The Walking Dead TV show is full of legendary characters. Some of them, like Carol Peletier, got a radical change from their comic counterpart for the better. Others, like Michonne Grimes, are fan favorites in both mediums. Then there’s Daryl Dixon, a character created for the show who became so popular that he’s getting his own spinoff series. And, of course, we cannot forget the man himself, Rick Grimes. But there is one silent yet omnipresent legend who doesn’t get the recognition it deserves: Rick’s Hat. Yes, a hat. It is one of the longest surviving items on The Walking Dead with a consistency that is unmatched.
Rick’s Hat has stood the test of not only time, but a myriad of incredibly wild and dangerous situations without somehow getting left behind. I truly shudder when I think about how offensive it must smell after over a decade in the apocalypse, but its filth surely adds to its charm, right? RIGHT?! It is important enough to have its own Fandom page and is truly a fun staple in The Walking Dead.
We met Rick’s Hat in the very first episode. You know, way back when the show’s budget was low and Rick knew nothing like Jon Snow. It didn’t get a special introduction or a memorable scene of Rick placing it on his head dramatically. None of that hoopla is necessary when a true star hits the scene. Rick’s Hat just appears magically on his head when he’s walking out of the sheriff’s station with Morgan and Duane. In an effort to hold onto a piece of his former self, Rick walks around in his sheriff’s outfit complete with The Hat of All Hats. Does he need the hat? You may say no, but I disagree. First, it is hella hot in Georgia and it helps to block the sun. Apparently Rick can find many things, but shades isn’t one of them. And, it gives his outfit that extra fashion pizazz.
We nearly lost this icon (and Rick too) very early in The Walking Dead; however, they are both still alive and well today thanks to Glenn. First, Glenn saves Rick from certain death. Then, Glenn finds Rick’s Hat and returns it to him. In an apocalyptic world, many of those seemingly small but vital elements of life and familial connection fade. One of those is the concept of a family heirloom, perhaps an item that is passed through generations as an inheritance and a way to honor a family’s legacy.
For some people, it is their great-grandmother’s pearl necklace, their father’s cufflinks, or a baptismal dress worn by several babies in the same lineage. For the Grimes family, it becomes Rick’s Hat in season two. After Carl Grimes somehow doesn’t die, Rick gives him his beloved hat at Herschel’s farm, telling him that they have a connection as gunshot survivors. It’s a symbol that Carl’s childhood is over and he must transform into a leader in his own right. Like many sons, Carl idolizes his father and the hat gives him the courage that he believes Rick has in every situation. Rick then sheds his Officer Friendly persona and evolves into the more calculating and bold man to ensure the group’s survival.
While the hat sits upon Carl’s head until his untimely, and frankly stupid, death in season eight, it will be forever known as Rick’s Hat. And, just as our intrepid survivor group goes through some serious hell during this (shorter than you think) timeline, so does Rick’s Hat while it is in Carl’s possession. It somehow survives Carl’s dumb shenanigans before and after the attack on the prison. Then, it continues to go through chaos with Terminus cannibalism horrors, Rick’s throat biting rage, and an exhausting trek all the way to Virginia.
Carl uses it to shield baby Judith from a rainstorm as she’s clothed in a blanket, but this hat is indeed his security blanket in a very volatile world. This makes even more sense considering a pre-apocalypse flashback of Rick and toddler Carl together. They walk on a farm and Rick gingerly places the hat on his son’s head in a moment of blissful affection.
After arriving in Alexandria in season five, Rick’s Hat sees a lot of mess, from Rick having (another) mental spiral to a horde of walkers taking over the community. Carl is always in the fight but somehow that hat stays on his head like he glued it on… for the most part. In season six, Carl gets shot and literally loses an eye and, well, that hat doesn’t budge until he collapses on the ground.
It seems that Rick’s Hat will be lost for good in the mayhem and walker slashing; however, it somehow mysteriously appears once again in the next episode. You can knock a legend down but they will always rise again. It’s not shocking that the hat was found during a community cleanup (that doesn’t happen onscreen) because they were in the walls of Alexandria. But who found Rick’s Hat in the streets and gave it back to Carl? It is one of The Walking Dead’s great mysteries along with Heath’s disappearance.
The hat fuels Carl’s courage to fight back against the Saviors and watches him continue to grow up in season seven. Carl’s first kiss and big solo murder mission against the Saviors? Rick’s Hat is right there like a proud dad, even when it once again takes a tumble into dirt. (Carl picks it up before he gets a Sanctuary tour, btw.)
When the Saviors and Alexandria have a major standoff, Negan removes Rick’s Hat from Carl’s head to bash his brains. But, thankfully the other communities save everyone and wrap up the Negan battle. Once again, Carl thinks of the hat in the face of danger, putting it back on for the final fight.
At this point, one may wonder why it matters so much to Carl to wear this hat. His idealized image of his father is now gone, replaced with witnessing his necessary brutality. Carl also has a nice head of hair under there. Plus, everyone on The Walking Dead is constantly sweating and stressed out. A hat is great for shielding the sun but surely causes more perspiration, right? Well, Carl explains it to Judith in season eight during the last moments of his life.
At this point, Carl is becoming a young man who wants to build something greater in the world. He wants everyone to thrive and experience some level of peace with united communities. But his desire to save others leads to him getting bit. Before he dies, he hands Rick’s Hat to his little sister and says, “This was Dad’s before it was mine. Now it’s yours. I don’t know… just… just having it, it always kept dad with me, it made me feel as strong as him… It helped me, maybe it’ll help you too.”
And with that, Rick’s inheritance goes down to his daughter Judith Grimes. While we really don’t see preschool aged Judith wear it at first, it does become a part of her look as she ages. After Rick’s “death” in season nine, we later see an older Judith pick the hat up and place it on her head.
Judith is a great keeper of the hat for a while, rarely losing it in any kind of way, even through the Whisperer war arc. Of course, she’s also not as heavily involved in the action at first either, so that works in her favor. By this point, Rick and Michonne’s son, RJ, is a part of their family. And, it is only fitting for him to follow in his siblings’ footsteps and don Rick’s Hat. In the show’s penultimate episode, Judith officially passes the hat down to RJ. Honestly, she doesn’t need it considering that she has a katana in honor of her mom and now Rick’s infamous gun. And when she puts the hat on RJ’s head, it brings things full circle in terms of the hat’s name. RJ is a junior, so the hat belongs to a Rick Grimes once again. What a beautiful story.
Will we ever see Rick’s Hat again? Maybe. It would be nice for Richonne to reunite with their children and get a chance to simply LIVE. Just imagine Rick meeting his son for the first time and seeing his old hat perched on RJ’s head. The feels abound. But, even if we don’t see Rick’s Hat again, it will forever be a Walking Dead legend, a comforter in times of trouble, and a family heirloom that bridges the old world with the new. Long live Rick’s Hat.