Friday, November 1, 2013

The Overreachers

I’m re-watching seasons one and two of The Walking Dead in order to keep bringing you, my devoted readers, the very best commentary. It’s conjuring up all sorts of fond memories! Remember when Andrea didn’t know how to fire a gun? Remember when Glenn was always the sacrificial guinea pig? Remember when killing walkers grossed Rick out? Remember when Carl was a fresh-faced little boy?
Those days are long over. Rick is a steely-faced leader. Nothing seems to faze him. We lost him there for a while after Lori died, but he’s back. No more receiving imaginary phone calls in his future. In the beginning Rick was an innocent, too; every one still believed in the authority of the military and the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) (conveniently based in Atlanta). They still had faith in the trappings of order. What they do not know, of course, is that the entire infrastructure is gone.

In the season one episode entitled “Wildfire,” Lori begs Rick to tell her "something with certainty.” The camp has just barely survived a night attack by a herd of walkers. Rick wants to head back to Atlanta to see if the CDC can help. The only thing he knows for sure is that he loves his family. That’s what the new society is reduced to—the permanence of personal relationships. The connections between kin and friends cannot and should not be broken. Maintaining strong bonds is a key to survival. There is no certainty in the world of the post-zombie apocalypse. One day you could be tending tomatoes in the prison vegetable garden, and the next you could be fending off a reanimated Patrick. Even human relationships, however, can be broken down into basic needs: shelter, food, and safety. After the CDC explodes at the end of season one, all the characters realize finally that nothing is certain anymore. The only source of authority on which they can rely is Rick.

Carl in a rare moment of contemplation.

People aren’t immune to experiencing serious conflicts, such as the takeover attempt of Rick’s family by Shane in seasons one and two. If you recall, Shane and Lori had a sexual relationship after she thought that Rick had died—specifically, after Shane informed her that Rick had died in the hospital whilst recovering from his gunshot wound. Shane became her surrogate husband for a brief time. The ensuing fight to win back his family imperils Rick’s existence. When Shane tries to kill Rick in an attempt to usurp his paternal role, Rick is forced to stab his former partner and friend. Immediately afterwards, Shane turns and Carl promptly kills him. This pivotal incident marks Carl’s initiation into adulthood and bad-assdom. If Shane hadn’t acted like such a douchebag the scene would have been more touching; in Rick’s absence, Shane was a good father figure for Carl. However, after his true motives and specious character are revealed, Carl is better off without his negative influence, particularly in light of the fact that the young boy’s innate tendency is to resort to violent conflict resolution.
In some ways, Shane’s character is complex. He is a man so blinded by the need to take care of Lori and Carl after Rick’s presumed death that he’ll stop at nothing to regain that feeling of responsibility, the lure of the ready-made, instant family. After Lori rejects him upon Rick’s return, he tries to convince her that he is the superior provider. When she continues to rebuff him, he gets drunk and tries to rape her, stopping only when Lori injures him. After these primitive overtures don’t work, Shane considers killing Rick, which remains constantly in the back of his mind as a viable option. People die all the time, after all, and Shane is a fluent liar who could easily cook up a half believable story to sell to the others. He continues to question Rick’s decisions and puts himself in situations in which he can be the hero to Carl and Lori. At the same time, he expresses a desire, primarily to Andrea, to leave the group. His response to the loss of “his” family is to devalue life altogether. First, he kills Otis to save himself from an onslaught of walkers. After Otis dies, Shane shaves his head. It’s hard to know why he does this. My hunch is that removing his hair signifies a violent rebirth. Who shaves their heads? Soldiers do, and soldiers are trained to kill. In addition, in the old days prisoners were shorn to dehumanize them. The other possibility is that Shane doesn’t like who he sees now when he looks in the mirror. Maybe a new haircut is transformative. Finally, during his last showdown with Rick, he tries to eliminate his rival from the picture entirely. What was Shane’s undoing? His advice to Andrea, “You don’t think. You just—you act” encapsulates his animalistic stance in life. While this philosophy makes him a certified bad ass, it is his lack of humanity that renders him vulnerable. That, and his overreaching. He violated natural law, after all, when he tried to steal Rick’s family. He and Andrea share this destructive quality.
Shane had seen better days.

In season two’s “What Lies Ahead,” Andrea seems to verbalize her outsider status when she asks Shane if she can leave the group with him. She claims that neither one of them fits in. Her earlier, more dramatic attempt to “opt out” (commit suicide) after her sister’s death reinforces this notion of the outsider. The phrase “opting out” becomes a running euphemism for suicide in seasons one and two. In season three, Andrea allies herself with the brutal Governor, in whom she tries to see the good despite obvious evidence to the contrary. It’s unclear whether loneliness and a strong sexual attraction to the man are clouding her judgment. She has multiple chances to reunite with her old group at the prison but at the last minute holds back, stating that she is more needed in Woodbury. Andrea unsuccessfully brokers a peace treaty between Rick and the Governor, which leads to her death; Milton, the Governor’s erstwhile right hand man, bites her when they are locked up in a cell together for treason. Perhaps Andrea’s inability to connect with her fellow group members leads to her eventual estrangement and subsequent demise. This is yet another example of how in a post-apocalyptic society forging and maintaining relationships are paramount. While you cannot stand alone, you also have to be careful with whom you ally yourself. Andrea chose the Governor and her own ego over her former group at the prison. That is, she thought she was important and powerful enough to set things right between a homicidal psychopath and Rick. Andrea overreached.
Whew—I’m spent. Stay tuned until next week, when I’ll post a slightly tongue-in-cheek synopsis of “Indifference.”

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