Rick Grimes is the very worst.
If we’ve had anything to be happy about this season on The Walking Dead, anything at all, it’s the fact that Rick has spent most of his time hoeing crops down at the prison farm in his invisible overalls, a place where at least his terrible decisions can only hurt potatoes instead of people. Unfortunately, since Rick remains the main character of the show, this blessed respite cannot last forever; no matter how much he – and we – would prefer it, we cannot abandon him to the cabbages that he surely loves like children and spend that time with far more interesting characters like Carl, Daryl, Michonne, Carol, Maggie and Glenn. Instead we must refocus, yet again, on Rick, a character so boring that it is increasingly difficult to work up the energy necessary to roll my eyes at him.
Yes, this is episode where Rick becomes The Leader once more, supposedly because he is so good at it. The show really needs us to believe this, which is why they’ve recruited Daryl and Carol – probably the two most solid members of the group – to get up during the last two episodes and give speeches about how great Rick was. “You were a good leader, probably better than I gave you credit for,” lies Carol, convincing no one.
Just in case you’ve forgotten how useless and terrible Rick has been over the last four years, let’s examine his highlight reel. You may remember Rick’s complete absence of leadership in the first season, as he led his crew on a haphazard and occasionally lethal journey to Somewhere, I Guess. Or his bumbling leadership at the farm, where he repeatedly failed to make decisions until they escalated into dangerous situations; not only did he refuse to kill Shane until long after he became an significant threat to the group, but he saved Randall, a member of a brutal rival gang, rather than leaving him to die — then decided to kill him, then changed his mind and decided not to kill him, at least until someone else finally killed him. Decisiveness!
This dithering isn’t just a phenomenon of the earlier season; he makes the exact same mistake at the end of Season 3, agreeing to a deal with the Governor that trades Michonne for the safety of everyone else in the prison, before changing his mind and deciding not to do it – but not before someone else follows through. Other major inconsistencies include the time he gathered the group together to announce that he was the absolute leader and that “this isn’t a democracy anymore,” at least until he later announces that “it’s not my call [to] sacrifice one of us for the greater good.”
I’d like to say that is Rick’s whole problem, but he has a lot of them. That is surely one of the big ones, however: His unwillingness to do what should be done or what needs to be done, because he’s too busy flip-flopping on key decisions thanks to the wandering arrow of his persistent but shaky moral compass. Carol, notably, does not have this problem; most controversially, she recently killed the first two seriously ill flu victims in hopes of preventing the spread of the lethal disease in the close quarters of the prison.
In last night’s episode, Rick responds by kicking her out of the group. Because even though he is technically still a farmer, Rick is still an autocrat on the inside, and has no problem deeming this crime worthy of banishment and himself worthy of imposing sentence. Despite telling everyone at the end of last season that he doesn’t get to make unilateral calls about whether people in the group live or die – which is unbelievably naïve, given that those are basically the only calls people ever make on this show – Rick unilaterally decides that Carol is out and sends her off to deal with the zombies alone, because total inconsistency is just one of the many benefits his leadership offers.
Great job, Rick, really. It’s fantastic that you’ve decided to exile perhaps the most useful person in the group – one who compensates for many of your personal weaknesses and is frankly a better candidate for running the prison than you – because she made what amounted to a difficult leadership decision while you were refusing to step up.
Not to mention that we’ve seen Rick make a number of these calls as well in scenarios that were more ambiguous, including but not limited to murdering both Shane and Tomas. The difference, arguably, is that they presented more direct threats, which according to whatever shifting moral code he’s using today makes them good kills. But let’s be clear: Carol’s crime wasn’t just killing people, it was Killing People While Not Being Rick, and in ways that his invisible and capricious Big Book of Post-Apocalyptic Morality don’t deem acceptable.
This is a man, remember, who in the very recent past went into a fugue state and then spent a significant span of time believing that he was having telephone conversations with his deceased wife. Forget the zombies: By far the most unbelievable part of the show is the idea that anyone would want the mentally imbalanced, mercurial Rick to make life-and-death decisions for them given his long history of making bad ones – or worse, refusing to make decisions at all.
“If you thought it would save Judith or Carl, would you have done it then, or would you have gone back to your crops and hoped everything would be ok?” asks Carol, when Rick finally calls her out for killing the flu victims. If history is any indication, then yes: Rick absolutely would have waited until the very last moment to make that sort of tough decision, something that could prove fatal when it comes to the outbreak of a virulent and deadly disease.
Shortly before they part ways, Rick and Carol meet a young couple who want to come back and join the prison. Rick says they should wait in safety while he and Carol scavenge for medicine, but Carol wants them to pull their weight and help out. The latter proves fatal to the less experienced survivors, and when they don’t return, Carol is the one who finally makes the call that it’s time to leave; Rick, of course, wants to keep sitting there, waiting, while the people who need the medicine back at the prison grow sicker and sicker. It’s her final gift of pragmatism to Rick, who continues to revert back to his pre-zombie moral compass whenever it suits him and make decisions based on some vague notion of how he wishes things could be, rather than the way they are.
“It’s about facing reality. It always comes for us and over and over again, and we face it so we can live,” says Carol. “You don’t have to like it, Rick. Just accept it.” But Rick never met a harsh reality that he didn’t want to both evade and judge morally, so he tells Carol to hit the road instead.
Farewell, Carol. I hope Daryl comes to find you and you two live happily ever after somewhere in a group that is not inexplicably beholden to the whims of a severely traumatized, self-righteous cowboy.
There are other things that happen, but they don’t matter, really. The other group still searching for meds runs into zombies but nobody dies, although everyone is sad and angry for a variety of reasons that they can’t let go of: Tyreese because his girlfriend got killed; Michonne because of the governor; Bob because he’s an alcoholic; Daryl because Bob is an alcoholic. They all drive around in cars thinking about how sad and angry they are until the credits roll while Sharon Van Etten sings a song about everything is changing, even though exactly one thing of importance happened in the last hour.The Walking Dead, everybody.