The Walking Dead: Remembering Shane Walsh, a wannabe ruler

Shane Walsh (Jon Bernthal), Rick Grimes (Andrew Lincoln) and Lori Grimes (Sarah Wayne Callies) - The Walking Dead _ Season 2 _ Gallery - Photo Credit: Matthew Welch/AMC
Shane Walsh (Jon Bernthal), Rick Grimes (Andrew Lincoln) and Lori Grimes (Sarah Wayne Callies) - The Walking Dead _ Season 2 _ Gallery - Photo Credit: Matthew Welch/AMC /

The Walking Dead often follows a longstanding premise in politics: When someone with power leaves or dies, their leadership position will soon be filled by someone else. In the first two seasons of The Walking Dead, it seems obvious that if Rick leaves, Shane Walsh will step in to take over the leadership of the group. It’s by no means a radical or unfounded premise, but why is it the norm? Is it at least partly a self-fulfilling prophecy, as positions of power have been so normalized down the ages that we often assume they are inherently legitimate?

There is another dynamic at work: Fear. This series also reminds us that not all fears are irrational or absolutely cynically exploited. At times, people do need some leadership, at least by example, and things tend to get uglier when that leadership gets too full of itself. Obviously, one fear in The Walking Dead is when someone falls victim to a walker bite and is eventually killed. However, as has become a cliché in the zombie biz, humans are just as deadly as a walker horde, and people like Shane think they know how to best deal with any scenario coming their way.

Development of Shane as The Walking Dead antagonist

Though The Walking Dead TV series is based on the comic book, one assumes writing, producing, and acting for the series is undeniably its own complicated venture. As if through fate or magic, Andrew Lincoln was cast as the lead role, Rick Grimes and Jon Bernthal was cast as Shane Walsh, and their skills crucially helped define those characters in the public imagination. In an odd way, this is not too different from what happens with the characters in the show itself. Random circumstances, skill, and luck all play roles in determining what happens to the characters and how they are uniquely portrayed, and finality makes it seem like everything was meant to be.

In the series, Shane Walsh definitely sees himself as a final arbiter of what happens. If the character could speak to us directly, he’d admit that he had relatively humble origins. However, after he perceives Rick making a bunch of bad decisions, he finds himself “needing” to take control. In the process, it all ties into his belief that he, not Rick, is the rightful protector of Lori and Carl Grimes. He decides it, and certain situations have a finality that he mentally restructures as fate, and he carves out his own path in history; his perceived obligations become almost divine in nature, as he is like the God of his own reality. Shane legitimizes himself in a way that only he can.

I think he’s a great character and Jon Bernthal was, and is, perfect for him. I also think Shane set the tone for complicated villains down the line. However, he is really just barely a villain, as someone who did what he considered best for himself while convincing himself it was for others. Some (including Bernthal) have suggested he’s the show’s most tragic character, and I’d be hard-pressed to disagree. His character arc is as tragic as it is brutal.

Den of Geek suggests that Every Walking Dead Villain Eventually Becomes The Governor, but I think Shane huts people a bit differently. Sure, he may have some villainous aspects, but his motivations are not entirely those of a classic villain. He does the right things but sometimes (and only sometimes) for the right reasons. Really, one of his main flaws is how quick he is to rationalize and justify his rash decisions and let his macho-ness substitute for reason. Maybe similar things could be said about The Governor, but at least Shane was there first!

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What are your thoughts on Shane Walsh and his place in The Walking Dead universe? Let us know in the comments!