I don’t want to talk too much about the Walking Dead comic book in these recaps. For one thing, there’s the potential for spoilers. (Which, by the way, please mark any comic-related comments with an all-caps SPOILER ALERT down in the comment boards.) But more importantly, nobody likes a pedantic know-it-all, and talking about the original Dead will inevitably lead us down the road to pedantry: “That actor is all wrong for the character, the zombies don’t look decomposed enough, THE COMIC WAS BETTER!!!, etc.
Still, in light of the shocking event that rounded out last night’s episode, I think it’s important to highlight one major difference emerging between the two versions of Dead. And this is only a Spoiler if you haven’t read the very first volume of Dead: Shane is still alive. Narratively speaking, Shane served two very basic purposes. In the first story arc, he was a vision of the Shape of Things to Come: An early indication that the zombies were less dangerous than the humans left behind. After his death, he was a taunting specter of the past: Whenever Rick had to make a difficult decision to keep people alive, the ghost of Shane was there, reminding him of the moral depths to which a man can sink when he no longer has to follow any moral force besides himself
Compare that to last night’s episode, which started with Shane running through the empty halls of an abandoned high school. Shane and Otis fled to the gym, where they unloaded a couple dozen rounds of ammunition on some undead FEMA employees. They put together a makeshift escape plan: Shane would cover Otis’ escape through the back entrance, and then break through one of the gym’s windows. Shane merrily hopped off the bleachers, and shot one zombie backwards into another one, and dangled precipitously from the window, and when a deadite shock-grabbed him, he had to shoot the thing in the head and then tumble two stories to the ground. Shane, in short, is a man of action.
Compare that to Rick, who spent the episode doing the same thing he did last week: Sitting by Carl’s bedside and talking. His wife Lori threw an idea at him: “Maybe this isn’t a world for children anymore.” She mapped out Carl’s two possible future: Death-by-zombie, or a life lived in fear. If Carl reaches adulthood, he’ll be a dude with a fourth-grade education with a trail of corpses behind him. (He’ll basically be Daryl Dixon.) Lori didn’t want her son to live with a knife at his throat every day. “Wouldn’t it be better if we just gave up?” Rick didn’t have an easy answer for her.
Understand something: This was an extremely existential episode of television. Besides the Lori/Rick debate, you also had Glenn and Maggie meet-cuting with a conversation about the probably non-existence of God, and Andrea telling Daryl that she wasn’t sure why she was still living. You could say that there are two fundamental sides to The Walking Dead: On one hand, it’s a show about staying alive in a world of zombies — a show about difficult moral decisions and also about mashing zombie-skulls. On the other hand, it’s a show that dares to ask whether it’s even worth it to try staying alive in a world of zombies.
In the comic books, Rick becomes the focal character for both of those distinctive story strands. If last night’s episode is any indication, though, Comic-Rick has now essentially been split into two characters: TV-Rick is now the passively emotional intellectual who has to justify living in a dead world, while TV-Shane is the guy who actually has to make the tough decisions to keep his people alive.
This is an interesting development. It also means TV-Rick is in danger of becoming extremely, extremely boring.
NEXT: No, maaaaan, that Deer symbolizes life, maaaaan.