The characters wrestle with what it means to do the right thing in a changed world
For a show that's ostensibly about zombies, The Walking Dead spends a lot of time on what it means to be human. Living a moral life is enough of a challenge without zombies around, and The Walking Dead has already some very bad things happen to some very good people. This week's episode, "Chupacabra," raises the basic question that separates series protagonist Rick from antihero Shane: Is it possible to live in this world without sacrificing what you believe is right?
Before the zombie apocalypse, Rick and Shane occupied the same moral sphere: They awoke each morning, put on identical police uniforms, and protected and served a small Georgia county. As we learned earlier this season, Rick and Shane have (at the very least) been friends since high school, and the honesty and candor of their first scene—a conversation over hamburgers, shortly before the world went to hell—demonstrates a kinship that we've rarely seen since. These are two men who started in the same place and shared the same values. But when the dead began to walk, Shane—unlike Rick—abandoned the uniform that symbolized law and order, and shortly thereafter abandoned that ideology that went along with it.
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At what point did Shane begin to change? The most obvious catalyst is Lori, who Shane confronts yet again about how much he loves both her and Carl (bringing the series' total times to 8,000 or so). Intriguingly, "Chupacabra" features a flashback that depicts what was probably the beginning of Shane and Lori's affair: his instinctive, protective decision to hold her as they watched the firebombing of Atlanta from afar. This marks the series' third flashback to date, and—tellingly—each of them has focused on Shane, not Rick. Rick may be our protagonist, but Shane is the character who has most fundamentally changed since the zombie apocalypse began, and that makes him the one to watch.