Rick and Morty is a show beloved for its oftentimes ludicrous side characters and subplots, but also for its implied emotional depth. There’s a richness to its universe that’s exposed through blink-and-you’ll-miss-it one-liners among a steady flow of pseudoscientific punchlines. UK artist Joel Kilpatrick has brought an iconic (off-screen) moment from the show to life with a hyper-realistic work of art featuring Rick, Squanchy, and Birdperson (two of the shows best side characters) at the Battle of Blood Ridge. As Kilpatrick says, “Rick and Morty is not just a cartoon. It deserves so much more respect than that.”
The piece features a Hulked-out Squanchy — transformed via the tooth serum we saw in “The Wedding Squanchers” — looming in the background of a battlefield littered with the dead remains of Gromflomites. Rick’s weapon-covered back is to the viewer, and he’s reaching out with an accurately thin arm to console a visibly distraught, and certifiably jacked, Birdperson. BP’s head is hung low at the loss of a dead birdperson in front of him, presumably a female and perhaps even a previous “spirit-partner.” Is this the mate he lost long before Tammy?
“Rick and Morty isn’t just something for children to watch,” Kilpatrick said. “There are a lot of really incredible people working on it.” He speaks about the deft way Rick and Morty carries so much of its universe through minor plot details that are hardly ever explored.
Kilpatrick studied art in school and is currently pursuing a professional career in his hyper-realistic, almost classical art mixed with a retro ‘50s style. Much of his work dabbles in different realms of sci-fi and fantasy, like Fallout and The Lord of the Rings, but his most popular work has come from this interpretation of a memory implied by one line of dialogue in Rick and Morty.
The specific inspiration for the digital painting of Rick, Squanchy, and Birdperson came from the Season 2 finale, “The Wedding Squanchers.” In a scene at Birdperson’s wedding, Rick is being even more of a drunk curmudgeon than usual. Morty gives Rick a hard time about his bad attitude considering it’s Birdperson’s “big day.” Rick’s response is the golden nugget. Take a look here:
Rick says, “Birdperson’s ‘big day,’ Morty, was at Blood Ridge on Glapflap’s third moon against the Gromflomites.” Typically, this would be all the show gives us: a one-off line about the past that’s never followed up. But we also get contextual clues: At his wedding and sporting a dadbod, an inebriated Birdperson says to Beth, “The road your father and I walked together is soaked deeply in the blood of both friends and enemies.”
Even more ominous: “The war in which we fought is far from over.” This, and the ensuing chaos, offers up everything we know about the ongoing war between Rick’s rebellion and the Galactic Federation. We don’t know much, but we do know there is a lot of history between the trio.
It was all that heavy implication without exposition that haunted viewers, Kilpatrick included: “I had been thinking about ‘Blood Ridge’ randomly for almost a year, and I desperately wanted to paint it. I originally planned on them fighting. As it went on, I decided to completely change it, that it would be more interesting and challenging to do the emotional aftermath rather than an action scene.”
What we got was Rick, decked out with gadgets and weapons facing away from the perspective, and a Birdperson bearing the scars of battle but still looking formidable. “I wanted it to seem very much like it was him in his element,” Kilpatrick said, “like he was a god in battle.” The inclusion of the dead or dying other birdperson had everything to do with the line from the show “soaked deeply in the blood of both friends and enemies.”
Kilpatrick had a lot of people wanting to see Rick’s face in the piece, or perhaps in some sort of follow-up, but decided against it. As with the nature of the show, “It’s almost more interesting when it’s left up to their imagination.” Rick is a character notorious for being almost cruel to both friends and family, oftentimes manipulating or outright insulting them. But in his infrequent selfless acts, he can show some measure of love and compassion. “He’s usually such a jerk, but there’s a subtlety to how he really cares about just a few people.” That’s why rather than a hug or words of encouragement, we just see Rick offer a gentle, consoling hand. It’s the best he can do, broh. But hey, at least he’s trying.
The “Blood Ridge” piece’s home on Kilpatrick’s tumblr page also includes a link to “Look on Down from the Bridge” by Mazzy Star, a song used in Rick and Morty when the titular pair bury dead versions of their own bodies and replace their alternate reality selves. “It’s a lot of fun for me to find a song that really suits the piece I’m working on,” Kilpatrick explained. “It really sets the tone and sets the mood.”
Wherever Rick and Morty goes from here, it will have artist Joel Kilpatrick as a fan who may or may not offer up more artistic interpretations. His work is featured at joelkilpatrick.tumblr.com.