Saturday, May 11, 2013

Shane and Griggs: Foils in Zombie Fiction

While writing the second book in the Zombie Ascension series (Queen of the Dead), I keep thinking one of my characters is a lot like another character in a wildly popular television show. It's not intentional and some of the comparisons are weak, but I think both characters underscore important ideas.

Patrick Griggs, a former police detective who was fired from his job because he came apart at the seams; he couldn't keep his family life together, due in part to his addiction to pornography. He shares a lot of traits that Shane exhibits in The Walking Dead. Yes—Shane. You remember Shane, don't you? How are they similar? Why does it matter? 

Let's answer the first question. Griggs has been exposed to violence. He worked in Detroit's homicide department, his career choice heavily influenced by his father's police career. From his first crime scene, Griggs accepted violence and murder as nothing more than common occurrences; blood and death weren't a big deal. He married and had kids because it was something men were expected to do, in his opinion. Secretly, he enjoyed coming to work, but gradually became unhappy because he didn't feel fulfilled. The depravity and dehumanization of porn influenced him to jump into the porn business after his wife left him and his detective career had been lost. 

Shane may've also seen his share of violence; he's also used to making difficult choices. He'll do anything to survive once the zombie apocalypse begins, and he firmly believes that he's always doing the right thing for the good of the group. He's a pragmatist, and holds no illusions about what's at stake. He'll go to any lengths to get what he wants, including murder. Like Griggs, Shane's primary goal is to reunite with the woman he loves more than anything. Both men have felt misunderstood, but Griggs has Mina, and Shane has Lori. Or so they think.

Griggs and Shane are both selfish people, but as we learn more about their ideals, we see how far gone these men have become; they've rationalized their violent actions as part of a belief system that keeps them alive. This blind faith in a methodology does not make them right; they're counters to moral "correctness" in a world where morality may have expired with the milk everyone left in the refrigerators. They’re both tortured men--we want to sympathize with them, but we often decide not to because they're "bad" men. 

Both of these characters are important because they provide balance to their stories; they're fates are embedded and conflicted with the protagonists'. They don't represent evil, but rather provide the questions. They often serve as a quasi-Greek chorus, questioning whether or not morality still reigns in a world gone mad, or helping us discover it all over again. Just as Griggs is the counterpoint to Vega's crusade to find innocence in the wreckage of her life, Shane—and the Governor—provide the counterargument to Rick's morals. 

These characters aren't always antagonists. They're foils—and they've been a part of the Western storytelling tradition for centuries. They're important to a story for obvious reasons. By the time Queen of the Dead is unleashed upon the world in mid-July, I'll finally know whether or not Griggs will be around in the final book.