Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Whither, Rick Grimes, as You Journey Among The Walking Dead?

Connye Griffin writes My Writing and Editing Coach

Joseph Conrad sent Marlow into a nineteenth-century Heart of Darkness to re-open the Company’s pipeline to ivory profits. Agent Kurtz, once a rising star in the company, had stopped shipping ivory downriver where it could be loaded onto ocean vessels for transport to Europe. Marlow was directed to salvage the employee or the shipments.

Marlow expected to find treachery and savagery among Africa’s native population. Instead he found it among company employees who fooled themselves into believing that Africans are as inexhaustible a resource as ivory, a mere commodity fit for work without sustenance, chained round the neck in a line requiring surrender to the yoke and each other’s strengths. They are the walking dead, broken and weakened until their will to survive departs. When released from their chains, they crawl into a shadowy place and refuse a gift of a biscuit, the ridiculous, useless token food that Marlow offers to one dying man.

After his sojourn in Africa, Marlow refuses to serve the Company. He’s witnessed the ignobility in a noble experiment to conquer the unknown, to forge onward in a foreign frontier.

Sheriff Rick Grimes, the hero of The Walking Dead, is at a similar turning point. He must choose to fraternize with ignobility or risk death in noble gestures. Before Alexandria, Rick has suffered and inflicted suffering. He has hoarded and given. He has somehow learned to live with the stench of his own filth in a world afflicted with a human weakness that transforms men, women, and children into flesh-eating carcasses. They are rotting aboveground, unable to choose what to hunt, unable to choose death without aid. Someone has to strike like lightning through their brains in order to end them.

An apocalyptic night sky
Photo Courtesy of Al Griffin Photography

Rick has been Marlow. He has turned from inflicting suffering, taking life only when his own or the lives of those he shepherds are in danger. He has borne the burden of his wife’s adultery, his best friend’s treachery, his wife’s death. He watched a dystopian world shape his son into a cold killer.  Still he sought shelter with land enough to tend a garden. He fought for his humanity, but now seems on the brink of throwing it aside in favor of quick, certain justice.

Calculating Deanna, so unworthy of trust, so seemingly blind to her sons’ cowardice and cruelty, appears to be on the side of angels when she says she may exile Rick but would not order his death. She hasn't lost as has Rick and his clan, but when she does, she yields to her own heart of darkness

Glen Rhee and Michonne, each as capable of ruthlessness as Rick, hope to reclaim the humanity within. They long to be clean, to sleep without fear, to work the metaphorical Alexandria garden, to be productive and build a tomorrow. They admire and love Rick, but if Rick becomes as savage as those at Terminus or the Wolves, if he forsakes all hope for good anywhere in the heart of man or the world they must endure, will Glenn and Michonne let Rick go in order to preserve their own fragile humanity? They are now more like Marlow than Rick has ever been. They are called to the company of Grimes and called to run from it as well.

Rick and Sasha and Carol cannot trust that they have left dystopia outside the walls. They believe that treachery and savagery exist within and without, both on this earth and in men. They are in danger of becoming Kurtz, of yielding to their own hearts of darkness in some noble pursuit of their own imagining. Deanna proves their point without understanding what she's done.

And all of these links to the classic canon, to philosophical questions, and to dynamic character is why people are loyal fans of The Walking Dead. It’s as complex as Marlow and Kurtz’s dilemma; it’s as graphic in its depictions of human depravity as Conrad or Apocalypse Now.

The Walking Dead is a twenty-first century journey into man’s dark heart. We only hope that Rick’s has not lost all light.

Reading Challenge:

Read The Walking Dead.

Writing Challenge:

Marlow describes the Romans bringing civilization to a savage frontier:

Imagine him here—the very end of the world, a sea the color of lead, a sky the color of smoke, . . . . Sandbanks, marshes, forests, savages,—precious little to eat fit for a civilized man, nothing but Thames water to drink. . . . Here and there a military camp lost in a wilderness, like a needle in a bundle of hay—cold, fog, tempests, disease, exile, and death,—death skulking in the air, in the water, in the bush. They must have been dying like flies here. Oh yes—he [the conqueror, the explorer, the survivors in dystopia] did it. Did it very well, too, no doubt, and without thinking much about it either, . . . . They were men enough to face the darkness. . . . feel the savagery, the utter savagery, . . . ,—all that mysterious life of the wilderness that stirs in the forest, in the jungles, in the hearts of wild men. There's no initiation either into such mysteries. He has to live in the midst of the incomprehensible, which is also detestable. And it has a fascination, too, that goes to work upon him. The fascination of the abomination—you know. Imagine the growing regrets, the longing to escape, the powerless disgust, the surrender, the hate. (Conrad, Joseph. The Heart of Darkness. N.p.: n.p., n.d. The Gutenberg Project. 9 Jan. 2006. Web. 26 Mar. 2015.)

Apply Marlow’s explanation of human progress toward civilization to The Walking Dead as a poem, analytical essay, or eulogy.