Thursday 5 January 2012

The Gathering Darkness

Shane Walsh aiming his shotgun at Rick in Season 1 of The Walking Dead
I know many of you were hoping for another Daryl-centric blog post. Until the second half of this season begins, however, I feel like there isn’t much to say about Daryl that I haven’t already said. So for this entry, I decided to focus on the character I have come to view as the "anti-Daryl": Shane. I call him that because of the obvious contrasts between the two characters during the first half of the second season. Daryl became (for the most part) calmer while Shane lost control. Daryl began to find himself while Shane began to lose himself. Daryl’s actions allowed him to connect with others while Shane’s actions further isolated him. Daryl became a better man while Shane became a lesser man.

I doubt Shane ever saw this coming. Sure, we could see that he was probably always a little hot-tempered, but we thought and he knew that he was a good guy; he took every step he could to keep safe those whom he was charged with protecting. His sole mission once the world went to hell was to save his best friend’s wife and son from the horrors that surrounded them. But circumstances got the better of Shane and he started doing things that maybe a “good guy” wouldn’t do.

From the beginning, Shane’s comfort level as a big fish in his small pond stood out. Prior to the outbreak, he’d been a figure of authority in his community. Of course, he should lead this band of survivors. He held no doubt in his mind about that fact. When Rick returned, however, he replaced Shane as top dog. The group immediately turned to Rick and rejected Shane as a leader. More importantly to Shane, Lori also rejected him as her mate.

Had Shane really fallen in love with Lori in the, oh, four or five weeks that passed since the outbreak? Perhaps he cared deeply for Lori for years but knew, as his best friend’s girl, she was unobtainable. More likely, the intensity of the situation and his deep desire to protect her and Carl caused Shane to feel what he thought was a deeper connection to Lori, obviously much more than she felt to him. Yet it was obvious once her husband showed up, that Lori was 100% Rick’s.

Shane’s veiled hostility grew as rejections by the group and Lori continued to pile up. We saw red-tinged anger cross his face when Rick’s back was turned. Although Rick was his best friend, Rick also invaded his territory and took away his power. Lori’s rejection? Just icing on the proverbial cake. Every time Shane was rejected in one form or another, particularly by Lori, we saw a little more of the darkness in his soul creeping toward the surface.

Unable or unwilling to lash out at Lori after she told him that her family was “off-limits,” Shane instead beat Ed to a bloody pulp after Ed struck Carol. As a lawman, Shane would have been trained to keep a cool head in such situations, but he threw his training to the wind and took out his frustration over the situation with Lori on Ed.

Shane tried unsuccessfully to convince Lori to back his plan to go to Fort Benning instead of Rick’s plan to go to the CDC. Not long after their discussion, Shane sights his rifle on Rick in the woods and we wondered if he would have taken the shot were it not for Dale’s interference.

While at the CDC, Lori rejects Shane’s advances and we all remember his reaction. Forcing himself on her was the action of a desperate, lonely, and drunken man who would do anything – even sexual violence - to get what he wanted. It gave us foreshadowing for other repulsive acts Shane would also willingly commit. This scene was also the turning point for many fans and their opinion of Shane’s character because it showed what he was capable of doing and made us realize just how dangerous he truly was.

Shane’s acrimony toward Rick’s leadership increased as the first half of Season 2 progressed. He argued about every decision - particularly the one to continue searching for Sophia - and in doing so challenged Rick as the alpha male. It was never clear to me whether Shane’s growing contentiousness was simply because he genuinely disagreed with Rick, because everyone else looked to Rick instead of him for leadership, or because he couldn’t have Lori.

Shane shaving his hair in season two of The Walking Dead
Shane bounced back when Carl was injured, being a true friend to Rick when he needed one most and a good guy again, but this was short-lived. Shooting Otis to ensure his own escape from the walkers showed a man who’d lost his humanity. Fans view this act in two distinctly different ways: 1) “He did what had to be done” or; 2) ”How could he do that?” I suppose including that example here makes it obvious I lean toward the second view. I understand that people will do anything to save someone they love - especially a child. I still view Shane’s action as nothing less than cold-blooded murder. At the point he chooses to shoot Otis he lost, to me at least, the last shred of what made him human, to begin with.

