The Maze Runner (series) | Study Guide

James Dashner

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The Maze Runner (series) | The Kill Order | Summary

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About the Title

The Kill Order references the government order to use the Flare virus as population control. With these orders, soldiers shoot the virus into settlement camps, killing their targets.

Summary

The Kill Order opens 13 years before the events of The Maze Runner. A group of people has survived the sun flares and now lives in a settlement in the woods. The group includes teenager Mark, his love interest Trina, and a grizzled soldier named Alec. One day, a Berg flies over the settlement and starts shooting darts at the people. Immediately people start screaming and dying as the darts hit them. Alec runs toward his shack and emerges with a grappling hook, which he uses to shoot and board the Berg. Mark follows after him. They fight off the pilots to end the attack. They discover the darts are filled with a highly contagious disease called the Flare.

After crashing the Berg and hiking back to their settlement, Mark and Alec discover that those who haven't died from their dart wounds suffer terribly. This includes their friend, Darnell, who has been quarantined in a shack. After screaming that his head hurts, Darnell slams his head into the side of the wall until it splits open. Horrified, Mark, Alec, Trina, and their friends Misty, Lana, and the Toad hike away from their settlement. Along the way it becomes clear that Misty, who helped care for many of the sick people, has caught the Flare. The Toad, Misty's best friend, refuses to leave her side while she suffers and dies, so the rest of the group carries on without them. A few miles later they stop to camp for the night. The Toad, clearly infected, finds them, and Alec kills him to prevent further infection.

The next morning the group continues to hike toward government headquarters where they hope an antidote to the Flare might be stored. They come across another settlement and eagerly hope they've found shelter. Just like their own, this settlement is filled with the stench of dead bodies. A little girl, about five years old, emerges and says that everyone left her behind when she didn't sicken after being hit by a dart. Unable to abandon the girl, the group takes her with them. The little girl, Deedee, warns the group about her people, saying they are a dangerous cult.

A few miles away from a place Alec suspects to be a Berg landing pad, the group encounters a huge fire. Alec and Mark separate from the group to investigate. They find a large group of people dancing and chanting in front of the fire. The group welcomes Mark and Alec to join them, but the duo recognizes the group has gone insane, likely from the Flare. When they refuse, the group captures them and drags them toward the fire. In a heated argument, Mark learns the group is actually the cult Deedee grew up in. They abandoned her because they thought she summoned the devil. They also learn Deedee's camp was attacked by darts two months earlier. This means the virus has different strains that infect people at different rates. Mark and Alec manage to escape when a large group of Cranks attacks the cult, killing many.

The cult's fire has started a wildfire that Mark and Alec run through to get back to their group. When they realize the girls are missing, they follow their footprints through the woods, horrified to see the ground around the prints covered in blood. In the distance they see a Berg landing and rush toward it. They manage to slip aboard just as the landing zone closes. They fight their way past a variety of guards and soldiers so Alec can take over the Berg's flight. Mark kills a pilot by wedging his body between a closing hatch door and delights in watching the man get crushed to death. Mark realizes he has contracted the Flare. During the fight Mark learns the Flare was first spread as population control, but it spread faster than the government anticipated. Government workers are now using a Flat Trans to teleport from Asheville to Alaska to escape the sickness.

Mark and Alec fly the Berg to Asheville, where everyone seems to be heading. They spot a group of Cranks dragging Lana, Trina, and Deedee. Desperate to save them, the men grab government weapons called Transvices, which evaporate bodies into thin air. Then they run into town. They must fight their way through crowds of Cranks both in the city and in the shack where their friends are being held. A group of Cranks pulls Lana from the shack and begins brutally stabbing her. Realizing he cannot save her, Alec shoots Lana with the Transvice to put her out of her misery. They burst into the shack and continue to fight ruthlessly against the swarming Cranks. They manage to extricate Deedee and Trina from the wild Cranks and drag them back to the Berg. Alec, Trina, and Mark all suffer from clear signs of the Flare, but Deedee remains healthy. They realize she must be immune to the disease, and she could benefit humanity as the Flare spreads out of control. They know she must reach the Flat Trans to survive.

With the little energy they have left, Alec pilots the Berg to the location of the Flat Trans. Mark quickly scribbles a note alerting the government workers on the other side to Deedee's immunity. They shove Deedee through the Flat Trans and Alec crashes the Berg into it, destroying it so no one else can reach her. Alec, Marc, and Trina die in the crash.

Analysis

Apocalypse

In The Kill Order sun flares have irrevocably altered life on Earth. Readers realize what it was like for characters that experienced the first apocalyptic events. An apocalyptic event is an event that causes catastrophic damage to the world. Postapocalyptic novels, like those in The Maze Runner series, take place after the end of the world. It is a time when the few remaining people must figure out how to survive. In the world of the novel, sun flares cause the atmosphere to heat up rapidly. It becomes so warm, in fact, that trees and plants die, the Earth cracks, and people's skin melts off their faces. The polar caps immediately melt, causing a massive tsunami that wipes out New York City. Mark and Trina survive the sun flares because they're underground, and they manage to seek higher ground in the Lincoln Building to avoid rising waters.

