Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Why I Like The Walking Dead

I thought it might be nice to take a slightly different track and breakdown some entertainment, for today. This post is serious though in one regard - I believe that there is merit in The Walking Dead, in the philosophy and political commentary it can provide for us. This post is not meant to be a recommendation of the show, however. It is rated TV-MA and certain has a dark and unpleasant tone - if this is disturbing to you, do not watch the show - it's not worth it.

The Walking Dead is a great show, in my view. Of course, don't be silly and let your young children watch it - and if you yourself have difficulty with grit & gore, you might want to try something else as well. But I genuinely consider this show to be well written, directed, and acted. Oh - and zombies are always cool right?

I like The Walking Dead - not because the plots of the individual episodes or overly compelling, or because the situation is believable - or because I have any strong desire for observing the violence and depression of a show with absolutely no hope for its characters. I like The Walking Dead, because it thoroughly explores human nature - and how men and women behave, when social structures are demolished. That's a fascinating question, right there. And can it be dark? Yes it can - but it can also be a warning for us to recognize just how far people might be willing to go to protect what they value the most - and sometimes at the cost of another person's welfare.

One of my favorite classes in my sophomore year of college was Political Theory & Philosophy - which touched on some political philosophies that have helped to shape the way people view government and politics. One of those philosophers - Thomas Hobbes presented a depiction of a "state of nature" where individuals lived in sort of anarchy. In this philosophical exercise, Hobbes imagined that if laws and social custom were removed from society, human beings would live in a perpetual state of chaos and violence, due to their own natural self-interest. There are several philosophers that had different perspectives on the philosophical "state of nature" but few had such a clearly defined view. Hobbes actually believed in monarchy, because he thought that it was the best way to protect against the chaos of natural anarchy.

The Walking Dead plays with this "state of nature" concept - the zombie apocalypse marks a destruction of law and order in society - and leaves men, women, and children to struggle with what is most important now that there is not authority or system to constrain them. It asks questions - do people naturally cooperate with each other for mutual benefit? Do they resort to violence? Or is there no clear answer, at all? One of the things that I love most about the show is how the characters are forced to consider not just on how to survive - but why?  A common theme that the show explores is whether ends justify the means. Is continuing your own survival worth sacrificing everything you believe, or are there some things worth risking your life for? As Hershel says in the show, "Every moment now you don't have a choice. The only thing you can choose is what you're risking it for."

This is what I love about the show - some of the best characters on the show have given their lives in order to protect others - in order to stand for something more than survival. Some place continuing their own existence above anything else. And of course, as in reality - there are those in the middle - who struggle with the day to day decisions of right and wrong, especially with no government system to provide an answer. Each character has a different viewpoint to consider - let's look at three - Rick, Carol, and Daryl.

Rick's character is interesting. Previously a police officer, he has the most to lose in this world. His struggle in the show is how to respond to this new world of chaos and violence and protect his family in the process. Watching his character gradually lose sight of his own values and respect for law and authority in a desire to keep his son, Carl, alive is a good warning for viewers - how much are you willing to give up, to protect those you care about? Are you willing to compromise your own morals? It's a good question - and its a good case study. His redeeming quality is his love for his son and his desire to protect him from the tough realities of the apocalypse.

Carol's story is different. We see her at the start of the show as a timid women who is victimized by her abusive husband. Her chief goal is staying alive so she can protect her daughter - and later for preparing the group for the inevitable choices they will have to make. She places survival as an objective in itself - and she is willing to do anything it takes to keep alive and keep those she cares about alive. Carol, though, is a character without hope. She doesn't have any absolute purpose in her life. She has no faith to honor - no code to obey - she merely lives and exists. I think this also is a warning for many individuals today.

Daryl is everyone's favorite - and its not just because his crossbow skills are amazing or that his redneck attitude makes him particularly suited for the world
they are living in. Daryl is great because he's lived a rough life since he was born. This "new" world isn't much different for him. Laws and social behavior really didn't effect him much in the old world - so he has the easiest time adapting. However - Daryl is perhaps the most ethical, moral, and hopeful character on the show - because while others struggle with preserving their values and morality in light of no government structure or law - he gradually learns to accept these values because of their inherent worth. Friendship is good - not because it helps them survive the zombie herds - he can already deal with that. Friendship has value because humans are created as relational beings. Daryl recognizes the importance of preserving these values - and feels personally responsible if they collapse.

These are a few reasons why I love The Walking Dead. The show offers some great insight into human nature. It also offers some insight into political interactions and philosophy - but most of all, it allows individuals to consider where their purpose and hope really comes from. Does it come from government, money, and continued existence, or from God? Because how you answer that question will determine how you interact with the laws and systems of the world.


  1. Great Post! Even though I have yet to watch the show, reading your post (and talking to Keith about the show) makes me somewhat interested in actually watching it :)