Warning: SPOILERS ahead for The Walking Dead season 7, episode 5 and the Walking Dead comics
The Walking Dead season 7 kicked off in a gruesome, shocking manner, but it has yet to do much with that pain and grief since inflicting it. Episodes have either taken place with characters that are entirely separate from the events of the premiere, or they've forced characters to continue wallowing in Negan's mockery.
For Rick especially, season 7 has been a bitter pill to swallow. His friends murdered, his son threatened, another dear friend captured - and all the while he's been repeatedly subjugated by Negan, forced to act as the dutiful, loyal servant to the man responsible for all that suffering. This season is a real low point for Rick, but what makes it even worse is his apparent acceptance of the whole situation. Nowhere are we given any indication that Rick has some plan up his sleeve, that he's lulling Negan into a false confidence, waiting for the right moment to reassert himself.
In the comics, Rick's submissive act is just that: an act, tricking Negan into thinking he's destroyed Rick's spirit. The television show hasn't made such a distinction, more or less presenting Rick's groveling at face value. There was even a perfect opportunity for Rick to reveal his true plan (assuming he has one) to Michonne in last week's episode. Instead, he implores her to not to fight back, telling her that Negan's in charge now and that listening to him is the only way to prevent more of the Alexandrians from dying. And though his intentions are in the right place, such pathetic desperation really isn't a good look for Rick.
In a way, this week's episode, "Go-Getters" paints a picture of what the future could be like for Rick were he to continue letting Negan walk all over him. At the Hilltop, Gregory is in charge and he lets The Saviors do as they please, kowtowing to their every whim. He's a weak leader, a coward, and he barely even knows the people he swears he's trying to protect. He may believe he has their interests at heart, but by caving to Negan he's simply trying to save his own skin.
Luckily for the Hilltop, it seems unlikely that Gregory will be in charge much longer. As Jesus observes, they now have someone far more qualified for the position - Maggie. She too has suffered an unimaginable loss this season and feels responsible for their being on the road on that now infamous evening. Yet unlike Rick, she doesn't appear to have let her it consume her. She's grieving, certainly, but she's also kept a level head and appears determined not to give in to those who murdered her husband.
And this wouldn't be the first time Maggie has displayed real leadership qualities. Ever since arriving at Alexandria, Maggie has taken on more responsibility, serving as an assistant to Deanna and repeatedly defending Rick's actions to keep them safe. And when the survivors first arrived at the Hilltop and needed to negotiate with Gregory, it was Maggie who struck the deal - at Rick's urging, even. Then in this week's episode, it's Maggie who takes charge when The Savior's attack, delegating tasks while also figuring out the quickest and most effective way to stop the car from blaring music. She's proven herself a capable survivor time and again, and now in the wake of her worst tragedy yet, Maggie is still fighting.
This is the exact progression Maggie takes in the comics - channeling her grief into action and leading the Hilltop to join up with Alexandria and The Kingdom against Negan. However, that scenario in the comics had Rick orchestrating the alliance between the three colonies and, as we've seen, Rick doesn't appear to have anything similar in motion on the television show (and especially with The Walking Dead giving Sasha, not Rick, the idea to send Jesus to investigate The Sanctuary). In that case, it doesn't seem out of the question to speculate it will be Maggie who first pushes for them to fight back.
Once she's assumed leadership at the Hilltop, Maggie could call on Rick and Alexandria to stand with them, much in the way Rick later asks for help from Ezekiel and The Kingdom. Rick is in a real funk at the moment, letting himself be consumed by his own failings as a leader. Maggie on the other hand, is in a position to assert herself, to let her experience and compassion guide her in making the right decisions to protect the Hilltop from both walkers and The Saviors - all she needs is the opportunity, something it seems both Jesus and Sasha are keen to make happen.
The Walking Dead continues next Sunday with ‘Swear’ @9pm on AMC.