Staying Sane in a World Gone Mad
by Mariann E. Danko
I’m quite sure I’m not the only one that has experienced the feeling that some days just one more stressful situation could be the tipping point that puts us over the edge. It is most certainly a test of our metal and those with a sensitive constitution may crack at the first sign of trouble. To be honest it may not even take that much for some, especially those suffering with mental health issues.
So, if the normal day-to-day is all it takes to crack the mentally unstable, what happens in an apocalypse? Would their illness actually help them because now the world is as mad as they are? Or, would they be the first to fall?
What about those who are strong, and grounded in reality? Would they be the survivors and leaders? Or, could this be the very thing that pushes them to join the ranks of the unstable?
Please understand I don’t stay awake thinking about these things, but when it seems some days the world we live in is on the brink of going over the edge it’s hard to not wonder.
Plus, as a fan of “The Walking Dead” the subject of “how would you react should a zombie apocalypse strike?” has come up in conversation, and although I would hope that I would stand strong, using my wits and common sense, especially to protect my son, I could just as easily crumble under the weight of the challenge.
You really don’t know until you are faced with a challenge how you will react.
With that said, not having any re-life examples of a zombie apocalypse to call upon, thank goodness, one can turn to the characters in “The Walking Dead.” Comparing those of “sound mind,” with those on “the fringes of reality,” to see how they react when confronted with the fall of the World as we know it.
The obvious character to zero in on is Rick Grimes (Andrew Lincoln), not only is this his story, but he was not awake to see the World fall. In a coma at the start of the apocalypse, he awakens to find the dead roaming the streets and none of his loved ones anywhere to be found.
As a Sheriff, his observation skills are a huge asset. He sees things others wouldn’t and is convinced his wife Lori (Sarah Wayne Callies) and son Carl (Chandler Riggs), are alive, it’s just a matter of where.
His quest to find his family leads him deep into the rabbit hole that is the world of “The Walking Dead.”
Just waking up to find the dead roaming the earth would be enough to put most people over the edge, but Rick was driven. He needed to find his family and nothing would stop him. This drive made him even stronger and kept him grounded. In addition, he never gave up hope that he would find his family, and a safe place to live.
During his quest he crosses path with those who are helpful and those who would sooner see him dead. The real threat however shows up once he actually finds Lori and Carl.
Rick is determined to keep Lori and Carl safe, which he finds out, may not be that simple. In addition, he quickly finds himself becoming the leader of the group that Lori and Carl had joined, which becomes an added pressure.
This doesn’t sit well with Shane (Jon Bernthal), Rick’s former partner, who stepped in to protect Lori and Carl, after he left Rick for dead in the hospital when the World fell apart. Shane had somewhat taken on the role of leader and does not like sharing this, nor, Lori and Carl, who he believes are his, by default.
This is where the contrast between “grounded in reality” and “lost in your own world” becomes apparent. Shane will do whatever it takes to prove he’s the better leader and protector, even killing another man and hiding the truth. He slowly unravels as he realizes Lori and Carl will never be his and Rick is clearly the leader.
Rick, being the “sane” one, tries hard to keep things together even though he sees Shane is becoming a threat not just to him and his family, but also, to the safety of the group. It is at this point Rick has to put aside all personal feelings and when confronted, eliminate the threat.
The guilt of his actions lay heavy on Rick’s mind and become a barrier between him and Lori, but he knew he did what had to be done to protect everyone. Although some would say Rick may have crossed the line and joined the ranks of unstable, just the fact that his actions bothered him proves that he was still grounded in reality, understanding the difference between right and wrong, which are the thoughts of a grounded and sane man.
The threat from those living on the fringe of reality doesn’t end with Shane. A new foe, even crazier than Shane, shows up soon after the group settles into safety behind the security of an abandoned prison’s walls.
This new foe, appropriately name The Governor (David Morrissey), leads a group of survivors behind the walls of a town named Woodbury, and is anything but the gracious and suave man he appears to be. Behind that calculating behavior is an evil soul who keeps the heads of his victims in fish tanks for his personal viewing. In addition, he keeps his daughter Penny, turned walker, chained up in an alcove off his head viewing room and brings her out to sing to her and comb her hair.
Dealing with this whack job takes some major grounding, which is challenging for Rick because he’s also dealing the loss of his wife, who died during childbirth. It appears Rick may crumble and go over the edge for good, but, with the help of his fellow survivors, he is able to pull it together enough to defeat the Governor and his band of Thugs when they attempt to take over the prison for themselves.
