Spoilers for The Walking Dead Season 7 Episode 16 follow.
Despite being backed against a wall with no way out in sight, Rick Grimes did not back down to Negan in The Walking Dead’s Season 7 finale. When Negan threatened to kill Carl, Rick was not going to bend to Negan’s will. He was making a statement.
But what does allowing his son to die accomplish when he was previously willing to bite a guy’s throat out in order to save him? Rick actor Andrew Lincoln weighed in an exclusive interview with ComicBook.com.
“There’s a point at which after – and, I think it is this sort of arc, it certainly makes the arc of the season – which is that the man is diminished. He’s absolutely been demolished by Negan’s reign and the loss of two of his greatest, dearest friends,” Lincoln said “There’s too much blood on his hands of the leadership. So, he relinquishes responsibility, and then of course the back eight, him being built back and returned to where he feels… People want him to step up and be the leader. So, it’s a more combatant, a more thoughtful leader than he was, I think. Although, he’s still uncompromising and has to be because they’ve got so much and the opposition is so large and they have so much to lose.”
As for the sequence which almost saw Carl Grimes losing his head to Lucille specifically, Lincoln says he felt that no matter what happened next, Negan could not win.
“When I was doing in that scene, there is an inevitability to what’s about to happen,” Lincoln said. “The double-coss has happened. But, then he looks Negan in the eye and he says, ‘You’re all already dead,’ meaning he realizes the victory is his because he has family, he has friends, he has a civilization, he has people, he has loved ones that he’s fighting for and the future. And, Negan is alone. He is a man ruling by fear and oppression and control. And, he looks him square in the eyes and say, ‘No matter what happens next, I win.’ That’s the way that I was able. So, there wasn’t an anticipation of, you know, the calvary coming. It’s more just like, ‘I am never going to bow to you ever again. You can’t beat me.'”
Truth be told, Rick felt broken at the time. He, like Michonne a few episodes earlier, thought that his other half had become a casualty of the apocalypse. Moments later, after an epic battle and being rescued by the Hilltop and Kingdom communities, he found Michonne clinging to the bit of life left in her.
“I mean when he knelt down, and he thinks that it’s her, she’s gone, he’s broken,” Lincoln said. “He’s broken again. But, you know, that’s why the strength of what she gave him enables him to answer Negan and say, ‘You’re all already dead. I’m never gonna…’ This is the power they have over Negan: the fact that they have this incredible bond between this family and now, an extended family, a civilization. It’s pretty much what you saw is what Rick was feeling. And the interesting thing is in spite of that, he’s strengthened by her. He said it a couple of episodes back, ‘If I’m the one who doesn’t make it, you’re going to go through it.’ That’s how important it is now. It’s not like the Governor. It’s not like the Sanctuary. This is about ideology. This is about choice. It’s about freedom.”