As Season 2 continued, Shane’s leadership continued to be rejected by the group. Although there are no direct examples of this, when Carol told Lori that she was, as Rick’s wife, the de facto “first lady” of the group, it indicated the general feeling among the others as well. Shane would have picked up on these feelings, even if no one directly spoke the words to him. Lori openly rejected both his leadership skills and feelings for her when she asked if he would willingly leave behind a lost little girl in order to keep her and Carl safe. His silence on the matter spoke volumes. These were additional blows to Shane’s fragile ego.

After discovering that Lori is pregnant in Pretty Much Dead Already, Shane tried to convince her that she should be with him instead of Rick. He implied he was better suited to protect her and her unborn baby than Rick, saying that Rick wasn’t cut out for their new world and he, Shane, was the one who saved her life repeatedly. He finally told her he knew he fathered her baby. When Lori replied “Even if it is yours, it’s not gonna’ be yours. It is never gonna’ be yours,” she delivered what should have been the death blow to Shane ego. By denying even the possibility that Shane fathered her child, Lori rejected Shane totally and completely.

Later, after Shane returned with the guns that he found Dale hiding in the swamp, Lori again delivered a swift kick to Shane’s ego and reinforced his place in the leadership pecking order when she told him “Rick said no guns. This is not your call. This is not your decision to make.”

During his drill sergeant routine at the barn doors, as he stomped and screamed “If you wanna’ live, you gotta’ fight for it,” questions about his motivations flew through my mind. Did Shane feel compelled to force this confrontation with Herschel right then and there in order to openly defy and challenge Rick? Was Shane’s lack of concern for the consequences his behavior would have on the rest of the group because Lori wouldn’t acknowledge her baby could be his? Or was he just utterly convinced that his way of handling the situation was the best way

Motivations aside, Shane's actions put everyone in danger when he busted open the doors and let the walkers out. I will leave the debate about whether or not Shane did the right thing to others. Suffice it to say my thought on the subject is that although Shane may have been right in demanding the barn walkers be put down, it should have been handled in a more controlled manner. As Shane did it, the entire group was put in a position of unnecessary risk. Those with dark souls seldom care how their actions affect others.

Yes, Shane took charge of the barn situation, but in the end, all he really did was show his inability to truly lead and just how little of a hero he really was. When Sophia stumbled out of the barn, now a walker herself, he just stood there. A real leader, as Rick showed in this scene, would have done what needed to be done and put down Sophia. Shane was only able to make easy choices - as Lori pointed out previously - such as simply abandoning Sophia, but he was incapable of making the truly hard ones. Has he never been capable of hard choices or has he become unable to do so because of his slipping sanity and inability to see beyond his own wants?

Shane is the character we most love to hate and actor Jon Bernthal does an excellent job making us do so. He seems to effortless display the physical mannerisms of someone on the edge of losing control, his body language painting a frighteningly clear picture of Shane's mental state. The modulation in his voice and emphasis on just the right words makes us believe that he will snap at any moment. And like Norman Reedus's portrayal of Daryl Dixon, Bernthal's facial expressions often tell us more than his dialogue in many scenes. He makes us believe that yes, Shane is one dangerous dude.

Will Shane ever leave the group or will he remain and continue wrestling with Rick for leadership? I suspect in the second half of Season 2 we will see Shane continue challenging Rick’s status as alpha of the group. Too much has happened for Shane to back off now. He will still no doubt think that he - not Rick - was right about everything. The bigger question, the answer for which I can't predict: Will anyone other than Dale - whom Shane on two separate occasions not so subtly threatened - ever see the growing darkness in Shane?

Wednesday 4 January 2012

Ride, Daryl, Ride

Daryl Dixon Motobike
- Daryl Dixon on his motorbike -
As we pick apart all things TWD, let us not forget important questions such as what kind of bike does Daryl ride and is that the best choice?

