Unpopular Opinion :: Shane Walsh: Most Compelling Character™ :: A Study
I recently rewatched seasons 1 and 2 of The Walking Dead. Why? They’re my favorite seasons of the show. For one common thread throughout.
The character you either love or you hate. And personally, I just can’t bring myself to hate him for the simple fact that he was the most fascinating character to watch. Was he a great person? Initially, yes. Was he a great person by the time he died? No. That’s clear. I’m not saying he was a good person in the end. He was twisted and demented. But as someone who is drawn to the darkness, to the tragic and broken…Shane Walsh was my favorite character. Kudos to the actor who played him, Jon Bernthal. Boy, what a POWERHOUSE of an actor. His presence was so overwhelming that he forced viewers to see him and pay attention to him.
Sometimes I think he gets hate, and for those people who hate him…I don’t feel like they understood Shane as a character. He just wasn’t Rick so ultimately people disliked him.
Do I get it? Honestly? Kind of. I can see where some people were steered another way. He got a little (not a little) rapey with Lori. He became volatile. Unpredictable. Unstable. BUT THAT WAS WHAT WAS SO DAMN AMAZING TO WATCH.
Why is his story so great? So truly great? Why was his arc one of the most cohesive stories of a beginning, middle and end to a character?
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He’s inherently good. He is. He was Rick’s best friend. For a long while, Shane was Rick’s anchor. Shane was familiar, he was someone Rick could reach for and Shane was there for him.
Shane was a good friend. He didn’t start off as the person he ended up becoming. He was caring, he was protective.
I mean yal, they were bros™.
Shane wanted to keep everyone safe. He went back for Rick when the shit started, he tried to get Rick out of there. But there were guns firing, mass panic. Something was happening, something no one had ever seen before. The dead were rising and eating people and Shane went to try to get his friend out of the hospital. Rick was comatose, unable to protect himself or anyone else and Shane made a decision.
For Rick, he got Carl and Lori to safety. Do I fault him for lying and saying that Rick was dead? Yes and no. First of all, of course Shane thought Rick was going to die. Shit, if Rick wasn’t the main character, ANYONE WATCHING WOULD HAVE THOUGHT HE WAS GOING TO DIE.
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So Shane is the leader of this group. Lori and he are in a good place. Carl is kind of his son. It’s unclear because it’s not mentioned who Shane lost in the outbreak. Lori and Shane are lonely, and they cling to each other. Stranger things have happened. Really. Both Lori and Shane willingly and consensually were together. It’s not like Shane just made it that way.
Rick comes back. You can see how happy he is that Rick is back. He feels guilt (this is where his guilt starts, the thing that eventually breaks him) for not rescuing him. Rick returns, takes Lori and Carl away (arguably his emotional balance) from him and then undermines him until he loses footing in the group THAT HE WAS THE LEADER OF. Am I going to be upset that Rick took his wife and son back? No. Absoluetly not. That was Rick’s family. What I didn’t like was Lori continuing to mess with Shane’s head. Idk if it was a character inconsistancy, but when Lori came to Shane all of a sudden in one of the final episodes of season 2 to admit to Shane that yes. Yes, they had something. Yes, she cared for him. She gave him that hope, that feeling of being accepted to cling onto, to bring him back. Only to then reject him again? Like, really bitch? That final rejection is what I believe sent Shane down his warpath.
Shane responds to rejection and isolation in a violent way. He’s someone who needs other people to survive; he’s a very emotional character. Sometimes people mistake emotional people as “hotheads”. But Shane did respond emotionally at all times and that manifested usually in aggression. He talks to Andrea about “the switch”. About shutting yourself down to make a hard decision when it had to be made. And the tragic thing about Shane is that as hard as he tried to do that, he couldn’t find the balance. He couldn’t shut himself down all the way. He tried to supress and supress until his emotions were so high above what he could handle. And those emotions overwhelmed him, until ultimately he became unstable.
This was shining it’s brightest in one of my favorite scenes in the second season during episode 12. Shane wrestling with himself as he crouches in front of Randall. Something is wrong with him. He’s cracked, something else is seeping through. Insanity.
In this moment I understood how deep he had fallen. How broken he was, how this new world broke him. Shane was a GOOD man. He just ended up collapsing under the weight of the rest of the world burning. His need to protect other people convinced him that he had to become something else in order to keep everyone alive. The rejection from Rick, from Lori and Dale and eventually the others pushed him into isolation; a place he could not survive.
“I think what’s so beautiful about Shane is he kind of adopts this new world order. He’s realizing that there’s actually no laws in this world. And he’s kind of becoming this creature of the zombie apocalypse where he can shut down all emotions. But the tragedy of his character is he realizes that’s an impossible task. He’s probably the most emotional character on the show. So he’s tricking himself.” - Jon Bernthal
You guys I just have so many fucking feelings about him. And it’s probably because I’m drawn to characters like him. I just loved him so much. Like I said, I’m not saying he was a good person by the end of it all. But he was by far easily my favorite to watch.
The thing was, Shane Walsh was one of the good ones. He was. He just broke under the weight he placed on himself to keep people safe. Some people hated him; I just felt for him on a visceral level.
Damn my love of the broken ones.