most clearly in Season 3 when, after killing dozens of zombies as revenge for Laurie’s death, he hears a disconnected phone ringing. He then spends the next episode talking on the old phone and defending his actions and failures to the disembodied voices of everyone who’s died under his protection so far.

Despite this traumatic breakdown and the brief moment of clarity it provided, Rick doesn’t change his actions or behavior for long. Sure he got into gardening for awhile, but as soon as things got tough he immediately went back to his brutal and violent tendencies. No longer can we argue that Rick is just a good guy who is forced into impossibly tough situations. He’s choosing to be this person, he’s choosing to act this way, and he’s choosing to be a villain because it’s working and is keeping his family safe.

The Questions

Rick knows that he's evil.

Shortly after Rick has this mental breakdown and once the group reconstructs the prison, Rick asks survivors a series of questions to determine if they’re “worthy” of living in the fortress they’ve built. These questions are:

  1. “How many walkers have you killed?”
  2. “How many people have you killed?”
  3. “Why did you kill them?”

While the person’s reaction to these questions is more important than their actual answers, Rick certainly would not pass this test. Not anymore.

He used these questions to determine a person’s moral virtue and whether or not they pose a threat to the larger group. Rick probably couldn’t answer a single question without saying or doing something vaguely threatening, like in the episode “Remember,” when the leader of AlexandriaDeanna, interviews Rick. While Rick and his group are accepted into the community, it’s only because Deanna knows that Rick can do the gruesome but necessary things that she is unwilling to do.

In failing to meet the standards that Rick himself created, it’s clear that Rick is – by his own definition – a bad guy.

In Defeating Villains, He Has Become One

This isn't a guy you want to p**s off.

In the beginning, Rick would only use violence against people as a last resort. Now, Rick meets any and all threats with extreme force. Rick brutally kills villains like Gareth rather than give them a chance at redemption, and groups like the Wolves are executed rather than scared off. The years Rick has spent in the apocalypse have made him cold and cruel.

In many ways, Rick has become similar to the show’s first major antagonist, The Governor. Both men are the unquestioned leaders of their communities and have suffered horrific losses at the hands of the undead and other survivors. Most importantly, their experiences have affected them so deeply that they feel compelled to hunt down and eliminate any and all threats to them and their community. Even if it means hurting innocent bystanders along the way.

If this show were from another, unrelated character’s perspective, Rick would be a villain. If the show followed a different set of characters and they stumbled upon Rick as he is now, the audience would see Rick for who he really is: a villain. The only reason no one has called Rick out on this is because there’s a bigger and crazier fish to fry in the form of Negan.

A Villainous Rick Makes Great Television

Hopefully, this will play out soon.

Despite Rick’s increasingly violent tendencies, there’s always some kind of logic, explanation, or noble cause that justifies his choices. But this is exactly what makes Rick a great villain. We understand his motivations and sympathize with him. We imagine ourselves in the same scenarios and wonder if we’d act in the same way.

The state of the apocalyptic The Walking Dead world has forced Rick to become harsher and more apathetic. But as a result, this has lead to Rick becoming more of a villain as the show continues as this is the only way for him and his loved ones to survive. Much like Daenerys from Game of Thrones, this spiral into villainhood has made Rick a far more compelling character and The Walking Dead a much better show.

The only thing left to see now is if there is any way Rick Grimes can possibly redeem himself before the series finale.

The Walking Dead returns for its eighth season on October 22.

Lucas DeRuyter
University of Wisconsin Madison graduate with a deep interest in media, writing, and storytelling.