All this time, I’ve been waiting for Rick to put on his big-boy pants and go to work. For two seasons of ‘The Walking Dead’, he hid behind Shane. Rick let Shane be the bad guy while he was able to keep, what he perceived as, his humanity. But now, with Shane’s zombified corpse laying a field somewhere, Rick has to step up to the plate. He finally does in this week’s episode, and he hits it out of the park.
Rick’s waffling has been a source of frustration for this ‘Walking Dead’ watcher. Over the first two seasons, Rick was less of a leader and more of a stick-in-the-mud. He was complacently stuck in a fantasy world where he foolishly thought that keeping together a fully-functioning democratic society was more important than anything else. Lofty sociological ideas don’t put food on the table, and they certainly don’t shove pointy objects into Walker brains. With Dale gone, Rick has slowly forgotten about how life “should” be, and acknowledged what life really is. Perhaps he’s finally figured out what this life is all about now. It took a while, but he’s finally catching on.
At the end of the last episode, Rick and company ran into a group of inmates who survived, up until now, barricaded inside the prison cafeteria. Unbeknownst to them, the world outside those walls turned into a war zone unlike any other. Living off of the commissary stock and using the walk-in refrigerator as a bathroom, they spent ten months locked away. Once our friends set them loose, they soon have a new problem on their hands.
The promos for the show over the summer incessantly repeated the slogan, “Fear the living.” While I have no doubt that this phrase more accurately describes the impending troubles that the group will soon face at the hands of the Governor, we get a little taste of it here. The leader of the prisoner group isn’t too happy about the situation, and he’s doubly unhappy that this new guy has stepped into his prison and is now ordering him around.
After an intentionally hilarious scene (yes, even in the zombie apocalypse, we can have humor, however morbid it may be) where the inmates proceed to go all prison riot on a couple of Walkers, Rick is faced with a monumental decision. There can only be one alpha dog. Since the departure of Shane, Rick has enjoyed his newly found power. This new leader questions Rick’s dominance, and Rick has to put him down like a bad habit. Rick’s character has changed forever, right? He’s finally embraced the teachings that Shane was trying so hard to espouse before his untimely death. (Yes, I still miss his putrefied guts.) In order to survive, you have to be willing to do anything to keep your family safe. That includes killing living people if they threaten your survival. Old Rick would’ve rolled over and taken the supposed higher ground. New Rick finds a machete and splits the guy’s skull. I like new Rick.
However, what would an episode of ‘The Walking Dead’ be like without a few examples of characters throwing common sense into the wind? First off, Rick taking all the able-bodied men away from Hershel’s bedside to fight for control of the prison is pretty short-sighted. They don’t know that Hershel won’t come back hungry for flesh. Instead, everyone accepts that the leg amputation saved Hershel, which could’ve been disastrous. Not until a little while later, when Rick returns, does he think, “Hey, maybe we should handcuff him to the bed. Just in case.”
Secondly, it’s good to know that Carl hasn’t lost his penchant for exploring zombie-infested surroundings. Now he’s wandering off into the bowels of a prison, alone. There’s a reason we aren’t privy to those scenes. They would’ve been too ridiculous and maddening to take seriously.
‘Sick’ is one of the show’s strongest episodes. The series has finally shown that it’s willing to move forward with the evolution of its main character, instead of leaving him mired in a swamp of wishy-washy thinking and leading. I’m excited for this new hack-first-and-ask-questions-later Rick. Now, if only we can get the same kind of character development with the rest of the group.