Perhaps the single best thing about THE WALKING DEAD is that it isn’t a show about zombies, it’s a show about human beings and how nightmarish circumstances test their humanity every day. One of the pleasures of the series is watching how these characters cope with the devastated world they’ve inherited, and arguably none have provided a more potent study of what happens to even the best of us in extreme circumstances than Andrew Lincoln as former lawman-turned-leader of a ragtag band of survivors, Rick Grimes.
A man who upheld law and order in his life before, each compromise of his values in the name of protecting the group pushes Rick closer and closer to something his former self would see as less than human. The tension between who he used to be and who he feels he needs to be in order to survive and it is taking its toll on the man and more and more, it becomes apparent that the real battle this season is brewing within Rick Grimes.
A man once hesitant to kill zombies has now had to kill his former partner and best friend at the conclusion of season two and as season three opens, we see a man changed by this trajectory he is on; a man much closer to darkness. It’s death by a thousand cuts to his conscience as all the little compromises stack up and he edges closer and closer to psychosis.
I had a chance to join in on a conversation with Andrew Lincoln and the talk immediately turned to Rick and the moral challenges facing him this season, his ruthless treatment of the prisoners in episode two, the human cost of their survival and where his breaking point might be found.
Lincoln rolled up his sleeves and got down to business.
“I think his humanity is pretty intact but his ruthlessness, his decision making, has moved into a Shane point of view. There is an uncompromising nature that I think has happened over time to Rick. The other thing to bear in mind is that he is the most isolated, both in his group and in his relationship. I don’t think he is in the most stable—certainly when I was playing it, I wanted it to be this instantaneous, almost Pavlovian reaction to the situation. Certainly, in season one and season two, I don’t think he would have been so quick to make that judgment call.”
“That’s one of the joys of playing Rick. The moral ambiguity of the show is the most interesting part for me—certainly as an actor—because in any other world, any other situation that wasn’t Hell you wouldn’t make these kinds of calls. You wouldn’t be pushed into this corner to make these calls. The thing that dignifies him and helps to justify the situation is the fact that he always has their safety as a priority, so it becomes this sort of selfless act even though it’s incredibly evil. His humanity is never fully taken away from him, although as we go through this season it diminishes and diminishes and that’s all I will say.”