by Larry Larson
“Maybe it’s just me, starry-eyed optimist I am, but Shane Walsh is a good man.”
“Maybe it’s just me, empty-eyed cynic I am, but Shane Walsh is a terrible man.”
Those two statements might seem like they’re confused, opposed or just outright ridiculous when put next to each other. Both tell something very different about the same man. But isn’t that the point? This dichotomy is one of the most important distinctions to be made between the graphic novel of The Walking Dead and the television series. Shane appears as Rick’s best friend in both mediums and in both mediums he is the jilted lover of Rick’s wife Laurie. However, subtle differentiations in character change Shane from being the wild-eyed villain he is ultimately exposed to be in the graphic novel to being the tragic, sympathetic and nobly flawed ally of Rick and the rest of the survivors.
Not only is Shane fleshed out more as a character in the television series than his graphic novel counter-part, but an effort is made to make sure that Shane is seen as a good man who genuinely cares about those around him. This starts right from Shane’s first scene, where he attempts to cheer up Rick by telling a misogynistic “sermon” about the inability of women to turn off lights. Shane doesn’t truly believe that all women are incapable of turning off lights, as he admits that his only goal with his “sermon” was to entertain Rick and get Rick’s mind off of his marital problems.
Another key factor is that throughout the season, we see Shane’s affection for the members of Rick’s family. With Laurie, he is not only present sexually, but emotionally. Indeed, during the episode “Guts”, it’s Shane who’s able to talk Laurie down from risking her life to save the survivors trapped in the city by appealing to Laurie’s feelings not only for Carl, but for Shane. Since the misadventure in Atlanta never happened in the graphic novel, we never get to see Shane as anything other than a brooding mess driven by jealous. While those elements are certainly at play in the television series, they’re muted so as to not create the impression that Shane is a villain.
In the graphic novel there’s no hint that beyond Carl being Rick and Laurie’s son, Shane truly cares about Carl. Indeed, when Shane does finally break down and almost shoot Rick, he only mentions Laurie. Carl is not even mentioned. In the television series, Shane is left despondent when Laurie forbids Shane from being around Carl. It is these kinds of changes to the character which inevitably allow Shane to survive and weather the emotional typhoon caused by seeing the family that he’s grown to love and care for seek their affection from another man.