The apocalyptic events in The Kill Order parallel what many experts say will happen to our world if climate change isn't controlled. As temperatures rise, deserts expand and polar ice caps melt, causing rising sea levels, flooding, and natural disasters. The landscape described in the novel mirrors the postapocalyptic landscapes in popular movies like Mad Max and The Day After Tomorrow.

Population Control

After the sun flares cause catastrophic damage to Earth, the government realizes there aren't enough resources left to ensure survival of the entire population. They decide to enact population control by spreading the Flare, a virus they believe to be quick acting and painless. They don't take mutation into account, however, and the virus eventually threatens the entire population. WICKED's method of population control, simply shooting people at random, seems offhand and misguided, but not completely out of the realm of possibility. Many governments throughout history have implemented policies for population control. These controls include the one-child policy in China from 1979–2015. Families in mostly urban areas were forbidden to have more than one child, preventing an estimated 400,000,000 births. Another example of forced population control was the alleged government secret sterilizations of tens of thousands of women in Uzbekistan starting in 2005. Countries with declining populations, on the other hand, have offered tax incentives and cash payments to families after the birth of their children. Regardless of whether a government meddles in increasing or decreasing the population, The Kill Order makes clear the moral ambiguities of a government deciding which of their population should live or die.

Survival of the Fittest

When faced with limited resources and a seemingly endless parade of enemies, only the fittest could've survived the sun flares. Only they would also have the strength and stamina to survive the settlements. For many luck is involved in survival, as with Mark and Trina who happened to be underground when the sun flares struck. They happened to partner up with a man who could lead them to the Lincoln Building. For others survival is a constant test of their strength and knowledge. Alec and Lana are well-trained ex-soldiers. Despite being out of their physical prime, they have no trouble overpowering attackers, foraging for food, and reading complicated maps. Deedee, whose superior physicality has rendered her immune to the Flare virus, also proves to be fitter and stronger than the rest. She is, therefore, more valuable to the population at the end of the novel.

When faced with weakness, the stronger characters have to make difficult choices. Should they waste resources and energy trying to prop up those who cannot survive on their own? Should they carry on without them? When the group meets Deedee, they decide they have a moral obligation to care for the young girl who has been abandoned by her village. They make the opposite decision, however, when they meet the houseful of neglected, starving children. They realize that such a large group will slow them down and risk everyone's safety. It is for this same reason—their risked safety—that they abandon Misty when she contracts the Flare, and why Alec kills the Toad.

Hero Comparison

The Kill Order takes place when Thomas is only five years old, so Dashner had to cast a different hero to fight bad guys in the prequels. Mark is extremely similar to Thomas. He's young, strong, loyal, curious, righteous, slightly naive, haunted by memories of his past, and in love with his best friend. Both heroes lack an immediate family—both their families are dead—and therefore create a makeshift family with other survivors. Both have seemingly supernatural strength and stamina. Mark, for example, manages to survive back-to-back fights for days on end without food, water, or rest. He successfully fights off gangs of tactically trained soldiers with little more than his fists. Both heroes feel compelled to do the right thing, no matter the cost, and they value protecting others over protecting themselves.

Over the course of three novels, Thomas's character is given a chance to mature and develop enough complexity to keep his character engaging. Mark, on the other hand, remains the exact same at the end of the novel as he was in the beginning. His character does not change as a result of his experiences. Thomas could be considered a dynamic hero while Mark is a static hero. Static characters are characters that do not undergo significant change. They are a typical component of plot (action) driven novels rather than character (emotion) driven novels.

Religion—Jed

In the wake of the sun flares, certain populations turn to spirituality for comfort and explanation to account for the bizarre events. The most religious group is the "cult" that abandoned Deedee. Cults are defined as small groups of religious individuals whose practices may be regarded as strange or sinister by outsiders. They often blindly follow the word of a charismatic leader and share a common goal. In The Kill Order Deedee's cult follows the leadership of Jedidiah or "Jed." He is a violent man who survived the sun flares but was left hideously disfigured after radiation burned off his hair and ears. The followers speak wildly about the "rain of demons from the sky" and the beauty of "nature and the spirits" while dancing maniacally around a fire. Their bizarre behavior suggests the Flare has already started their descent into madness. This also suggests that cult, or perhaps even religious, beliefs are rooted in mental instability. Jedidiah emerges as the leader, whom the followers kneel before as if in worship. Jedidiah claims their settlement was shot with darts two months earlier. But if five-year-old Deedee was raised in the cult, it's unlikely the Flare is to blame for their beliefs. Dashner's depiction of life in a cult—and the presence of religion in a postapocalyptic world—is as a half-baked idea. Readers can only assume Dashner's message is that those who follow religion are as crazy as the Cranks.

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