As of Sunday’s “What Comes After,” the fifth episode of The Walking Dead’s ninth season, there’s a sizable void in the cast of the beloved zombie drama.
True, the show will go on — there are many characters still around from the first few seasons, and now only Daryl and Carol from Season 1. But it’ll take a long time to adjust to one significant absence: that of Rick Grimes.
The fans aren't the only ones sad to see Lincoln go.
Though Lincoln’s Rick didn’t die during his final episode, the show’s marketing has made it clear he’s done, at least for now. Rick has had quite a journey throughout the past nine seasons, and though that journey has come to a close, there are still plenty of things to celebrate about his character.
A Natural Leader
From his first moments with the group in the department store and on the rooftops of Atlanta, it became clear Rick was meant to lead. He was more than comfortable coming up with a plan to get him and Glenn free from the walkers, even if it involved covering themselves in guts (gross), and led the trip back to Atlanta to find Merle even though there was no love lost between the two of them, or between him and Daryl at the time.
Even beyond Season 1, Rick’s capacity for leadership went almost uncontested. Rick had a knack for making the right choices when it counted most. When someone tried to go behind his back, things didn’t typically end well for them; most importantly, if someone tried to take leadership from him, he always managed to get it back. Rick’s group knew he was the best man to help them survive, and he always did just that.
A Good Friend
Rick was more than just a leader, though; to his fellow survival companions he was a friend and a family member. Rick cared deeply for his “family,” even though by the end of his time on The Walking Dead none were blood-related to him. Time and time again, Rick proved there was nothing he wouldn’t do for his friends and very few lines he wouldn’t cross to keep them safe, which was why betrayals like Eugene’s and Jadis/Anne’s stung.
Plus, the cast talks stepping up to the plate after the departure and what's going on with Negan.
A Great Dad
Even better than his friendship skills might have been Rick’s parenting skills. Though he couldn’t keep Carl from succumbing to a walker bite, there was no doubt that he loved him and was absolutely devastated by his death; there was likely nothing other than Carl’s dying wish that would have kept Rick from killing Negan at the end of the war. Earlier on, Rick always made sure he was making time for Carl and allowing him to be a kid, even when the world they lived in allowed him precious little time to be a child.
With Judith, too, Rick showed the same compassion and love even though he knew she wasn’t really his daughter. Earlier episodes in Season 9 show him and Michonne spending time with her and playing games with her, and he clearly wants to make the world a better place for her to grow up in.
Focused on the Future
Rick wasn’t just a natural leader — he was a good civilization-builder. From the prison to Alexandria, Rick always held the goal of creating something larger than himself, a place where all would be welcome and able to live happy lives. While he didn’t live long enough to see all of his groups unified, he did lay the groundwork of bringing them together and advocated for a world where the sins of the past — especially if committed under the thumb of a power-hungry _______ — wouldn’t be a condemnation for the future.
While most were happy to live their lives in the present, Rick was always pondering what came next. The strength of his vision guided him toward a new world, and will likely guide the rest of his family in the years to come.
Trailers offer a glimpse at the upcoming season, but the source material does, too.
A True Fighter
While Rick believed in a world where mercy prevailed over wrath, he knew who deserved his forgiveness and who was too far gone. Carl’s belief in a better world spared Negan, but Rick showed Joe the Claimer and Gareth from Terminus no such leniency. The threat they posed to his family was too large.
More than that, Rick managed to get out of his fair share of seemingly insurmountable dilemmas by never giving up even when things looked incredibly bleak. If he had, the group never would have gotten out of the CDC, or fled the farm, or survived Terminus or won the war. Michonne says she fell in love with Rick because he’s a fighter, and he’s certainly proved her words true.
The Walking Dead, Sundays, 9/8c, AMC