An everyman, Rick struggles to cling to his moral code in the face of increasingly dire circumstances. “We don’t kill the living,” he tells Daryl at one point, only to retract that philosophy later on when “the living tried to kill us.”
As the group’s de facto leader, Rick is charged with keeping everyone safe as well as finding them a secure home. When his son Carl is shot by a man living in a secluded farmhouse, Rick thinks he’s found just that. But the farm eventually proves vulnerable and falls to a massive herd of walkers, once again exiling Rick and the other survivors to the road.
While Rick was in a coma, his best friend and partner Shane began an affair with his wife, Lori. In addition to the affair (and the unknown paternity of Lori’s baby), Rick and Shane’s relationship is further fractured by Shane’s constant questioning of Rick’s leadership. Shane ultimately tries to murder Rick, who manages to plunge a knife into his friend’s heart. “Damn you for making me do this,” Rick sobs as Shane bleeds to death.
When the group discovers an abandoned prison, Rick leads the effort to clear the prison yard and cell block of walkers so they can make it their new home. He throws himself into the task and refuses to engage Lori’s attempts to discuss their rocky relationship. When Lori dies during childbirth, Rick becomes grief-stricken. The pressures of being a leader begin to wear him down just as a new threat emerges: The Governor, who perceives Rick’s group as a threat to Woodbury, the community he’s built, and attacks the prison.
Rick and the others fortify the prison in advance of the Governor’s second attack and manage to drive his army away. Afterwards, Rick takes in the surviving Woodbury residents and retires his gun in favor of cultivating a farm in the prison yard.
Rick’s bucolic new life is put to the test, however, when a deadly virus spreads at the prison and two people are murdered in an apparent effort to contain it. After investigating, Rick discovers that Carol was responsible and banishes her from the prison.
“I thought you weren’t making decisions any more,” Carol pleads. “I’m making this one,” Rick says.
As the survivors recover from the virus, the Governor ambushes the prison with a new army and demands Rick negotiate. Rick offers to let both groups live in the prison, but the Governor demurs, beheading Hershel before laying waste to the prison with his tank. Rick and the Governor brawl in the prison yard, leaving the Governor dead and Rick gravely injured.
In the aftermath of the attack, Rick and Carl flee the prison alone. Michonne soon tracks them to an abandoned house and looks after Carl while Rick is recovering.
Rick is alone in the house one day when a gang arrives. He hides from the men, then strangles one to death while making his escape. Rick intercepts Michonne and Carl as they return from scavenging, and the three head toward Terminus, which promises “Sanctuary for All.”
Unbeknownst to Rick, the gang — led by a man named Joe — begins tracking Rick, intent on avenging their friend’s death. Joe eventually catches up to Rick and taunts that he’s going to rape and murder Michonne and Carl before killing Rick. The two struggle, and Rick tears Joe’s throat out with his teeth. He then repeatedly stabs the man who was about to assault Carl. Reflecting on his barbarism, Rick later tells Daryl he’s going to do anything he has to in order to keep Carl safe. “That’s all that matters,” he says.
Rick and the others eventually arrive at Terminus. The promise of sanctuary proves to be a lie when the group is herded and imprisoned inside a train car.
“They’re gonna feel pretty stupid when they find out,” Rick vows, “they’re screwing with the wrong people.”