After The Walking Dead’s gory return this February we had two much-needed “breather” episodes. And as much as the audience needed a breather after a half season that managed to be both relentless and plodding, Rick and company have needed one even more. Now they’ve found time to plant crops, plan for babies, repair damaged relationships and build new ones—we’ve even got a love triangle, and for once not the kind that’s likely to end with a stabbing in the woods.
First the survivors changed Alexandria and now, finally, the survivors are changing. Some of those changes look pretty sudden. In fact Rick kind of stopped being a psychopath just in time to not kill Jesus—does the crazy turn on and off like a faucet? The answers may have less to do with the writers running out of ideas and more to do with a theory out of Psychology 101 called Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs.
People need certain things to be happy. Dr. Maslow figured that we also need those things in a certain order. That order usually goes: 1) basic physical needs (food, water, sleep, possibly sex), 2) safety, 3) belonging (friendship, family, love), 4) esteem (respect, self-confidence), and 5) self-actualization (actually doing what you want to do with your life). The idea is that people can’t deal with their “higher” needs until they’ve met their “basic” needs. You can’t work on your dream of becoming a concert pianist if you’re starving or running from zombies all the time. As we’ve seen, trying to get by without handling a low-level need can make you kind of crazy.
Most of the survivors have been stuck in the shallow end of the hierarchy since the prison fell. When Aaron caught up to them and told them about Alexandria, their violent reaction wasn’t really so surprising—without food and safety they were in no shape to make new friends. But Maslow’s theory is more illuminating now. When the characters have a chance to go after more than food and shelter, what do they do?
When Rick and company first got to Alexandria they had some spectacular flameouts—Rick, covered in blood, multiple occasions. Rick’s attempts to make a life in Alexandria hit maximal perversity with his creepy courtship of Jessie. (Also note: since Rick promised to protect Jessie and her sons, every member of that family has died.) But also Rick made it clear that he didn’t feel safe behind Alexandria’s walls. When he tried to soldier on in spite of that, his new relationships were doomed before they started.
Now it’s different. The Alexandrians came together and convinced Rick they could protect themselves. Tick off “safety” for Rick, at least for now. Once that happened, Rick could muster the sanity to start dealing with the Alexandrians like people. There’s “belonging.” He got enough breathing room to reassess his relationship with Michonne. That romance will probably last longer than Rick and Jessie’s because Rick has the mental foundation to support it now.
We’ve even seen Rick touch the top of the hierarchy of needs again, maybe for the first time since the prison. In Rick’s case, self-actualization means being a good person, showing mercy, believing people can change. That and his very odd taste in music.
Of course, if all this benign character development isn’t your cup of tea, don’t worry. Now that Rick has a Big Plan to deal with the Saviors, we can expect things to go downhill again shortly.
Submitted by Corodon Fuller