Why Rick Losing His Hand is Essential to Walking Dead’s Message

A series like The Walking Dead is filled with disturbing and violent moments, but one unforgettable sacrifice stands apart. And even if the TV version of the story chose not to show the shocking moment where Rick Grimes’ lost his right, this development has an unexpected metaphorical significance that, no matter the meaning, embodies the Walking Dead‘s message more clearly than any other.

The events leading up to the scene are simple enough: in Issue #28 of the Walking Dead comic series, Rick is captured by The Governor, who soon demands to know the location of Rick’s camp. Rick refuses and, as a punishment, the Governor cuts off Rick’s right hand. This was a major change in Rick’s character that, to Robert Kirkman’s dismay, the Walking Dead TV show chose not to adapt. The loss of Rick’s hand is more than just a physical handicap: It adds a layer of stress and helplessness that is only amplified by the apocalyptic setting. The fact that Rick continues to lead despite the new handicap does so much more than just demonstrate the strength of his character.

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The Walking Dead is no stranger to delving into human reactions to trauma. Yet, this traumatic event also has an unprecedented level of metaphorical significance. In the beginning, Rick does become more dependent on others while he regains his strength; another important aspect of the Walking Dead which champions essential interpersonal bonds in a new hostile environment. Although Rick loses his physical right hand, he promptly goes on to have several literal right-hand men through the series, including Tyreese, Abraham, and Andrea. While Rick survives and helps create a better world, he’s deeply affected by the zombie apocalypse, and losing his dominant hand is a permanent reminder of how he’ll never be the same again.

Rick’s ability to adapt and overcome is the literal embodiment of the Walking Dead’s core messages. No matter what the world throws at him, it is always possible to persevere, even if the loss of Rick’s hand is a physical manifestation of the psychological scars that all the characters carry with them. This is even reflected in Rick’s speech on the back of every collection that also makes an appearance in the final issue, given by Michonne:

“When is the last time any of us REALLY worked to get something that we wanted? How long has it been since any of us really NEEDED something that we WANTED? The world we knew is gone…been replaced by a world of survival and responsibility…In a world ruled by the dead, we are forced to finally start living.”

Rick Grimes is a symbol of hope in a dark and dangerous world, and that is why his hand is essential to The Walking Dead‘s message. Prior to the apocalypse, Rick losing his hand would still have been upsetting, but its debatable whether he would have approached the loss the way he did in the series if it wasn’t for the apocalypse. It turns out that for Rick, he can thrive without his right hand (something that was a vital part of him). This once-essential aspect to his person is able to be worked around in the context of this new world order that strips away the frivolities to allow humanity to survive and shine.

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Author: Emily Stachelczyk