By Kenneth Shipp

A theme that has been present since they entered the prison was the change in Rick’s leadership style. We watched in the first two seasons as he tried to cope with what was going on around him while simultaneously becoming the leader. I’m not sure whether to describe him as reluctantly accepting the mantle or pursuing it because it achieved the goal of survival. But there were certainly moments that continued to thrust him further and deeper into the role. It’s interesting that starting this season, one of those moments or people, rather has returned to his life, at a moment he needs it the most. (Spoilers Below!!!)

The moment and person I’m referring to of course is Morgan. We remember him fondly from the pilot episode as the man who introduces Rick to the realities of their new world. They connect quickly with stories about their wives and how they had similar desires and concerns in protecting memories. Rick knows Laurie is alive or at least made it out because the pictures are missing in his house, a sentiment that Morgan echoes when he talks about the photo albums his wife choose to grab instead of survival gear. It’s a memorable bond and one that was going to have more impact than we realized, especially their plan to check-in once a day. Their pact to communicate through walkie-talkie is another reason that drives Rick to head back into Atlanta after he drops the bag of guns and ammo, which contained his walkie.

The Rick Grimes we know in Season 1 is willing to go to great lengths to help those around him. His honor and desire to do right by his people is still intact. But Rick’s second interaction with Morgan is a great barometer to show how far he has fallen. For a man who risked life and limb over Merle, some guns, and his walkie, he certainly didn’t keep up his end of the radio relationship. It’s debatable that Morgan would have still become the shell we see in Season 3 with or without Rick’s daily communication. They are certainly in different places mentally in this encounter. Morgan can’t cope with his zombie wife being the one who killed his son and his inability to shoot her when he had a chance. Rick’s losses had mounted in the prison, gaining Judith but losing his wife, who now haunts him in his most morally conflicted moments.

Morgan has an uncanny ability to speak to Rick with an excellent candor and honesty that he doesn’t always get with the other survivors. Morgan is the one who puts Rick’s fight with the Governor into perspective. He calls him out when Rick tries to allude to the prison being a better place, questioning why they need so many guns. It’s for this reason, with Rick losing his moral compass in Herschel, that I think Morgan will challenge him better than anyone on the show has done before. I don’t believe Morgan will hesitate to take Rick down if he gets out of line. And while he mildly supports the dictatorship Rick imposes on the group, he isn’t going to blindly follow his orders either.

Morgan is tortured, but he wants to retain his humanity. We saw this in the first episode when he corrected his son’s manners. The whole world may have gone to crap, but his son Duane was still expected to conduct himself well. In the premiere, his insistence on burying Pete (the murderer from last season’s finale) is irritating to Rick as he feels the man doesn’t deserve it. These are the moments that could come to define their relationship and hopefully pull Rick out of the mire he has been living in for at least 2 seasons. Rick still has his moments where we remember the man we enjoyed in the first two seasons, but the harshness of the world has made those fewer and fewer.

It would great to see this season be the fight for Rick Grimes soul and the indications so far would seem to suggest that possibility. If that happens, you could almost call this season the intervention season. Morgan will be a mirror for Rick to see that not all of his actions are infallible. I think the key will be getting buy-in from the other survivors as he continues to prove himself to them. They will have to help Rick as a group because the path he’s been on since the start of season 3 will not continue to work. If Alexandria has any chance of surviving and becoming a permanent bastion of life and hope, the leadership that Rick has displayed thus far has to change. Not only that, if he wants to retain his humanity, he’ll have to change to himself or risk never being able to regain it.

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