“What it takes to Survive in this World”: Some all Too Serious Reflections on the The Walking Dead

A few thoughts on the mid-season finale of the Walking Dead but first an important announcement. I’m doing something a bit different with the blog for the next few months. Every few editions we’ll do a “MONSTERS MAILBAG” in which I’ll answer your questions about the stuff from the book, criticisms of the book, things the book made you think about, or just monstrous thoughts in general that you’ve had and want my take on. You can send me questions through the website, on our Facebook page and on twitter. I’ll gather those up and answer them. You can let me know if it’s ok to print your name and where you are from and even your question. So, send those Monster questions in….yell at me, interrogate me, tell me about how the book changed your life, tell me how and why you threw it hard across the room or set it on fire, whatever.

Ok, zombies. And guess what…this is spoiler-free.

Most of us were glued to the tube Sunday night for the mid-season finale of The Walking Dead. I know a lot of fans complained about how grindingly slow the show had become…I complained about that at one point. In fact, I think we all started to sound a bit like Shane “Why are we looking for this girl? Shouldn’t we get on to Fort Benning?”

If you are a long-timer reader of the comic, as am I, you already knew what was in the barn. But you weren’t prepared for how the show used that fact to pull together some of the threads of this half season in a frankly brilliant way.

The zombie genre is, in part, an arena of ethical reflection.  Freud argued in Civilization and its Discontents that civilization, the way we get along with one another in the world, is the product of repression. Our desires to use and abuse are held in check because we don’t want to live in an anarchic maelstrom, a war of all against all. We want everybody else to hold their desires in check, so we do the same.

But what happens when the constraints are gone? Governments collapse. Money is worthless. Even the electricity is off. And there are flesh-eating monsters out there. Who do we become then? What’s left? What matters? What happens to morality in a world seemingly abandoned by God?

A sub-theme in the second season of Walking Dead has dealt with what it takes to live in such a world and, thus, what really matters. This is why the subject of religion has haunted the edges of this season. And maybe its why some of us have kept wondering; “why is Rick wasting all this time looking for one missing girl, why does it matter so much?”

I don’t want to give the final moments of this season away, but they tell us something about what it means to be the person who chooses ethical assertion over the twin temptations of mob mentality and passive acquiescence to cruelty and wrong-doing. Over the past few episodes these questions have been in the background as Shane and others wondered aloud if Rick can lead the group. Is he made for the post-apocalyptic world? Does he have the stuff?

In the end, we learned something about what it means to be one of the walking dead, (as we all are) and also a hero in a world of monsters. The hero is the one who tries to stop the madness, who tries to calm the crazy. But, because of what it takes to survive in this world, the hero is usually the one, the only one, willing to pull the trigger, to do the unthinkable that has to be done. That’s what it takes to survive in the world of the walking dead. Our world. So here’s to Rick Grimes. And to stepping up and doing what has to be done even when it hurts.

Short blog this time and will save pop culture goodness for next post and I’ll talk about what I’m reading, watching, listening to and console gaming. I await your monster questions and I’ll do my best to answer them!

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