This article contains spoilers for The Walking Dead through season 9.
The Walking Dead has come a long way since its first episode dropped on Halloween 2010, with new cast members, jaw-dropping character reveals, devastating goodbyes to fan favorites, and big bads that could inspire terror in even the bravest survivors. Yet, at the heart of it all is Rick Grimes, the man that kicked off the whole eleven-season shebang with “Days Gone Bye,” wandering the zombie apocalypse after waking up alone in an abandoned hospital and slowly but surely drawing together a group that would become closer than family.
Rick departed in the early episodes of the ninth season, and that has been a boon to some of the supporting characters like Carol, Negan, Daryl, and Maggie, who have stepped up to fill the void. Still, there’s no denying Rick’s absence continues to be felt all these many episodes later. With a currently unnamed series featuring him and Michonne set to premiere at some point after the main series’ conclusion, we’re looking back on the man, the myth, the legend, and perhaps the character most pivotal to the show’s development over its decade-plus on the air, Rick Grimes.
Rick Wears All The Guts
Season 1 Episode 2 – “Guts”
Over most of its run, The Walking Dead has featured a revolving ensemble cast and regularly changed character focus. Yet, in the beginning, the plot centered on Rick and his perspective as a lone survivor surrounding himself with others out of necessity. Rick’s journey begins with the near-perfect horror show “Days Gone Bye,” but “Guts” sees him moving past his status as a confused wanderer as he starts making heavy decisions for the good of the group. Trying to flee Atlanta through a zombie horde, he teams up with Glenn and T-Dog while abandoning the white supremacist Merle on a rooftop. They fight walkers, disguise themselves in viscera, secure a vehicle, and eventually get the heck out of Dodge. Rick’s ability to think on his feet and adapt to any situation shines as we see the first glimpse of the leader he will soon become.
The Bar’s Vibe Goes South
Season 2 Episode 8 – “Nebraska”
After the shocking ending of “Pretty Much Dead Already,” in which Carol’s daughter Sophia was shown to have reanimated only for Rick to step forward and put her down, “Nebraska” sees him mitigating the fallout as his group is ordered to leave Hershel Greene’s farm. Sophia’s transformation was discovered due to Rick’s buddy Shane breaking Hershel’s rule against killing the walkers he kept in hopes of an eventual cure. Calling out Shane for pushing the situation to a head in the worst possible way, Rick starts the episode in a bad place, only for things to get increasingly worse. Finding Hershel at a bar drowning his sorrows, Rick drinks with two strangers that he then kills when they demand to join his group. This is a drastic move, to say the least, and it marks a turning point for Rick as we see he will do anything to keep his crew safe.
Rick Takes Shane Out (Finally)
Season 2 Episode 12 – “Better Angels”
Throughout the first two seasons, the animosity of Shane toward his former friend and partner, Rick, was a growing threat to the safety of the group as a whole. This is where it all concluded as Shane attempts to kill Rick and frame a dead man for the murder to usurp him as both the leader and Lori’s husband. When Shane pulls a gun on him, Rick’s defense is no defense at all as he refuses to fight, defying Shane to kill an unarmed man. This throws Shane off enough for Rick to close in and kill him by stabbing him in the chest, effectively ending one of the biggest threats of the first two seasons. Rick’s strategizing saves the entire group from Shane’s violent outbursts, but it comes with losing someone he’d once trusted with everything.
Rick Tears A Throat Out
Season 4 Episode 16 – “A”
After losing both Shane and Lori as well as the group’s moral guiding light, Hershel, Rick continues to struggle with the demands of leadership in a cutthroat post-apocalyptic world. Flashing back on Hershel’s warnings that his ruthless approach is costing him the love of his remaining family, we see Rick as both the doting father and the fearsome protector in this episode. In the present day, he, Daryl, Michonne, and Carl are captured by the Claimers, who threaten to torture and kill them. Rick responds to this by ripping out the throat of the Claimers’ leader, Joe, ultimately getting them to the next crisis as they are trapped in the township of Terminus with some of the lost members of their crew. Undeterred, Rick rallies the troops by growling, “They’re screwing with the wrong people.”
