For the uninformed, The Maze Runner is a dystopian film about a community of boys trapped in a Glade located in the middle of a Maze where the walls change their configuration during the night. In the night, evil creatures called Grievers hunt in the Maze, and woe be to any Glader caught outside the Glade when the doors close at sunset.
Alby is the first leader who settled the Glade, and experienced the chaos firsthand as each month, a new boy entered the Glade with no memory and a lot of fear. He’s the leader who came up with the rules for the Gladers community, and their rules of respect and equality and safety. Through his leadership skills, he brought the community to a place of stability. Because of him, there are Builders and Slicers and Runners and a myriad of other roles for the boys to serve in according to their skills to build a community that works. Alby developed a thriving community, but perhaps, it thrived just a little too well.
These are boys trapped in a Glade in the middle of a Maze. They are prisoners at the hand of an outside force that goes by the acronym W.C.K.D. It’s good to adapt, especially when the scenario is adapt or die, but the community in the Glade cannot work forever.
Enter Thomas, the newest boy dumped into the Glade. Whereas Alby had a plan for everything, Thomas has a question for everything. A complacency, a peace if you will, had settled on the Gladers. Their roles were routine. Where there is comfort, there can never be change. Thomas is the much needed catalyst for change in the Glade.
Thomas refuses to think there is no way out of the Maze, that they’re all just trapped there for the rest of their lives. He’s drawn to the Maze, eager to unravel its mysteries because he knows there has to be a way of escape. Thomas realizes something everyone else has forgotten—the Glade is not their home and they can’t stay there. So he does everything he can, even breaking a few rules, to find a way out.
There is always one person in a group who cannot stand to change the status quo. In fact, this person usually fights against change so completely as to be a detriment to community. In this story, that person is Gally, the third leader under the microscope, and perhaps the most important for his usefulness as an object lesson.
Gally loves the Glade. Perhaps he didn’t when he first arrived with no memory or sense of self, but he’s comfortable now. To Gally, the Glade offers protection, so much so that he stops listening to the opinions of the community who think maybe Thomas is right in questioning some rules, like only Runners can go into the Maze. Gally is unbending in his iron will to keep the Glade the same and to keep Thomas under control, a tendency that worsens as Alby’s hold as leader weakens because of an injury.
But the Glade cannot stay the same, because Thomas goes into the Maze after they have instructed him not to. He stays the night in the Maze with the head Runner Minho, proving to all the Gladers that they can survive in the Maze after dark and that it’s their best chance of finding a way into freedom.
Change is difficult in most situations. But it’s also necessary. Gally’s inability to adapt to new ideas, and be flexible with the rules of their community, proved his downfall. Thomas, as an innovator, swept in and began asking those “why” questions that get ideas percolating in the heads of complacent people, even people like Newt, Alby’s loyal second-in-command. Calm and steady, Newt is an ideal community builder, follows orders. He’s warm and welcoming to the Greenies who arrive in the Glade every month. Newt’s loyalties shift from the status quo only when a new leader with an appealing new vision comes on the scene.
And that’s where you can measure the success of a leader. Alby succeded because of his devotion to community and his compassion to all the Gladers. He expected everyone to follow the rules, but was not hard and unbending like Gally and he took no pleasure in punishment. The community liked and respected Alby during his time of leadership and so they followed him.
Where Alby earned his leadership through the difficult early days of the Maze where he urged the joining of a community, Gally demands leadership when Thomas’s opinions of escaping through the Maze gains traction. Instead of deliberating with the community and encouraging conversation, Gally shuts down all forms of communication and says “This is how it is. The Glade is home. We aren’t leaving.” Gally leads through fear that an unknown world of dangers exists outside the Glade and the Maze. For Gally, nothing good can come of leaving the Glade and they need to punish anything negative that happens because of Thomas’ rebellion, right down to leaving Thomas and the only girl in the community, Teresa, to be Griever fodder as consequences for their insurrection.
In the end, it is people who decide their leaders. Most of the Gladers realize there is no future with Gally in the Glade. The future is in escaping, in recovering their memories and finding their families. This makes Thomas their chosen leader.
Leadership qualities vary from person to person, but adaptability, a flexible moral compass that’s open to new ideas, and a respect for the opinions of the community are a good place to start when looking at healthy leadership styles. Gally had a moral compass, but it was hard and cold, unyielding to any opinion other than his own, so he could not lead successfully. It’s impossible to tell what Alby might have done had the circumstances of the story happened differently. He may have partnered with Thomas, but audiences will never know.
As for Thomas, he is imperfect which is why he needs stable advice from Newt and Minho to balance out his innovation. But he leads through inspiration, with his “the truth is out there” mentality, and he never stops troubleshooting. And it is through Thomas’ leadership that any of the boys survive their harrowing tale. After all, this is just the beginning story in a much longer series of movies, all worth watching, in this humble writer’s opinion and not just because Dylan O’Brien plays Thomas. Well, maybe Dylan has something to do with my love of the fandom. Maybe. Just don’t tell him that.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: When Carissa Horton isn’t working full-time for a local NGO, she’s either reading the classics, delving into new knitting projects, plotting an adventure to someplace new, playing with her cat Bucky Barnes, or enjoying films from some of her favorite movie stars like Laurence Olivier, Marlon Brando, Jeff Goldblum, and Brendan Fraser. She’s a JASNA member and dreams of taking that ultimate Jane Austen trip to England to immerse herself in literary culture, but until then, fondly remembers her brief stint on the stage as Charlotte Lucas in a local production of Pride & Prejudice. You can occasionally find her on her blog, Musings of an Introvert, but she confesses to being a lazy writer who doesn’t do as much writing as she should without a deadline.