I’ve been a fan of the TV show The Walking Dead since it premiered, not because I love a world that’s overrun with flesh-eating zombies, but rather because I’m kind of a sucker for shows that posit a post-civilization world. Case in point, my love of the reboot of Battlestar Galactica. But more than that, I suppose, it’s my political theory background where questions of the nature of humanity, what it takes to build “The Good Society” and the use and abuse of power are at the center of political inquires. When you strip away the veneer of what we called “civilization,” what do people become? Are they cooperative? Are they nasty and brutish to each other? Are they nihilistic or hopeful? In The Walking Dead, individual characters embody these types. The story is riveting because not only are there zombies, but other humans who are just as inhumane to each other. It’s not clear what the grand narrative of the story is leading to, but maybe it not so much about an end point in the story as how do humans adapt to their new-found reality.
And adapt they have…
Rick and Carl we’ve seen have changed more slowly throughout the series, but after about a year and a half we finally know what became of Morgan — the guy who basically rescued and nursed Rick back to health after he woke up from his coma to see the world had changed while he was basically out (first episode of season one…FYI).
Well, now we’re in season 3, episode 12. The episode is entitled “Clear.” But what do we know about Morgan now that we’ve been reintroduced to him? Well, we know that Morgan is crazy. That much is, um, clear. He was emotionally tortured that his wife “turned” (i.e., is now a zombie) in the first episode, but was grounded by the fact that he had to take care of his son. However, he couldn’t overcome his attachment to his zombie wife (who roamed the streets in the neighborhood with a zombie horde) and wouldn’t leave with Rick to find his family. Now? Morgan feels his mission in life (now that his son is dead…attacked by his own zombie mother) is to “clear” the area. Well, that could mean literally clearing the area of zombies — which he does with this elaborate set up:
“Clear” could also mean clearing his mind of that previous world where people were more, well, civil to one another. And it could mean a kind of purity of mind where he can eventually transcend this horrible world his has inherited. From his scribblings on the walls of the house he lives in — with many parts labeled “clear” — he’s creating a map…of what, I don’t know. But I do know that he feels that if he achieves “clear” something will happen to him to relieve the emotional pain his going through.
Rick, Carl and Michonne have also gone through a kind of “clear” process. They no longer look at other humans as people who need help (as shown by the way they breezed past the “Backpack Guy” in their car while he was pleading for help). Everyone who is not part of their group is a potential enemy. That much is clear. And what about battling the “big bad” of zombies out there? Well, Rick and his group are much more savvy (and less frightened) about how to deal with them. After all, zombies are easy to kill if there aren’t too many of them. All you have to do is aim for the head and…boom, swick, bam…they are pretty much neutralized. The group has figured this out, and can, for the most part, take care of themselves. In this episode it’s very plain that Rick, Carl and Michonne have accepted this new reality and have adapted to the daily dangers.
It’s a brutal world without the protection of civilization — the makers of The Walking Dead have put forth as their thesis. It’s man’s inhumanity to man, and zombies’ one dimensional instinct to just rip apart any kind of life that comes their way, that makes this show a dark mirror to see our inner demons. I’m not sure if I agree with the makers of this show that this is what would become of humankind if civilization were stripped away, and that’s probably because when I took the “Which Walking Dead Charter Are You” quiz on the show’s website, the results show me to be Rick.