Season 5 Episode 12 – “Remember”
Rick and the group enter the Alexandria Safe-Zone, at first refusing to surrender their weapons but ultimately conceding when it becomes clear that the township will offer desperately needed respite from the constant onslaught of walkers. The residents prove to be low on survival skills, however, with Rick silently plotting to take over the town if the going gets tough. Despite that, his relationship with Carl is at its strongest, with Carl confiding in his dad and the two teaming up to take down walkers in the woods. Rick and Michonne are appointed constables of the town, with its leader Deanna noting that Rick is already trying to protect the Safe-Zone when he warns her against taking in strangers.
Michonne Clocks Rick (And It’s Fine)
Season 5 Episode 15 – “Try”
Rick runs the gamut here, at first admirable but out of control by the episode’s end. Knowing Jessie’s husband Pete is an abusive hothead, Rick addresses the issue with Deanna, only to be brushed off due to Pete’s value to the community as a surgeon. Disgusted, Rick goes straight to the source, talking to Jessie, who tells him she will be able to manage her husband. Instead, Pete returns home, and Rick confronts him, leading to a rowdy fight between the two men that eventually spills out onto the street. While Rick wins, he flies into an increasingly unhinged rant, ultimately silenced when Michonne cold cocks him. That in itself is a great Rick moment, showing that Michonne is the one person who can always talk him down, even if it requires a quick uppercut to get her point across.
Rick Tears Up Some Walkers
Season 6 Episode 9 – “No Way Out”
This is one of those episodes where every action causes an ever-more chaotic reaction, making for one of the fastest-paced episodes of the whole series. Starting with Daryl blowing up a handful of Negan’s Saviors, things only escalate from there. While Carol and Morgan face off against an invading gang, Jessie and her sons are killed, with an errant shot from her boy Sam clipping Carl’s eye when he attempts to take out Rick. With Carl hospitalized and unconscious, Rick realizes there’s nothing he can do for his son but that he is perfectly capable of hacking away at zombies until the cows come home. Doing just that, he inspires the whole gang to join him, and they all work together to defeat the horde until every last one lies in pieces on the ground.
Rick is Merciful, Kind Of
Season 8 Episode 16 – “Wrath”
The seventh and eighth seasons of The Walking Dead pushed Rick to his absolute limit as he witnessed the violent murders of his friends Abraham and Glenn, endured the deaths of several other allies, was forced into servitude by Negan, and lost his son to a zombie bite. As Rick’s group rallies to take out the Saviors once and for all, Rick reflects on Carl’s sense of hope and how he had always urged him to be more merciful. Suffering the loss of the child he had done everything to protect, Rick encountered Negan in a final fight to the death. Yet, when Rick finally beat Negan, he honored Carl’s faith in their worst opponent to date and showed a mixture of mercy and cruelty by imprisoning him rather than killing him.
Rick Literally Back in the Saddle
Season 9 Episode 5 – “What Comes After”
Rick’s departing episode was an all-timer for the series, with Rick jumping on a horse, echoing the events of “Days Gone Bye.” Rather than arrogantly riding into the unknown as he had in that opening episode, Rick struggles to stay awake and draw the walkers away from his friends. Given this self-sacrificing act, we come face to face with how much Rick has changed over these many seasons. Suffering from a gaping wound, our fearless leader wavers in and out of consciousness, hallucinating many of the people he lost along the way as he desperately tries to stay ahead of the horde. Though it’s clear by the episode’s end that Rick has survived a blast that decimated most of the walkers on his heels, this final act of heroism was a stunning note to close out on, even if it wasn’t intended to be permanent.
The third and final part of The Walking Dead‘s final season premieres Sunday, Oct. 2 at 9 p.m. ET on AMC.