Image credit: Gene Page/AMC
ERRAND OF MERCY I don't usually go in for "shipping," the process of lustfully hoping that two characters on a show will hook up. But am I the only one who kinda wants to see Rick and Michonne get together? They're both clearly brutally damaged PTSD victims dealing with the zombie apocalypse in their own way -- Rick by developing a God Complex and trying to protect everyone, Michonne by shutting out everyone else and focusing on her own well-being. It would be like if a cowboy hooked up with a samurai. In other news, I'm pitching Cowboy Loves Samurai as a reality series to A&E.
Indulge me in a tangent for a hot paragraph here. The dearly departed gonzo sci-fi series Fringe did not, on the surface, have much in common with The Walking Dead. Structurally, Fringe was an old-fashioned TV show: Essentially every episode focused on a five-act procedural short-story, with a gang of noble-misfit crimefighters saving average people from the weird things in the shadows. (Conversely, Walking Dead's structure represents all the best and worst advances in the TV medium post-Sopranos: Episodes play out gradually, with long cinematic sequences that can seem either thrillingly tense or weirdly lazy, depending on the week.) In fact, Fringe's first season set up the main three characters as very explicit archetypes: Olivia Dunham was the Supercop who cared too much; Peter Bishop was the prodigal son struggling to impress his father; Walter Bishop was the kookball scientist with a dark secret. Throw in Astrid as the Quirky Lab Tech and Broyles as the Paternal Boss, and you had a show that looked, in outline, a bit like CSI: Alias.
In their second season finale, they introduced alternate-universe doubles for most of the main cast, and everything changed. If the original Olivia was a little bit too obviously a product of the J.J. Abrams Tough-Heroine Assembly Line, Alternate-Universe Olivia was the complete opposite: A thrillseeking semi-sociopathic adventurer, willing to do absolutely anything -- and lie to absolutely everyone -- for the greater good. Meanwhile, Walter's alternate-universe duplicate was a megalomaniacal dictator; Astrid's double was an even-more-brilliant lab tech whose quirk was replaced by high-functioning autistic symptoms; Broyles was a devious double agent. It was like the show took very basic archetypes and then offered very elaborate riffs on those archetypes. Olivia Dunham by herself wasn't necessarily an interesting character, but the show became overpopulated with so many different versions of Olivia -- Alternate-Universe Olivia, Future-Olivia, Rebooted-Universe Olivia, Nimoy-Imitating Olivia. Some shows have characters with multiple dimensions; Fringe literalized those dimensions by embodying all of them.
Now. Rick Grimes is more obviously interesting than most TV show protagonists. At this point, he's a grieving husband, a struggling father, a leader under siege, the despotic unelected dictator of a feudalistic nomad tribe, and an excellent killer of zombies. But at his core, Rick is pretty much the cowboy archetype writ weird: A lone man struggling to do the right thing in a frontier ungoverned by the rules of civilization. Rick is, very clearly, the hero of The Walking Dead -- we don't really think they're going to kill him off, no matter how much the producers like to say that "Nobody is safe."
But I do find it interesting that the show keeps on exploring different variations of Rick Grimes. Shane was very clearly set up as an Anti-Rick: Same job, same background, in love with the same woman, desperate to have the same life, but with a very different mentality in how best to live in the zombie apocalypse. Rick won that battle, but only by essentially becoming Shane: After he killed him, he gave the "This isn't a democracy" speech, essentially announcing his conversion to the Church of Shane. Meanwhile, most of this season has been about building up the Rick/Governor dichotomy. That's a much richer contrast, not least because what makes them so different isn't as clear as Rick/Shane. (The Governor would have stopped to pick up Mr. Backpack, for instance, but he also didn't hesitate to gun down a whole platoon of soldiers. Rick would have left them both alone -- which is only "the right choice" if you're not talking to Mr. Backpack.)
This episode presented Morgan as yet another Bizarro-Rick. It started off a bit awkward. While Rick talked to the apparently unconscious Morgan, Morgan reached under his bed for a hidden knife; when Rick's back was turned, he attacked him, and stabbed him in the shoulder. Rick managed to overpower him, which seemed like what Morgan wanted all along. "Please kill me!" he said.
NEXT: "Did she turn?"