Team Dale…ever steady

Everyone, whether fictional or flesh and blood, needs a person they can go to in times of emotional turmoil. That person holds up a mirror to reflect their true self. Without them, we are doomed to keep repeating mistakes, or worse, destroying who we really are by trying to pretend we’re someone different and going against our nature. Dale is that man. He speaks the truth, no matter how hard it is to hear.

Who is Dale? He is a character from The Walking Dead—a series of graphic novels by Robert Kirkman turned into one of the world’s hottest cable television shows by AMC and an insanely talented production crew. Like the tormented character of Shane Walsh, the squirrel-tossing badass Daryl Dixon and the honorable Glenn for all of whom I’ve already expressed great affection, Dale’s tireless battle to honor his fellow man has my unflinching support…and gratitude.

If you aren’t watching the show you should be. From the moment the show begins viewers are taken on the undead ride of a lifetime, watching a cast of beleaguered humans fight not only to survive, but to retain that which makes us most human.

Dale is The Walking Dead’s yoda…or Gandalf, if you prefer. Wise and caring, Dale acts as an elder statesman within the group –tending to group members’ emotional wellbeing, settling disputes and providing a sense of stability and direction in a world gone mad. But as we’ve seen in season two Dale, played so beautifully by Jeffrey DeMunn, is only human.  His wisdom is of great value, but—truthfully—is sometimes compromised by his own feelings.

[***WARNING: Spoilers ahead***]

He is a dying breed. More so than the others in the main survivors group Dale –an elder well-educated, worldly man who chooses to remain optimistic and forward thinking—may truly be the last of his kind in the post-zombiepocalyptic world. The group needs Dale, desperately, to keep them morally and ethically grounded. He may not be perfect, no one is, but Dale is the personification of those characteristics from the “old way of living” that must.be.protected. to truly maintain the humanity that binds us all.

Dale sees all. The other members of the main survivors group try repeatedly to get one over on him, to fly under the Dale radar so they don’t have to own up to their behavior. It rarely, if ever, works. T-Dog, for instance, tried desperately to hide how severe his injuries were in the first episodes of the season. In his infection-fueled fever T-Dog became uber paranoid about his place in the group. Who would want to rely on a crippled minority and an old fart, right? Dale set him straight, showing him exactly where he was needed, while also trying what he could to tend to the more pressing matter, the fever about to fry his friend’s brain. In that moment, Dale became like a father to T-Dog. Sometimes we need our parents, even when we don’t realize it.

Dale may not be able to pull the trigger…but is still susceptible to the horrors within. In Shane, Dale finally found the one soul he cannot follow down their chosen path. Shane’s methods in ensuring the people he cares for are shocking to some. He is the trigger man Dale could never be. At the same time, during their confrontations in season two, it is apparent Dale wants to reach that level of practicality Shane is at, the one where he could do to Shane what Shane did to Otis and be able to justify it by saying he did it to keep Andrea safe. But would it really be an effort to neutralize the competition? We still don’t know if Dale’s fatherly nature has given away to more when it comes to her…and how far it could take him.

There was a moment in the season one finale where I literally bit a hole in my index finger to keep from screaming. Dale did what I hope all of us would do in a difficult situation to protect our common humanity. He chose to make the ultimate sacrifice. Andrea later accused him of being selfish. I disagree. Dale’s decision to remain behind at the soon-to-explode CDC if Andrea was staying was a moment of true bravery—one we could all aspire to having (though maybe not in such dire circumstances).

As with many of The Walking Dead characters—and most people in the real world—Dale is defined by the choices he makes. That he consistently errs on the side of traditional morality makes him a force to be reckoned with. He is the group’s greatest defender…the protector of their collective soul.

With special thanks to R.C. Murphy

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3 Comments to “Team Dale…ever steady”

  1. Dave Sunhammer says:

    As always, I enjoyed your writing. Very good stuff. I’d like to point a light on one aspect of Dale that should be emphasized…

    I think Dale’s need to confront Shane has much more to do with the whole group, including himself, than just a consideration of Andrea’s safety. While in the comic they are true lovers, I am sensing we will see a different reality in the show.

    Regardless, Dale knows that “Civilization”, or “Morals”, or what ever you want to call it is the thing that makes us “human”. All other aspects of humanity spin from that alone. Science, art, music, and even humor, are hinged on “Civilization”. (Morals and Civilization are synonymous words on some basic level so I will use them interchangeably).

    Shane sees civilization as a coat that can be put on or taken off as needed. And in Shane’s eyes civilization has become holey, threadbare and torn. A mere rag to be cast off. Dale understands a deep truth. Humans ARE Civilization. We are synonymous with morals. We ARE our morals, and we are our civilization. We are responsible to wear this coat into the darkest cave, or across the hottest desert. When it becomes torn we must sew it, and patch any hole that becomes worn through.

    Should we cast off that moral coat we simultaneously cast off our basic human self. We cast off who we are on a very base level. I’m not just refering to that face we put on every morning. Something deeper.

    People can be pushed so hard they break. Their basic humanity breaks, or morals, or such. And I do not refer to that either. There is no blame in being broken by some external series of events. I am talking a conscious choice. Shane was a “law man” in face, but at a very slight provocation he tore off that coat.

    Some viewers claim, “But it’s the zombie apocalypes!! That is no minor thing! All moral codes are gone now!” Let us poke at this in different ways. First, what has Shane really endured? Did he have to put a bullet in the brain of his sister on her birthday ? Andrea did. Did he watch his family eaten by walkers? Jim did. Did he watch his beautiful wife “turn” in a horrible fever? Morgan did. No ! Shane personally has experienced nothing but freedom since the ZA began. He could finally cast off that straight-jacket that suffocated him.

    Are all morals gone in a zombie apocalypse? If you agree they are then you would have been required to turn another cheek of Shane had succeeded in raping Lori at the CDC. No second thought would be spent when Shane (in another reality) pulled that trigger when he had his “best friend” in the crosshairs. “Shane did what he needed when he shot Otis and left him to be eaten alive. It’s a world without morals,” so many claim. No. Purest sophistry.

    Without morals, without civilization, we are mere monkeys. we are no longer human.

    Dale knows this. More than knows this, it is written into his very being. He handed the guns to Shane. Knowing that he had a 50/50 chance of having one of those guns turned on him. The words he said to Shane – “You belong in this world.” were not a compliment to Shane’s prowess at killing walkers, or his iron resolve. It was a statement that shane had cast off his morals and reverted to mindless killing animal.

    Dale knows, in that darkest hour when all hope seems lost, when the world is colder than deepest space, that is when we tighten that coat of civilization around ourselves. We shake our fists at the darkness. We hold fast to our humanity.. or we are worse than the walking dead themselves.

  2. juliette says:

    Thank you Dave! That is a beautifully thought out and well-stated response. I am particularly drawn to your last point — that is rub right there!!!

  3. Hugh says:

    Once again you bring out the best in character review for our favorite show, boss. And Dave provides even more commentary on the qualities of “Father Dale”.. Well done both of you!