Spoilers for The Walking Dead are below.

From the moments Rick & Co. were led to the Alexandria Safe Haven on The Walking Dead, it was obvious that this crew would usher in a whirlwind of changes to the community, with some far more fatal than others. Here, the show’s core survivors found themselves safer and living easier than many had since before walkers first took over the planet, and ever since, this semblance of civilization surrounding Rick’s group has offered a heightened reflection that continuously has us wondering whether these characters are still on the good guy spectrum or if they’ve slowly become something resembling villains. Let’s discuss.

the walking dead
What They Went Through
One has to wonder where things would be now had the Andersons not lived in Alexandria. Rick’s justifiable interference in their lives led to the deaths of Deanna’s husband Reg and the abusive porch dick Pete, which caused the elder Anderson offspring Ron to hate the male Grimes. Rick’s crush on Jessie came to fulfillment and was strong enough for Rick to have a series of flashback jolts as he’s chopping her arm and watching her get mauled by walkers with the younger offspring Sam. Oh, and Ron shot Carl in the eye while getting his torso split by Michonne. Worst family ever.

That was on top of Rick discovering and trying to solve the problem of the thousands-strong walker herd threatening to crash through Alexandria’s walls until it actually happened, as well as the random Wolves ambush that left some dead and left others (like Carol) with lots of blood on their hands. Talk about stress and grief. Those same two emotions drove Rick to the breaking point as he began taking on the entire walker herd alone following Carl’s injury, which soon brought almost the entire population together in zombie-demolishing unity for the first time. These are the kinds of life-shaking events that change people forever. In a good way, though?

the walking dead
The Encounter With The Biker Saviors
Meanwhile, other troubles befell Daryl, Abraham and Sasha as they were separated from the rest. Daryl finally trusted someone and saved his life, and the dude stole his bike and his crossbow, so Daryl definitely was not the right person for Christopher Berry’s Bud and his Savior cronies to stop and swindle. Abraham was starting to feel some things for Sasha, which added to the tension as the pair were held at gunpoint, and just as it looked like one of them was about to die, the entire Savior squad exploded thanks to Daryl’s grenade launcher skills.

These guys were definitely villains, as they wanted to steal everything in the name of Negan. But what if Bud, whose charisma was apparent throughout his brief appearance, wasn’t actually going to shoot anyone, similarly to how he faked it moments before? What if Bud is the kind of asshole bully who terrorized through fear of death, but without any actual murder? If that was the case, and I realize it’s not high in likelihood, then Daryl’s self-defense was on the extreme end and could be considered morally unsound.

the walking dead
The Trip To The Hilltop Colony
Rick and Daryl both showed heroes’ restraint when meeting the wily Jesus, keeping him mostly in good shape despite him tricking and gaining the upper hand on both. (Plus, Jesus interrupted Rick and Michonne’s post-coitus slumber, which is a no-no.) And when they got to the Hilltop, Rick witnessed the Negan-inspired assassination attempt on Hilltop leader Gregory, and after lethally stopping the would-be assassin, he and his group are told about Negan and how he and the Saviors extort goods from communities in exchange for not being slaughtered. Rick and Maggie immediately plan and make deals to take out Negan and his crew in exchange for supplies and food.

Sure, those look like the actions of good guys, but if we’re ignoring the comic book source material and looking at things critically, there’s not a lot of evidence there to guarantee that going off and killing someone they’ve never met is the virtuous and righteous thing to do. For all they know, Negan is actually the victim here, while Gregory, Jesus and the rest of Hilltop have been the real tormenters. Again, not likely, but when even a preliminary hunt for non-hearsay evidence is completely ignored in favor of a solution that offers food, motives begin to turn gray.

the walking dead
The Attack At The Compound
Rick has faced down many villains in the past near-six seasons, and all of them have given him a damned good reason to unleash the fury. Shane wanted his family. The Governor killed people and destroyed things. Joe’s Claimers wanted to rape Carl. Gareth ate people. And so on. But when he took the group to the Saviors’ compound and murdered a bunch of them while they slept, they really did cross the line, taking the offensive in a way that we’ve never seen on this show before. A promise is a promise, but unprompted mass murder is just that, too.

Morgan, who believes that even the guiltiest people can be rehabilitated, is the only one who stood opposite this mission, and everyone else apparently thought it was rational. No one is really considering that all of these Savior deaths are countered only by extortion and the unconfirmed-to-them death of whoever was with Ethan. There are no courtrooms and no judges in The Walking Dead, but this is the point in which even the most strong-willed juror would stumble over words while trying to call the show’s survivors the heroes here, especially when this ambush featured some characters’ first kills.

the walking dead
Carol And Maggie’s Escape
On a smaller scale, this episode’s events mirrored those at the compound in that Maggie and Carol brutally murder a group of people that, for all visible intents and purposes, were trying to get their kidnapped co-Savior back. Yes, Paula’s group held Carol and Maggie hostage, but they didn’t torture them or injure them direly. They weren’t exactly welcoming of Carol’s religious movement or anything, but that’s not necessarily cause for head-bashings and burning people alive.

It’s here in this slaughterhouse where the show directly addresses the notion that maybe Carol, Rick, Maggie, Glenn and the rest are the actual bad guys here. Michelle and Maggie have a talk that hits those points, while Paula puts Carol through the same motions. That idea definitely burrowed deeply into the recently contrite Carol’s brain, enough that she gave Paula the chance to run away. But Paula refused, paying for it with her life and her elastic cheek, and no one else even got that choice.

the walking dead
Are They The Monsters Now?
And here we are, awaiting the next episode and the next batch of complex choices and deadly situations these characters get into, reflecting on showrunner Scott Gimple’s thoughts about this chunk of the season. There’s no question that all of the havoc the core survivors have caused for Negan and the Saviors is more than enough to bring about the highly anticipated slaughter coming when Negan is introduced. At that point, it’s assumed that Negan is going to look like the monster, but what if his vengeful actions are more condonable than those of Rick’s group? How much would it affect this show if audiences started thinking about the survivors as villains rather than protagonists?

The Walking Dead airs Sunday nights on AMC.

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