punchie
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Ellie King
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Iliana Veltcheva
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Clab The usual Ray walking towards death and/or going mad ideas do all fit nicely, but I always thought it was also a little reference to Randall Flagg. He pops up in a bunch of King's works and is often referred to as "The man in black" or "The dark man". Remember, he was writing as Richard Bachman at the time so he wouldn't have wanted to go in to any more detail, and it still lets the reader interpret it as they wish. I'd consider it as more of an easter egg rather than it really being Flagg standing there in front of Ray. The kind of thing you notice years later and think, oh yeah, that's cool.

I read this book after we all knew it was written by King, and after reading most of the others he appears in (he has a big part in the Dark Tower series) so the average reader that just picks it up probably won't even know who he is. He reminds me of Hoid from Brandon Sanderson's books, he also appears with small roles in different books.

tl;dr
Whoever you want it to be, but imo a small nod to Randall Flagg.
Chris Foy
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Sara Mc I think the figure was his soul, because Garrety had given up at the end, thinking Stebbens was going to win. His soul was leaving his body i.e. he was on the edge of death, which was grabbing his shoulder. But understanding that he didn't have to die, he ran to get his soul back.
Mike Frankly, I think the most likely answer is that he was simply hallucinating. There is a similar passage in The Navigator of New York where a man who has been walking past the point of exhaustion hallucinates about a figure walking beside him.
That probably isn't the most satisfactory answer from a literary point of view, but it seems most likely to me.
Brian I took it to mean he was losing his mind and/or dying. There wasn't some victory at the end. Everyone loses, even the "winners."
Layla
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Merry Miller moon Just finished reading this book for the second time in my life. I'm so glad that someone has asked this question, because that is exactly what I was wondering. I agree with those who have said that they thought that Garrety had lost his mind, because that is what I thought.
Kellie After thinking about this for a bit, I think he was seeing himself. I think he dies right after finishing. I can't remember the exact line, but there is a point that he is talking to Stebbens and they are talking about having a purpose, a reason, to win. Essentially, Ray really didn't have a reason or a goal. Once he was the last man standing, there wasn't anything else for him.
Carolina Gonzalez I think that maybe it was his father calling him from the other side, welcome him for his rebelious acknowladge that "no one is the winner" in that godamn walk.
Or Death... anyhow, it’s the kind of end to interpret freely , and I loved it.
Womble In my view, the dark figure was Death. However, I'm not sure as to whether Ray was running to Death, or away from it.

It'd be cute if the black figure was Randall Flagg, but probably too cute. And there's no justification for it; apart from the alt-reality references, this is a fairly non-fantastical novel.
Ashley I just finished it and thought that it was rather Death or the Major. The death idea is pretty straightforward, but I think it was the Major.
I think that the Major was approaching Ray to ask him what his prize was or whatever and put a hand on Ray's shoulder and he just ran. Part of him running was the madness, but it also has a bunch of other connotations. At the end of the walk he was supposed to show how great the nation was by saluting the Major or something, but instead he ran away. He completely ended up shunning the whole idea of the Long Walk, completely by accident. And he managed to get up the courage/ strength to run which really shows how messed up their world truly is that his idol for most of his life, the Major, is even worse than the whole experience of the Long Walk.
It also ties with the whole, "No one is a winner" thing because he is stuck with the survivor's guilt and has to continue to live in the Major's hands like he always had. Any piece of rebellion would be squashed, and I thoroughly doubt that Ray could've adapted after this book to go back to agreeing with the Major. Even as a winner he would have probably been squadroned.
As he was winning, he saw the man that had pressured him into entering this death march, and he frightened him even more than running when he was at the point of death. Through the haze of his rising madness, he understood his fear and... ran.
I'm probably way overthinking this, but I think that it's a theory worth considering!
Chris I always thought that Ray in his delirium imagined another rival walker ahead of him.
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