ByMatt Cordisco, writer at
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Matt Cordisco

Over the last few years of the zombie apocalypse in AMC's hit show The Walking Dead, the main protagonist, Rick Grimes, has grown from a tough guy with a soft heart for helping others (sometimes at great personal risk) to the ultimate leader and survivor. This growth took up the bulk of his character's arc during the first five seasons of the show, with little benchmarks along the way in the form of gruesome but necessary murder. Let's have a look at some of Rick's defining moments over the past few seasons, counting down from the least severe to the most brutal.

7. Showdown with The Vatos

In the fourth episode of Season 1, titled 'Vatos,' Rick and the gang head back into Atlanta to rescue Daryl's brother, Merle, and to pick up Rick's big bag of guns (and of course the hat he later gives to Carl). A hiccup in the plan leads to Glenn being kidnapped by the Vatos, at the cost of leaving one of their own behind. When Rick goes to negotiate the trade of Miguel (who was left behind by the Vatos) for Glenn, the leader of the Vatos, Guillermo, tells Rick that he wants the guns too. He tells him, paraphrasing here, "go get my bag of guns or come back locked and loaded and we'll see which side spills more blood."

One of my favorite moments from Season 1
One of my favorite moments from Season 1

Well, technically, they ARE Rick's guns. Rick, Daryl, and T-Dog show up strapped and ready for action, prepared to kill every one of the Vatos to rescue Glenn (who saved Rick just a few episodes back). This early confrontation shows what lengths Rick will go to in order to do the right thing. Glenn saved his life in episode 2, Rick saves Glenn's in episode 4. And lucky for Guillermo, his bluff was exposed before his head caught some shotgun treatment.

6. "I hear Nebraska's nice"

A series of disagreements culminates in a traumatic scene on the farm. Hershel, who is revealed to be a recovering alcoholic, disappears from the farm and takes off to town to have a few drinks to cope. Rick and Glenn go looking for him and find him in a bar, drinking.

After a brief discussion, two strangers (Tony and Dave) arrive, claiming to be from up north, and inform Rick of how widespread this problem really is. They also mention how Nebraska is rumored to be a good spot for survivors. This conversation eases into what Rick knew was coming — Tony and Dave, desperate to get off the road, prodding him for information regarding his camp on the farm.

Tony and Dave eventually ask Rick outright if they can stay on the farm with him, suggesting to combine manpower and resources, and Rick coldly turns them down and says they should keep looking for somewhere else to stay. When asked where they should be looking, Rick throws their earlier words back at them with his line, "I hear Nebraska's nice." Oh! Cold as ice!

5. Killing Shane Walsh

One of the most pivotal moments in the second season comes in 'Better Angels' when Rick's best friend, Shane, reaches his breaking point with Rick's decision-making and decides that he has to kill Rick. You see, Rick starts the zombie apocalypse off in a coma and thus is slow to shake his idealistic view of what is right (something he struggles with throughout the show). Shane, on the other hand, has quickly adjusted to the new world in which they are living and is in full survivor mode already. The two continuously butt heads regarding the best course of action for the group, with Shane growing increasingly irritated by Rick's approach to things. One night, Shane stages a threat to the group in order to lure Rick deep into the woods.

Rick realizes Shane's intention
Rick realizes Shane's intention

It doesn't take long for Rick to suspect that the man who used to be his best friend is going to make an attempt on his life. Rick confronts Shane under the moonlight and ultimately rushes him with a blade and stabs him to death. It is a great scene, very intense and emotional, and perhaps the defining moment of Season 2.

4. Machete to the dome piece of Tomas

And then there was that time in the prison when some of the prisoners weren't too keen on submitting to Rick's authority, the most vocal opposition being fromTomas. While clearing out a room of walkers, Tomas throws one into Rick, knocking him to the ground and forcing him to struggle with the walker momentarily. Naturally, Rick gets away unscathed. When the dust settles in the room, there is a moment of extreme tension between Tomas and Rick, before Rick throws Tomas's words back at him, "I get it. Shit happens."

3. Escaping Terminus

At the beginning of Season 5, the first episode, 'No Sanctuary' (an episode packed with violence and gore), begins with Rick, Bob, Daryl, and Glenn being bound and dragged to a trough with four other captives that we don't know by a group of cannibals that lures people to their bunker, captures them, and eats them. Remember this gruesome scene?

The casual manner these men maintain while perpetrating such evil is not lost on Rick, who decides that he will kill all of them, telling Gareth (the leader of Terminus) that he will kill him with a machete and later says specifically that, "they don't get to live," about the folks in Terminus. He is eventually talked down by his group, who are all just happy to have escaped alive.

So the clip above doesn't really take us through the whole story, does it? And I didn't either! The only reason Rick is able to get out of this scene with all his buddies still alive is because Carol has found Terminus — and has waged a war to rescue her friends. The distraction outside gives Rick enough time to cut the zip tie around his hands and begin a trail of destruction from the trough to the surrounding woods, killing as many of the cannibals as possible en route.

2. The unholy massacre at Gabriel's church

When Rick said he wanted to go back and kill everyone in Terminus, he stated that "it isn't over until they're all dead." And he was right. This marks a major shift in his character as Rick realizes that enemies cannot be left unchecked out in the wild. They must be destroyed lest they seek you out later down the line — which is exactly what Gareth and the surviving cannibals from Terminus do.

Stay for dinner, Rick.
Stay for dinner, Rick.

When Rick and his group find Father Gabriel in trouble in the woods, they save him and he takes them back to his church. A series of cat-and-mouse type problems arise when the group realizes someone is watching them from out in the woods.

Later at night, Rick and most of his group leave the church in an attempt to draw out those watching the church. It makes sense. If you are waiting to make a move and you see 90% of the enemy's forces pack up and leave, you might think it is safe to make your play. Gareth does. And he takes his team into the church to start killing whoever is left from Rick's group.

But Gareth doesn't know that Rick was counting on this. Rick and everyone that left with him sneak back into the church and corner Gareth and his men in the small building. Outnumbered and outgunned, it is Gareth now who is at the mercy of Rick. And Rick decides it is a good time to fulfill his promise to Gareth.

1. Rick rips Joe's throat out with his teeth

Yeah, read that over again. If you are a big fan like me then you will never forget this scene and the tension as Rick struggled against Joe, while one of Joe's men was attempting to rape Rick's son, Carl.

Though this happens in Season 4, which, chronologically, is a stepping stone for Rick on his way to Terminus which is mentioned earlier in this article, this particular scene stands out for how gruesome it is — and, unlike Gareth who maintained that what he did was not personal, with Joe it was very personal.

Joe, much like Gareth, had a moral alignment best described as Lawful Evil. He carried out terrible acts under the notion that some things violated his particular set of rules. Earlier in the season, Rick and Joe crossed paths unbeknownst to both of them at the time, but long story short, Rick killed one of Joe's men to get away. Now, in Joe's mind, the stars had aligned for retribution. Only problem is, for Joe, that he fatally underestimated Rick's capacity for killing.

"He's mine..." Ouch! Rick doesn't have time for these second-rate survivors with their bullshit concept of law and order. By this point, he has seen enough. He has honed his spidey sense for fuckery and is quick to be brutal — a combination of traits that keeps him and his family alive in a world gone to hell.

Matt is a writer/filmmaker in the Pocono Mountains of Pennsylvania. Follow me on Twitter @Matt_InTheWoods


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