AMC's The Walking Dead is by now a proven cultural staple, helping kick off a wave of zombie-centric mainstream horror fare which now seems to be winding down. The show's sixth season ratings may have declined somewhat, but it will definitely be back for a seventh, 16-episode season. While Season 6 has arguably been one of the more uneven outings since the show's premiere, there are still plenty of reasons for fans to keep returning each week.
Among those are the various fan-favorite characters: Glenn Rhee (Steven Yuen), Michonne (Darai Gurira), Daryl Dixon (Norman Reedus), Carl Grimes (Chandler Riggs) and of course Carl's father and the show's nominal protagonist Rick Grimes (Andrew Lincoln). The show's casting has been arguably dead-on and one of the main selling points of The Walking Dead's universe. It seems that the role of Rick Grimes could have been very different.
According to Uproxx (via Cinema Blend), the show's creator and first showrunner, Frank Darabont, wanted to cast Thomas Jane as Rick Grimes. Darabont attempted to develop the show at HBO and had Jane in mind for the lead role, but when HBO passed on the show, it was set up at AMC with Andrew Lincoln as Rick. Jane was interested, but had already committed to starring in HBO's Hung.
Thomas Jane might still be best known (to a... certain kind of audience) for his lead role on Hung, but he was also tapped to play Frank Castle for the 2004 attempt to reboot The Punisher (a character to be played next year on Netflix/Marvel's Daredevil by The Walking Dead alum Jon Bernthal). Jane has popped up in all kinds of different projects (including a recurring role as himself on Arrested Development), and Darabont had previously cast him as the lead of his 2007 Stephen King adaptation The Mist.
Thomas Jane is a talented actor and a welcome presence every time he turns up onscreen, but it is difficult to gauge how much better or worse The Walking Dead would have been had Jane been cast as Rick. It can be argued that Andrew Lincoln -- up to 2010 best known to audiences for his role as the lovelorn Christmas Eve cue card guy in Love Actually -- was a better fit for the role.
Jane would have been a more recognizable star in 2010 but Lincoln's relatively unknown status helped sell his character as an everyman caught in an unthinkable, horrific situation. Speaking of horror, The Walking Dead's core genre is one that has never had to rely on stars to draw an audience. Indeed, sometimes big names are a distraction. We would have a very different Walking Dead with Tom Jane as Rick, but not necessarily a better one.
The Walking Dead season 6 returns Sunday, February 14 @9pm on AMC.