EPISODE 3 SPOILERS
Episode two of The Walking Dead’s second season ended with Stupid Shane and Otis The Fat Cannibal trapped in the high school from which they were scavenging medical supplies to save Carl’s life. Episode three dealt with their escape from the zombie horde surrounding the high school. In the process of escaping, Shane injured his leg and was hampered by a sprained ankle while Otis was hampered by being a fat cannibal. We cut from Shane and Otis fleeing the horde to Shane arriving, alone, back at the Farm of Doom with the supplies to save Carl’s life just in the nick of time. “Otis?” Herchel asks. Shane just shakes his head. The episode began with an in media res scene of Shane shaving his head, and in the final scene we go back to him shaving his head and thinking back on his escape with Otis. And we see that Shane, in order to free himself of the zombie horde, shot Otis in the leg and then fought with Otis when he violently objected to being shot. Shane is shaving his head to cover up the fact that Otis tore a chunk of his hair out as they fought.
Shane’s decision to shoot Otis in the leg and leave him behind to be eaten by zombies set off a debate about the morality of Shane’s choice. At the time, I said that Shane’s action was inherently selfish and I didn’t/don’t agree with it. In season 1 the RV survivors turn to Officer Rick as a leader the second he shows up, effectively pushing Shane to the side. They did that because they recognized that Rick was always going to put the good of the group ahead of his own interests while Shane would always be a “me-first” guy. Now, clearly, Otis and Shane were not both making it back to the pick up as the zombies were chasing them, which leads to a natural discussion about survival of the fittest. To me, survival of the fittest in this instance is both Shane and Otis running hell for leather to the truck and whichever one gets there first tries to save the second person.
We would all expect Shane to make it as he is fit and Otis isn’t, but Shane had to go that extra mile and shoot Otis in the leg, ensuring his own survival at Otis’s expense. And WORSE, Shane fails to double-tap Otis and shoot him in the head, leaving him suffering and dying as the zombies eat him alive. There is no excuse for not putting Otis out of his misery—the zombies don’t care if he’s dead or lying on the ground screaming, they’re going to stop and eat him either way so he’s an effective distraction regardless. This is the worst possible result in this situation. It’s needlessly cruel. The mitigating circumstance for Shane is that he ultimately got the medical supplies back to the farm in time to save Carl, but at what cost? He’s taken another step down a dangerously slippery slope.
Shane is the true villain of The Walking Dead and instances like this—and when he aimed his rifle at Rick in season 1—will continue to demonstrate his villainous qualities. This is not the last or worst thing we will see Shane do (is this worse than his assault on Lori at the CDC?). But if you’re judging his actions on the post-apocalyptic morality scale, ask yourself two questions: 1) Would Rick do that and 2) How will the group take it? The answer to the first is no, of course not. Rick is a “leave no man behind” guy—we know this from when he went back to Atlanta to retrieve handcuffed-to-a-pipe Merle, even though Merle was a racist asshole and everyone hated him (except his brother Daryl). Realistically, if Rick were Shane’s position, Otis still dies. But in that scenario it’s because Rick couldn’t get back to him in time, not because he shot him in the fucking leg and left him to die. Even if he had to shoot Otis, Rick would shoot him in the head to save him from becoming a zombie. That isn’t even up for discussion—we all know Rick would not let Otis become a zombie.
The answer to the second question lies in Shane’s actions once he returns to the farm. He shaves his head so no one will notice the patch of hair Otis tore out while they were scuffling after Shane shot him. Of course Shane has to hide the evidence that Otis’s death was not a tragic outcome but the result of his deliberate sabotage—the group would string him up for it, and he knows it. His actions must be hidden because they are wrong. The only person who might see it Shane’s way is Daryl and that’s because Daryl is, like Shane, a natural survivor. Daryl and Shane both operate with modified morals that allow them to get the job done in order to make it to the next day. Rick is still working on adjusting his moral compass but Shane and Daryl have already made that internal correction. Daryl, because he’s from a hard-scrabble background where life was already pretty “kill or be killed”, and Shane because he’s a borderline sociopath who never had much of a moral compass to begin with.
Shane’s actions are contrasted with Lori’s argument with Rick whether or not it’s okay to let Carl die from his injuries. She thinks this “isn’t a world for children” anymore and wonders if it wouldn’t be the more humane thing to let Carl go. Of course Rick is like, “Bitch, you be crazy”, and he talks about needing to have hope that they can still find some semblance of a decent life even amidst the zombie-infested hellscape of their world. It’s not that I don’t see Lori’s point—their world sucks, after all, and we’ve seen plenty of suicides throughout—it’s just that I think Lori is so quick to give up here. She didn’t want to stay and die at the CDC, which was just like a week ago, yet now she wants to euthanize Carl. Why the change? It seems like a piece of bad writing but then I thought of episode 2’s cold open flashback in which she was complaining to a friend that Rick never fought with her. And in season 1 how Rick tells Shane Lori is always mad at him. And how in this episode, she asks Stupid, possibly Crazy, Shane to stay with the group. I’m beginning to think Lori has some undiagnosed mental issues, which would be a really interesting place to take her character. She’s very up and down.
The Walking Dead is at its best when its morals are murky and complicated. Rick is our hero and Shane is our villain and yet they’re best friends. They’re both Sheriff’s deputies, though one senses that Shane only joined up because his best friend was and also, deputy is a job that lets him carry and use guns, and it’s not like Shane is without any redeeming qualities. He did get the needed equipment back to the farm in time to save Carl. Was Otis’s enforced-sacrifice worth it? Probably. But was it necessary? A lot of people immediately took to Twitter to defend Shane’s actions. It’s not that I don’t see that logic, but I will go back to my central argument—no, Otis was never going to make it (at this point, didn’t we all interpret his obesity as a death sentence?), but Rick never would have done that, Shane knows his actions were not right, and the inhumanity of leaving Otis to become a zombie is unspeakable. Still, it’s a juicy debate. Could you pull the trigger? Could you knowingly leave someone behind to die?