The Walking Dead needs to let go of Rick Grimes now that he's gone from the series. It’s been four episodes (and several years, in-universe) since Andrew Lincoln's exit as Rick Grimes in The Walking Dead season 9's first half. Despite a time jump of six years, The Walking Dead insists on still talking about and using him in its plot. A lot.
The Walking Dead season 9 midseason premiere, "Adaptation", maintains this trend. As Judith and Negan bond in "Adaptation", the conversation turns to her dad, which makes sense since that's the main connection between Judith and Negan. Rick even comes up when Michonne and Daryl talk about bringing Jesus home when they couldn't do the same for him. While all of this makes sense, in general, it's also in keeping with a problem The Walking Dead has with letting go.
For eight years, Rick Grimes was the show. It’s not an easy hole to fill, but the purpose of the time jump was to avoid that. If The Walking Dead wanted to have its characters remembering and mourning him, then it shouldn’t have gone so far into the future and taken away those more immediate reactions. After all, The Walking Dead season 9 jumped forward in time right after Rick's disappearance. Instead of moving on, they’re keeping Rick as part of The Walking Dead. That actively hinders any chance of growing beyond him.
Lincoln is already returning in Walking Dead movies, and audiences know this, so keeping him as a pivotal character long beyond his exit ruins any chances of him being replaced by another main character, though not another version of Rick Grimes. The Walking Dead season 9 showrunner Angela Kang has brought a renewed sense of energy to The Walking Dead with the Whisperers, and while it’s not back to its best, it's better than it has been in years. That onus on starting over - including two time jumps this season - makes it weirder that they’re still holding onto Rick.
The trilogy of Walking Dead movies that Lincoln signed on for will be separate from the main show, and they’d do well to ensure that’s the case. The movies can be their own thing and serve as a way to reunite old Walking Dead characters together, but the main Walking Dead series should also remain separate. It’s no longer Rick’s show, which is no fault of the writers. But they need to figure out how to really make sure it’s not Rick’s show, rather than having his shadow hanging over it. Find new things for the characters to talk about; create new dynamics and storylines.
The Walking Dead, for the first time in a long time, has a real chance to push things forward in a bold, new direction, something that could happen with Walking Dead's upcoming fair. That’s exciting, which isn’t something that show has been too much in recent years. It needs to have the confidence to fully commit to that, press ahead, and leave Rick behind as they've done with so many other characters before. In the end, it's not about Rick's legacy, but about the survivors. The Walking Dead has a real chance to move forward, so it needs to completely let go of the past.
The Walking Dead season 9 continues Sundays on AMC.