Guts brings us three very distinct examples of leadership:
Merle as played brilliantly by the incomparable Michael Rooker, Merle Dixon is not a man who allocates resources particularly well. If we are to assume that our story takes place in a world that is no longer producing bullets or cocaine, Merle doesn’t think rationing is prudent in either case.
To wit: after banging a few rails off the concrete barrier surrounding an Atlanta high rise he takes to a corner perch and starts capping “geeks” with a sniper rifle for no apparent reason other than to satisfy a self-destructive urge and because killing zombies with a sniper rifle when you’re super high is pretty cool. Cocaine, apparently even in a decaying society, is one hell of a drug.
He’s confronted for his stupidity by his fellow scavengers (who just got done lecturing a new guy about the value of keeping quiet) which for Merle evokes the tried-and-true bully tactics of name calling and fist throwing. A few n-bombs and front kicks later, his critics are silenced and Dixon looks to take full parliamentary advantage of his momentum.
He calls for an re-vote on leadership and wins. Of course, Rick eventually steps in but I am guessing Frank Darabont deliberately shows us the initial results of this coup to illustrate just how fragile the concept of leadership is. If the good guys don’t actively take control then the Merles of the world will naturally fill the void.
Shane The deviation from the comic series I’ve been most pleased with so far has been the development of the Shane and Laurie characters. We’ve seen Shane (when not hammering his best friend’s presumed widow doggystyle in the forrest) filling an active role as protector for the RV contingent. He’s likable yet stern and sensible. What you want in an authority figure.
His most telling decision point in Guts comes when the Atlanta scavenge crew finally get a radio signal to their home base to convey how dire their situation is. Shane is adamant about keeping everyone within the distance of his voice alive. Venture outside of it (even for noble purposes) and he can’t help you any more. A sign of strong character, he doesn’t shy away from telling the bad news to Amy whose sister Andrea is amongst those in peril:
Andrea knew the risks of going to Atlanta. If the choice is either risk more lives to save her or move on knowing she did her best for the camp, then she will be remembered as a hero.
Rick We know that Rick is going to assume control of any group he comes across because, well, he’s the main character. That’s what main characters do. Specifically ones that ride into town on a tall horse and calm down the panicky natives with a steel resolve.
That being said in Guts we see three crystal clear examples of why everyone who just met him is going to be backing Grimes at the earliest conversation on who should lead the pack.
1) He recognizes real danger and stops Merle.
2) He defers to others when they want to investigate a possible escape route and actively plays the part assigned to him, showing the he leads because he’s the best qualified not because it feeds his ego.
3) He leads by example with his strategy to slather zombie chuck all over his person.
By the time this group makes it back to camp everyone who survived Atlanta will look to Rick whenever a fork in the road is reached. Their faith will be undeniable amongst the others specifically since they believe the scavengers be most likely devoured, he will (ironically) be directly responsible for bringing them back from the dead. In the parlance of our bygone election season, he is change you can believe in.
We are headed for an ideological showdown between Shane and Rick. Shane believes he needs to protect those he is sure he can keep safe above anything else. Rick’s evolving philosophy contains more reverence for any remaining shred of humanity. Even those that have since turned, as his moving monologue about the former life of the poor zombie who is summarily hacked into Eau de Romero indicates.
If we don’t try and save every life we can, then morally you are one step closer to the lifeless killing machines roaming the streets. Might this be a foolish idealism championed by a man who’s only been awake for a day and a half? Possibly. But a test of leadership is sure to come soon between our two leaders. Quite possibly about Merle, who was left behind chained to the roof in the rush.
Another point of ideological contention: why Shane’s fingers smell.
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