Submitted by Corodon Fuller
The fifth season of The Walking Dead was full of blood, politics, and different shades of insanity. To really understand what’s going on, though, and what the survivors will have to deal with in Season 6, you have to look at Shane back in Season 2. To borrow from a recent episode title, what happened then is what’s going on now.
The whole of The Walking Dead Season 2.5 leads up to the final confrontation between Rick and Shane. The showdown in “Better Angels” is for all the marbles: not just leadership of the group, but who gets to be a husband to Rick’s wife and a father to Rick’s children. It’s a confrontation that Rick ultimately walks away from while Shane—well, this is The Walking Dead, so Shane walks away too, but you get the idea. Even so, Shane casts a long shadow on the rest of the series.
We’ve got to go back and look at what Shane’s deal was, at the end of Season 2, that made his death inevitable. It’s the only way to understand really what Rick’s deal is now, in Alexandria.
At the heart of the conflict between Rick and Shane is the question: can you stay alive in this new world and be a good person? Shane flat-out says no: “You can’t just be the good guy and expect to live.” He goes on to say that Rick can’t do what’s necessary to protect his family—fighting words.
The second half of Season 2 throws Rick into a gunfight with another group, and when it’s kill-or-be-killed, he doesn’t hesitate. When the survivors escape the battle with a hostage, though, Rick is far from ruthless. Shane wants the prisoner dead; Rick concedes that they may have to kill him in the end, but “it can’t be that easy killing someone… killing anyone.”
That’s the line which Shane had crossed but Rick had not: killing is necessary, but for Shane it’s become easy, even instinctual. He’s willing to commit violence both cold-blooded (e.g., leaving a companion for zombie-bait) and hot-blooded (e.g., beating Carol’s husband into hamburger). His attempts to kill Rick span both categories. Dale, the group’s preachy moral compass, has Shane’s number by midseason. “This is where you belong, Shane. This world.”
If you asked Shane, he would tell you that everything he did was about protecting Laurie and Carl, his adopted family. He would tell you that he was only looking at things “in the cold light of day,” doing what was necessary to survive. Then he would shoot you his crazy eyes, rub his head, and—if the dice in his skull come up boxcars—try to kill you.
Like with Shane, the danger for Rick in Season 5 is that he has adapted too well to a brutal, insane world. The more surviving hardens Rick, the more he looks like his old nemesis. In Alexandria, Rick’s attempts to separate Jessie from her abusive husband look less like neighborly concern than like an alpha wolf trying to secure a new mate. When he insists, “I can keep you and your boys safe,” he means by killing her husband—an echo of Shane’s deranged protectiveness towards Laurie and Carl.
Take the women. Kill the rivals. Rick has reverted to a state of nature, red in tooth and claw.
What does it mean? Was Shane right after all? Or is it Rick who was right in Season 2, when he warned Hershel about the world outside his farm? “It changes you,” he said. “Either into one of them or something a lot less than the person you were.”