Thursday 12 April 2012

O Brother, Where Art Thou?

Merle Dixon and his relationship with his brother Daryl Dixon.
Merle Dixon... where are you?
I want to take some time and talk about Daryl and his relationship with his brother Merle. Daryl’s a fan favourite of The Walking Dead, and I’m glad he his, (I thought I was the only one!). As such, I think it’s best to study the character, find out what makes him tick, and where Merle fits into all of that.

Now we’re not given the gritty details, but we can infer quite a bit about the two brothers:

Merle’s attitude proclaims his racism; he says what he wants when he wants, and he’s more than willing to fight any who oppose him. He’s crass, belligerent, and regrettably obstinate. I mean, you’d pretty much have to be to sever your own hand to survive!

Merle is a crude individual who looks out for nĂºmero uno para siempre, (roughly translated to “number one forever”). If someone was on fire, Merle’s the kind of guy who would put it out only if he had to piss. An opportunist through and through and Daryl knows it.

Conversely, Daryl is a good-hearted man. Daryl is the guy who would watch a bar fight out of the corner of his eye, interrupting only if it wasn’t a fair fight. Under his tough exterior is a saint, (see what I did there?).

Daryl is defensive, he’s self-reliant, but he’s generally a loner. He appears aggressive as a defence mechanism because he doesn’t do well with emotions. Everything is logical and has a purpose in the cold world. He’s observant, contemplative, and deep down, someone longing for a place.

Daryl knows that his brother is good for nothing; in Chupacabra, Daryl confronts a fictional Merle that represents his psyche. He fights his survival instincts that tell him Rick is no good; the group is a ragtag bunch of city folk that look down on him; he’s nothing but an errand boy, worth less than the dirt they walk on. He fights these thoughts just as much as he fights his guilt for “abandoning” Merle.

That’s what the episode was about. Hell, that is what the search for Sophia is about. To Daryl, finding Sophia will absolve him of his self-inflicted guilt. Guilt that he carries, not because he failed to find his brother, but because he gave up willingly. He gave up because he knows Merle is a liability. He left Atlanta with Rick, Glenn, and T-Dog in Vatos because he knew in his heart that Merle wasn’t worth the trouble.

But here’s the rub: all of the progress that Daryl’s made these sixteen episodes is about to be put to the test next season with the return of Merle Dixon. If we assume that Merle is indeed alive, there’s no telling what kind of havoc he will wreck on the group, but more importantly, how he will affect the crossbow wielding survivalist.

As much as he believes his brother to be a bastard, Daryl is a man of honour, conviction, and most of all loyalty. He is a man head and shoulders over Merle, Shane, and in some instances, even Rick. This endearing and admirable quality could spell demise for Daryl; on the one hand, he has his loyalty to Rick and the group, a loyalty that was restored by Dale; on the other hand, Merle is still his kin, and Daryl will be the better man to a fault for that blood bond.

So will Daryl embrace his brother with open arms, or will he finally beat the cold bastard at his own game, in order to protect what’s his? My greatest fear for The Walking Dead is losing Daryl. Especially to his demons, and to Merle.

Monday 2 April 2012

When One Door Opens, Another Closes

This is a twist on the old adage meant to give hope and inspiration to people whose lives have taken a turn for the worse; to give the illusion that opportunity is always just around a corner. In The Walking Dead however, it seems that every time a new face turns up, one of the core group is irrevocably lost.

Before I explain the examples of this thought, let me first clarify my restrictions for choosing them. I do not include the Morales family because to our knowledge they have not been killed, but rather chose to leave the group and head out on their own. Those I do include are people who have become a part of the group, with the exception of Otis, who would have been a part of the group (as a member of Hershel’s group he would have merged with the original Atlanta group) had he lived.

The first example of this idea comes when Rick meets up with the survivors in Atlanta. Unfortunately, he is the new face in this instance. With his arrival, we see a horde of zombies attack the camp the survivors had staked out, which causes the deaths of Amy, Ed and ultimately Jim. Next we have Jacqui’s death. This occurs after being allowed into the CDC and discovering that a cure has not and likely will not be discovered within the United States. She chooses to stay in the building when it explodes as part of the emergency safety measures. When the group moves to Hershel’s farm after Carl is shot, we have Otis killed by Shane. In this instance, I’d say he was both the new face and the death that followed, which is an unusual circumstance in the pattern. After meeting and getting to know Hershel’s household, we discover that Sophia is indeed dead, and was one of the Walkers kept in their barn. Finally, Randall is brought to the farm in an effort to save him, Rick decides to let him live, and then Dale is killed by a Walker.

After seeing this pattern, I couldn’t help but wonder why it happens that way? I brought up this topic with fellow writer Amy Gugerty and she pointed out that there is a logistical reason for this: too many characters to follow means not enough attention devoted to them. People don’t remember who they are or what they’ve done. I am guilty of this myself. I had forgotten who the Morales family was, who Jacqui was, and that Jim was a part of the show. This makes sense, but I think there’s more to it than just logistics.

I think that the line of who has died mirrors not only the deteriorating humanity of the group (Thanks Amy for that bit), but also their deteriorating hopes and morale. With each death, something vital is sucked away from the company. Obviously a life is gone, but each death indicates a loss of chance, of future opportunities that would have existed had that person survived. With Amy, it was a chance of familial bond for Andrea, which at the time she felt was the only reason she had to keep going forward. It’s difficult to see this kind of opportunity present with Ed and Jim, as their ties were tenuous to the group. Jacqui’s death corresponds with the death of the hope for a cure, and has members of the group wondering if suicide is the better option than survival. When Otis is killed, we see the death of decency in Shane – he has become a creature that will do whatever it takes for its own survival. Sophia’s death indicates the end of childhood; not even children are sacred or safe in a world where the dead rise again. And finally, Dale’s death expresses the finality of the group’s concern for safety superceding the untried killing of an individual. His is a symbol for the death of justice as we’ve known it, and the death of civilization and the qualities of goodness that make people greater than the sum of their individuality. Even with Rick’s turnaround, the fact that Dale is killed gives a sense of too little, too late, and there’s no going back now. An irrevocable act, a door closed.

My thanks to my friend Joe for giving me the idea for this article, without his comments I wouldn’t have had this brainstorm!