After declaring a "Ricktatorship" in the Season 2 finale, the third season of The Walking Dead has seen the group's fearless leader descend into madness, threatening their wellbeing and ability to survive while The Governor (David Morrisey) and his cronies in Woodbury prepare to knock at their gates for an all-out war. Will Rick (Andrew Lincoln) be able to gather his wits about him and lead the group safely through the impending battle? Or will his questionable sanity ultimately be their downfall?
"He's flawed and he's dangerous," Lincoln told the crowd at Friday's PaleyFest panel, moderated by Talking Dead's Chris Hardwick. "He's become this leader and maybe it is starting to poison him. You're taking responsibility of a lot of people's lives. Certainly, this season, he's been making terrible calls."
One of his first bad calls was trying to find sanctuary at the prison — where his wife Lori (Sarah Wayne Callies) and T-Dog (IronE Singleton) both lost their lives — but that was just the first push that sent the snowball down the hill that would ultimately drive him mad. "I think guilt is a huge part of it," Lincoln said. "He can't let himself off the hook, and it's one of his great heroic strokes, but it's also his Achilles as well."
Eventually, Rick's son Carl (Chandler Riggs) stepped in and told his father he shouldn't lead the group any longer. "After that scene, it puts him to a different gear," Lincoln said. "To be called out by your son is pretty tough at the best of times. I do think it is a difficult moment and he does realize that he has to step up at this point." But a moment in Sunday's episode will really force Rick to face what he's become. "There's something that happens in the episode this weekend that really holds a mirror up to Rick and he starts to realize that he has to come back," Lincoln added.
Certainly, Rick's past bad decisions have served as life lessons. After losing his wife and T-Dog to outsiders interfering with their group, Rick isn't about to trust easily again, which leads him to kick Tyreese (Chad Coleman) and his followers out of their prison sanctuary. That lesson in distrust will stick with Rick in the coming episodes, including Sunday's, in which Rick, Michonne (Danai Gurira) and Carl have no qualms about not stopping the car for a hitchhiker. "It's so brutally real," Gurira said.
Though he can't trust her, Rick may actually find help in former group member Andrea (Laurie Holden), who will attempt to broker peace between his group of survivors and the Woodbury group. "I think she's going to fight to the end to reach the humanity in both of these leaders," Holden said of Rick and The Governor. "She totally thinks that [Woodbury] is salvageable. The reason she went back was to prevent a war."
The Walking Dead airs Sundays at 9/8c on AMC.