The Real Conflict

Welcome to Wild Card Wednesday where anything can–and usually does–happen. Last week, we looked at how little details result in big characters. Today, let’s look at how conflict between characters makes the story happen.

We’re going to be talking about AMC’s original series The Walking Dead. There will be spoilers.

This post by Tiffany A. White inspired my interest in AMC’s The Walking Dead. Before Tiffany, I had zero interest in the zombie craze. How could it be interesting to watch the walking dead cannibalize the living?

As I caught up on The Walking Dead, I realized the zombies didn’t matter all that much. Though they represent a threat, they are incapable of creating sustainable drama all by themselves.

The conflict created by everyday people reacting to the end of the world and the advent of zombies is a bit more sustainable. However, it’s not nearly as sustainable as interpersonal conflict. Mixing different personalities together can result in some deep conflict.

The Walking Dead has that kind of conflict in spades. Let’s look at the strongest of its interpersonal conflicts:

Rick Grimes vs. Shane Walsh

The conflict between these two takes some explaining. There are lots of spoilers in my explanation. This is the last warning you’ll get.

Before the apocalypse, Rick Grimes was a sheriff’s deputy in King County, Georgia. He suffered a gunshot in the line of duty and went into a coma.

While Rick languished in the coma, the apocalypse happened and zombies began walking the earth. Imagine waking up that.

Rick has a hard time adjusting to the walking dead (or zombies). As a law officer he swore to protect people. These things–the dead–were once people. It goes against Rick’s moral code to kill them.

In an early episode, he tells a zombie, “I’m sorry this happened to you” before he kills it. Faced with shooting a fellow sheriff’s deputy who has been zombied, Rick remarks that the guy wasn’t one of his favorite people.

Rick eventually joins a survivor’s camp and steps into a leadership position. He convinces the group to risk resources and safety to mount an improbable rescue mission–which fails.

A little girl disappears from camp, and Rick fights to keep searching for her. It turns out she was dead all along.

Don’t get me wrong. There’s nothing wrong with what Rick is doing. He has a deep respect for human life. This is a positive character trait. Even good character traits, however, can become bad character traits–especially in a world where surviving is so difficult.

So we’ve talked about Rick. Now, let’s talk about Shane.

Shane Walsh worked with Rick as a Sheriff’s deputy. He was Rick’s partner. The two have been best friends since high school.

When the madness of the apocalypse was at its height, Rick was in the hospital in a coma. Remember? Shane–who is also the heroic type –went the hospital to rescue his good buddy Rick.

Shane walked into hell on earth. As he watched, military personnel opened fire on civilians and walkers alike. Law and order had gone the way of the dinosaur.

Shane made it to Rick’s room but realized he would have to unhook Rick from the life support machines. He didn’t know how to do that without killing Rick. Imagine the horror of this moment.

As Shane thought things over, the electricity went out. Shane listened to Rick’s chest and–presumably–heard nothing. Shane left Rick for dead.

Shane does the heroic thing and helps Rick’s wife and son escape. They plan to go to Atlanta. On the way, they get stuck in a traffic jam on the freeway. From there, they witness the bombing of the city.

Shane and Lori set up camp on the outskirts of the city with a small group of survivors. Shane begins an affair with Lori. After all, they both think Rick is dead.

Rick ends up in the same survivor’s camp as Shane and Lori. Rick’s reunion with his wife and son is heartwarming, but the viewer knows it’s just a matter of time before he poop hits the fan.

Sure enough, Lori dumps Shane. She tells him she and her son are no longer any of his business. Ouch.

That’s not enough, though. Let’s add insult to injury. Shane has assumed a leadership role in this camp. It becomes obvious early on that Rick is going to take over leadership of the camp.

Am I the only one who figured Shane would resent this?

Rick and Shane disagree about the first rescue mission Rick suggests. Rick’s conscience won’t let him forget the man they left handcuffed to a building’s roof. Shane is worried about the safety of the group. Rick wins the argument, but Shane points a gun at Rick’s back as he walks away.

Shocking, huh? Wait. It gets darker. Shane’s character continues to evolve…or devolve.

Shane and another character go on a run for medical supplies–for Rick’s son who has been shot. As the walking dead close in, Shane shoots the other character and leaves him for the zombies to devour. When Shane gets back to camp, he lies about what happened.

In another mini-conflict, a little girl has gone missing. Rick heads up the search for her. Shane berates Rick for risking the group over a child who is likely dead.

Shane tells Rick all the old rules are gone. There is only one rule in this new world: survival–whatever it takes.

Rick and Shane are headed for a collision of wills. Though resentment probably motivates Shane to some extent, his moral core is opposed to Rick’s.

Rick has deep love for humankind. He will risk anything to help people, no matter who they are.

On the other hand, Shane is out for Shane. He will protect others…but only those he deems worthy. Remember: if push comes to shove, Shane will shoot you and leave you for zombies to eat.

The conflict between Rick and Shane is simmering. When it boils, it’s going be be ugly.

Shane and Rick’s conflict is brought to light by the zombie apocalypse, but it has nothing to do with zombies. It is a conflict of opposing personalities. Such conflict could arise from any stressful situation.

For the writer in me, this is good stuff. It is a great example of a protagonist and antagonist at odds.

The take away from The Walking Dead is interesting to ponder. What is morality in a post-apocalyptic world? Do the rules change? A version this very question is really at the heart of our existence. What will we do to survive?

Watching The Walking Dead, we get to see what one group of personalities would do in this situation.

[Note: I am sick this week. If nothing in this post makes sense, please forgive me and send virtual chicken soup.]

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