The Walking Dead: Ethics

humanitylostTo go off the last post, later issues in the compendium depict a breakdown of the American Empire as the walls of the jail are breached at the hands of fellow humans instead of the zombies which have threatened the walls since the survivors arrival.  These “countrymen” whom attack the prison, are operating under the brutal and corrupt leader known only to us as, the Governor (Canavan 442). This is no surprise, as in zombie narrative, countrymen do not band together in zombie crisis, and the nation does not have its “finest hour”; instead, alliances fragment into familial bands and patriarchal tribes, and then continue to fragment further (Canavan 443). There is evidence everywhere in The Walking Dead  of these close familial alliances; however with human vs human combat, in a human verse zombie world, arises even more ethical concerns.  In The Walking Dead, Shane must die because he has become dangerous; he lies and seduces Rick’s wife (even though they are apparently best friends). Carl then murders another young boy with sociopathic tendencies because he too is a threat. One of the other white prisoners turns out to be a serial killer of young women, and is eventually hanged for his actions (Canavan 445). In the end, we are forced to believe that these are the “right things to do” given the times. That killing as a means of survival is essential, much like the road, brute survival skills have become a necessary means of self-defense, but this does not happen without moral sacrifice. We can see, through Rick (as he goes crazy) that survival and justification, doesn’t always satisfy the mind, Rick understands, that though he is alive, he is dead inside from the horrors.  This readers, is only the tip of the ice-burg, here are some of the other controversial “ethical” decisions made by characters:

  • The Governor has a child a daughter,, who has turned undead. Because he cannot find it in himself to kill his daughter, he instead keeps her chained up and feeds dead bodies to her (the bodies of his own fallen soldiers and “friends”). In one scene he has Uncle Bob promise that he will feed her whomever dies.
  • be goodThe Governor keeps a black female (Michonne) in chains and rapes her repeatedly (Michonne also kills his zombie daughter, after she mutilates him and escapes- another reason he attacks the jail)
  • Michonne bites the Governors neck, and face repeatedly as a means of self-defense and escape
  • Rick encounters a band or gang that has embraced a zombie-like lifestyle resorting to cannibalism as a means of survival. Furthermore this turn to cannibalism began with their own children (Similar action takes place in The Road where the baby is found over the fire)
  • Which begs the question, should someone decide to bring a child into a zombie world? We know in The Road that women and children are kept for rape and birth and food, and because of this awareness, the old man Ely whom they pass is surprised to see a child. This inclusion of women and children is one of the common clichés in Zombie narrative, it is the females role to promote either a happy or sad ending through reproduction. Rick’s wife, Lori, does so producing Judith, their baby daughter and Carls baby sister.

Snapshot_20140418_11

In my opinion, the point when the Governor threatened Rick and the other survivors from outside the wall, was the moment when humanity was put in jeopardy. The shift from the “enemy” being the zombie Other to including still-alive humans reduced the odds of survival immensely. However, it was the moment when the Governor shot Lori in a graphic full page spread through the abdomen and baby Judith, that taught us the most. In this moment we learnt two things, that this was not a domestic world and Kirkman was not going to make a cliché tongue-in-cheek zombie film, and that all hope for humanity was lost. “In a way the zombie narrative always becomes, in the end, a kind of ethical minefield, in which other humans “must” be fought, betrayed, abandoned, and destroyed so that the protagonist, our heroes, might survive” (Cavanan 445). All of which, ties in with my post “The Good-Guys” where are protagonists are forced to act in ways that may have otherwise been considered unjust.

Before the apocalypse, killing was only ever justified in self-defense, and at least the following three important conditions needed to be met: “(i) the defender’s death must seem to him/her to be imminent; (ii) there must be a choice forced upon the defender between being killed or killing his/her attacker; (iii) the responsibility for (i) and (ii) must be the attacker’s” (Dowling 1).  So does this change for the post-apocalyptic world? The answer is yes. In our moral assessment of such cases, we are claiming that an attacker has done that which is so morally wrong  that if one of them has to be killed, it is the attacker (Downling 2). Regardless of whether or not, it comes down life vs. life, at the end of the day, the attacker will go down based on his potential threat to an otherwise “morally good” group of people.  This is a similar argument to my post titled “The Good-Guys” which touches on the idea of killing as a means of protecting humanity in post-apocalyptic society.

Snapshot_20140418_12Work Cited:

  • Canavan, Gerry. “”We are the Walking Dead”: Race, Time and Survival in Zombie Narrative.” Extrapolation 51.3 (2010): 431-453. Print.
  • Cook, Deborah. “The Culture Industry Revisited: Theodor W. Adorno on Mass Culture”Rowman and Littlefield Publishers. 1996. Prologue. Print.
  • Dowling, Keith. “A Moral Justification for Killing in Self-Defence.” South African Journal of Philosophy 17.3 (1998): 262. Print.
  • Kirkman, Robert, Charles Adlard, Tony Moore, and Cliff Rathburn. The Walking Dead Compendium One. Berkeley, Calif.: Image Comics, 2009. Print.
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One comment

  1. Reblogged this on Resistance is Futile and commented:

    So I started watching Fear the Walking Dead in my wait for the Walking Dead to make it’s season premier. I have to admit, the first episode (Pilot) was awful and I thought Id never watch it again, but I did. And I have really come to enjoy how this show focuses on how the zombie apocalypse is directly effecting the people. It is showing the government approach, neighborhood approach, family approach and also the independent approach to reacting to a zombie apocalypse. Unlike The Walking Dead which focuses more on life after the apocalypse and killing zombies with various weapons. Fear the Walking Dead takes us through the beginning of an apocalypse, the learning curve and the effects it has on people. Who are the real threats? The mindless zombies with one goal- to eat flesh. or the survivors who turn away from their human nature and are willing to kill anyone to attempt to survive. One might think that banning together with those who survive is best… but all sides to the story seem to argue that when society collapses people lose their humanity.
    This is no surprise, as in zombie narrative, countrymen do not band together in zombie crisis, and the nation does not have its “finest hour”; instead, alliances fragment into familial bands and patriarchal tribes, and then continue to fragment further (Canavan 443). There is evidence everywhere in The Walking Dead of these close familial alliances; however with human vs human combat, in a human verse zombie world, arises even more ethical concerns. In The Walking Dead, Shane must die because he has become dangerous; he lies and seduces Rick’s wife (even though they are apparently best friends). Carl then murders another young boy with sociopathic tendencies because he too is a threat. One of the other white prisoners turns out to be a serial killer of young women, and is eventually hanged for his actions (Canavan 445). In the end, we are forced to believe that these are the “right things to do” given the times. That killing as a means of survival is essential, much like the road, brute survival skills have become a necessary means of self-defense, but this does not happen without moral sacrifice. We can see, through Rick (as he goes crazy) that survival and justification, doesn’t always satisfy the mind, Rick understands, that though he is alive, he is dead inside from the horrors.

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