Deputy Sheriff Rick Grimes is our heroic everyman who's featured on almost every page of The Walking Dead's first chapter. Since his pre-apocalypse job was being a cop, Rick's pretty well-suited for handling a zombie invasion. He's great with a gun, pretty handy with an axe, isn't easily intimidated, and knows how to take charge of a situation when he has to. He knows what's called for in times like this—guns. Did we mention he's good with guns?
Rick exudes a kind of strong, quiet leadership (except when he's not-so-quietly blasting apart the walkers). In this first chapter, we only get the first glimpses of how Rick will develop as a character as things get much, much worse. But the chapter lays the groundwork in showing him as a take-charge, tenacious guy who steps into the leadership role when everything's falling apart. But he's not lacking compassion either. He's a devoted husband and father. When he comes across a pathetic, helpless zombie trying to move and speak, Rick shoots it to put it out of its misery. Then he cries. You have to love a tough guy who can cry.
After being injured in a shootout, Rick slips into a coma for a month. He wakes up to find the hospital deserted and abandoned, a zombie apocalypse in full swing. We hate when that happens. What follows is Rick's quest to find his wife and son and protect them.
Because Rick has no idea what happened to the world during his coma, we discover the extent of the zombie outbreak right along with him. Of course, unlike the protagonists of most zombie stories, we've actually read a zombie novel and seen a zombie movie or two. Rick seems consistently shocked that things are as bad as they are, and he's always talking about "when things get back to normal" (121). (Seriously, has no one read World War Z here?!)
Rick's single-minded motivation is to find his family: his wife, Lori, and his son, Carl. He flees from the zombies in the hospital and heads to his home, also destroyed and deserted except for a man and his son squatting on the property. The man clues him in to the horror of the situation and points him toward Atlanta, where people were encouraged to flee. Rick fights off a horde of the undead in Atlanta, and runs like heck before he makes it to a survivor camp where he finds Lori and Carl. From then on, Rick's priority is keeping them safe. This sets up the conflict for the second half of chapter one.
Also at the camp is Shane, Rick's police partner. Shane did what Rick couldn't: he got Lori and Carl to safety. Also, he slept with Lori, although neither of them share that with Rick. Tension rises when Rick suggests to Shane that they move camp. For some reason, Rick has dropped his "when things get back to normal" attitude and is planning for the long-term, whereas Shane still remains optimistic that things are going to get better. Shane doesn't want to move camp. Rick does.
The men bicker like high school lab partners trying to decide on a science project.
Rick decides to accumulate an arsenal of guns and teach everyone to shoot guns at camp, including his seven-year-old. (See what Lori thinks about that on her character page.) The plan works, but it isn't foolproof. Zombies attack. Amy, one of the survivors, is chomped to bits, and Rick blames Shane for not moving camp, yelling at him, "How many more people have to die before you realize that?!" (678).
Even though Rick's angry, he tries to keep their conflict private, preferring to talk to Shane in the woods. But Shane freaks out and punches Rick in camp, destroying what little remains of their idyllic survivor lifestyle. Somehow, through all this, Rick still remains optimistic, thinking he can talk sense into Shane. He can't.
Like all zombie stories, the conflict boils down to man vs. man (instead of man vs. un-man), and Rick's gun-toting seven-year-old shoots Shane when Shane pulls a gun on Rick. Rick is left to comfort his son, who's entered into the cruel adult world all too soon. That might be a dad's worst nightmare, even worse than zombies.