All we know is that Daryl is riding his brother Merle’s bike. It has a lightning-bolt SS insignia on the tank. The saddlebags contain, among other things, all sorts of legal and illegal drugs including prescription antibiotics and painkillers. (I, for one, find these completely believable given Merle’s alluded-to background.)

But let’s back up a bit; I’d like to point out that someone riding a motorcycle would be a valuable asset to a group of apocalypse survivors, be it the zombies, the Russians, or even the Republicans that are the root cause of the recent misery. Motorcycles are good for scouting ahead, checking on stragglers, seeing if the group is being followed, and delivering messages between vehicles in a convoy. They also use less fuel - always a good thing when resources are limited – and can get to places four-wheeled vehicles cannot.

To be fair, motorcycles have limitations. They do not carry a spare tire. They must be balanced like a bicycle. They offer the rider no protection from the elements, zombies, or Republicans. They generally require all four extremities to operate.

Now, back to Merle’s/Daryl’s bike ...

I could tell right off this bike isn’t a Harley as it lacked the distinctive V-twin motor and both exhaust pipes exit the front of the engine, not a Harley design. Many non-riding viewers might expect Merle to ride American iron given his personality, but he’s riding a British bike. In my nearly six minutes of research, I found that consensus on the Internet seems to be this bike is most likely a Triumph Bonneville 650 originally built anywhere from the mid-60s to 1971. The Bonneville was cherished and heavily modified by hardcore riders nearly as often as the more ubiquitous Harley product; many are still being ridden today.

Although a cool and truly badass ride, a vintage Bonneville isn’t the best choice for post-apocalyptic transportation. Oh, it can do all the things I mentioned above fairly well including go off-road (but only in extreme circumstances); however, the bike has three large strikes against it: age, noise level, and range of travel.

Old-school choppers may be easier for a shade-tree mechanic to work on, but finding parts is more difficult than for newer or more commercially popular bikes. Replacement parts for a newer-model bike would be easier to, ah, “acquire”.

In a world where noise attracts walkers, the far-reaching powerful throb of an un-muffled motorcycle engine is sure to announce one’s presence to every walker for miles around. Daryl prefers a crossbow to a rifle because of noise concerns, so why would he ride this bike?

Another of the bike’s limitations is the small gas tank – referred to as a “peanut” tank – that generally only carries 2-3.5 gallons of fuel. When removing all the non-essential parts of a bike - “chopping” - a small gas tank is used to reduce overall weight to increase its speed. However, in any post-apocalyptic scenario, a larger tank that allows more miles between fuel stops would be preferred, at least by me.

A much better motorcycle for Daryl would be one classified as a dual-sport, meaning it can be ridden on-or off-road. Like any hybrid, a dual-sport isn’t the best in either category, but rather has characteristics of both. It isn’t as comfortable and won’t carry as many supplies as a big road hog like the Harley-Davidson Electra-Glide or Honda Gold Wing. Also, it won’t be as rugged as bikes designed for off-road use only, such as Suzuki‘s RMX450Z or Kawasaki’s KX450F. Dual-sport bikes are heavier and will not have as much suspension travel for overcoming obstacles.

While not as quiet as street-only bikes, they are designed to not shatter the quiet of wooded riding areas. Additionally, their fuel tanks can hold up to twice as much fuel as a peanut tank. As most major motorcycle manufacturers still have dual-sports in their offerings, parts for these would be easier to scavenge.

So, with all these marks against it, why does Daryl stick with Merle’s bike and not find something more appropriate? Simply put, it was Merle’s. Daryl rides this bike in honour of and in tribute to his big brother; it’s the one tangible thing Daryl has to remind him of Merle. To remind him of all that they were to each other, good or bad.

I can easily imagine this bike was Merle’s one true love, all his time, energy, and spare cash put into making it his perfect “sled” - customised motorcycle. Bikers express their personalities through their rides and these creations are seen as personal declarations, much like heraldry for knights of old. Bikers don’t want “cookie-cutter” sleds that look like all the others on the road. Bikers want their bike to be immediately recognised as theirs. There’s no doubt this particular bike belonged to Merle Dixon.

The biker in me understands this completely and will shout with a raised fist in support of Daryl as he thunders by.