This is only temporary though. After the defeat by Rick and company, the Governor looses it, killing the bulk of his followers and disappearing. When he resurfaces he has taken on a new identity, but is still the same crazy, evil sociopath. He’s adopted a family who is fooled by his exterior persona and takes over a band of survivors by methodically and secretly killing anyone who gets in his way.
The Governor is determined to take over the prison for good. By convincing the new band of followers the Rick’s group are the evil ones, they calculate their attack. This go round they successfully knock down the walls, but in the process get most of the their group killed, including the Governor.
With the walls down Rick and his group are forced to leave. Scattering in all directions as walkers invade from all around.
While on the run Rick encounters a group called the Claimers, and the only way to escape before he, Carl and Michonne (Danai Gurira) are taken captives is to kill one of their men and leave him to turn. His actions are strictly for survival and protection.
Down the road, Rick’s path crosses with the Claimers again, this time they get the upper hand. Exhausted from being on the run, no sleep, no food and his son and Michonne’s life being threatened, Rick snaps. Just when you think Rick is a goner, he rips the throat out of his assailant with his teeth. Blood dripping down his scruffy beard.
Has Rick crossed the line? Has this mad world finally pushed him into the ranks of the unstable?
At first blush one would think so, even Rick fears that at his core he is no different than the crazed men he has had to confront. But, as the rest of the season unfolds, we see in reality, at Rick’s core is his strength and determination to protect his family, both blood and non-blood, and he will stop at nothing to do so.
Although this does not seem much different than Shane, Rick has not taken any life unless threatened, whereas, Shane killed for self-gratification.
After the Claimers gang, Rick and company face a group of cannibals dubbed the Termites, and a gang of sadistic, controlling cops holed up in a hospital in downtown Atlanta, which were crazy in their own right, but the biggest test for Rick comes once the group actually finds some sanctuary behind the walls of Alexandria.
It is at this point that maybe just maybe this mad world has finally gotten to Rick.
Despite being in what for all extensive purposes is a safe and fortified town, Rick is still not willing to let his guard down. He has seen too much and trust does not come easy, it has to be earned.
Fear and anxiety build within Rick as the reality that the group of survivors behind the walls of Alexandria are clueless as to the threats outside the safety of the walls. This amplified his need to protect his people and a few select people in the community In particular, Jessie (Alexandra Breckenridge) and her children, who were living with a terror of their own, an abusive husband and father.
Beyond the protection factor was also a very strong attraction between Rick and Jessie, which ate at Rick more than he would admit. This lethal combination pushed Rick to the point of confrontation with Pete (Corey Brill), Jessie’s husband.
A knock down fists flying brutal fight in the streets of Alexandria for all to see ensued. At one point Rick even threatened everyone with his pistol.
It appears that our hero has finally lost it.
On the brink of being thrown out, Rick proves once again his only purpose is to protect. The gate to the community is unwittingly left unlocked by Father Gabriel (Seth Gilliam), and Rick, being the ever-observant Sheriff, discovers walkers have wondered in.
Tracking them down and eliminating the walkers, Rick shows up at the community meeting where his fate is being discussed covered in walker guts. One would think this alone would be enough for the group to see Rick’s motivation is pure, but he gets extra help when Pete shows up wielding Michonne’s katana.
With vengeance on his mind, Pete kills Reg (Steve Coulter) as he tries to calm him down. With Reg dying in her arms, Deanna (Tovah Feldshuh) orders Rick to kill Pete. As it stands, Pete is the insane one, consumed by jealousy and hate.
Rick is vindicated and from this point forward becomes the rightful leader of Alexandria.
Is he of sound mind? Giving the state of the world, it appears so. Even when he appears to have lost it, at his core is still the need to protect, at all cost.
The question is though, when does “at all cost” cross the line?
It is evident by the end of this last season though, that Rick just may have crossed that line, and in so doing got one of his people killed. Where Rick goes from here will be revealed in the next season, but it is evident that this mad world has taken its toll on Rick.
With that said, based on Rick to date, it’s obvious those who are strong and grounded in reality will stand longer than the unstable, but for how long?
And, if they can hang on, will they be able to bring sanity back to an insane world?
One final note, although we are not living in an apocalypse, we are living in uncertain times, with seriously unstable people with hate in their souls out for vengeance.
They are a threat to our safety but we cannot let them win.
No matter how much we’d like to crumble some days, we need to stand strong, staying grounded in what is real and true. That truth is love and tolerance will prevail, somehow, someway.
As the Beatles sang “All you need is love.”
© Mariann E. Danko and Waking the Walker, 2016. All rights reserved.
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Photos Courtesy of AMC