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The Philosophy of: The Walking Dead

When watching The Walking Dead, it’s easy to forget about complicated moral themes when all you are met with onscreen are blood, guts, gore and character deaths. But I want to focus on just that, because the show isn’t just about the struggle to survive in a cruel and unrelenting world, it is also about the complex ethical considerations on how to go about doing so.

Is there any point in being a good person if you’re dead?

Hailing from a civilised world, the first season of The Walking Dead is less densely layered with the philosophy of survival. Most characters still cling on to the lives they lived before the collapse of society and although some questions of ‘the good of the group’ do begin to arise, most members are in accordance that walkers are the only enemy, and they should cling onto their humanity.

Season 2 is where the show’s philosophical dimension begins to show itself most prominently. Throughout the season, a moral battle wages between those who wish to keep being good people in the face of chaos, and those who hold the good of the group above all morality. In the middle of this conflict lies Rick, the leader of the group, who is given the unenviable task of juggling the prospect of survival with the guilt of ultimately losing sight of his own moral compass.

An argument against the belief in survival without humanity is that the distinction between walkers and humans begins to blur when morality is thrust aside. There is no real malice in walkers’ hearts. Yes, they tear people apart and eat their insides, but they do so without malicious intent, just as a wild animals kill because they must eat. It is easy to see walkers as the villains of the walking dead because they are responsible for killing most of our beloved characters, but we must remember they do not do so because they choose to, they chase after anything that moves purely out of instinct without any ill intentions, they are just mindless entities scouring the world without purpose. If anything, the humans in the world of the walking dead are far worse than their supposed enemy, they are capable of great acts of violence and terror for reasons as banal as revenge, spite, territory, or fear of what another might do.

Furthermore, perpetuating hate may cause hate and violence to befall you, since the comrades of those you have killed will seek revenge, and put those you love at risk.

This debate also incurs considerations of risk. It is true that for the most part taking in someone you don’t know might cause problems down the road, they might be a bad person, or they might steal from and kill some of your own. But what if they aren’t bad? What if they become an asset to the group and keep everyone else safe through strength in numbers? Sometimes, the decision to be good or ruthless also has a practical dimension, whether the group can spare the supplies or whether the new member can bring something to the table which can help the others.

Everyone in some way or another becomes more desensitised to violence

A level-headed person in the real world may make the natural judgement that there needs to be a balance of both philosophies to ensure survival without succumbing to savagery. But allow me to pose this question; when an injured member of your group is slowing your search for safety, or when you know only one person can make it out alive with supplies for the rest, will you be such a good person to consider the morality of leaving one of yours behind for the good of the team when immediate action is required? Is there any point in being a good person if you’re dead?

While the show doesn’t come to a conclusion on the questions it poses, always having characters occupy both sides of the moral spectrum, I think it is telling that as the seasons progress everyone in some way or another becomes more desensitised to violence than they ever thought they would.

Comments (7)

  • This is the best show ever, early on I just knew there will be some thing a lesson in life a moral compass that will arise for the show because that’s life. But The walking Dead is the best. I seen it all over and over again about 10 to 15 times from the beginning can’t stop watching.

  • Best show with more questions than answers, what’s the true nature of our being does it change with circumstances or the people around us. True love and friendship concurrs it all, most of the times it does .

  • I was thinking over, why this show became a part of life for many of us and I think the reason is that The Walking Dead is not just series about zombies…It is also about making difficult choices, about the desire to live and survive, it is about friendship, love, trust and betrayal. It’s about jealousy, hatred and the desire for revenge. This show is about the sense of community and loneliness, about similarities and differences, about faith, trust and hopelessness, about meanness, cruelty and thoughtlessness, but it is also about selflessness, tenderness and care, it is about cowardice and courage, about deciding about oneself and about others, about the desire for power and importance, but it is also about heroism and sacrifice. It’s about fear and hope. It’s a big question about how to know what is Good and what is wrong and what it means to be human. It is about bitterness and optimism, about how different and similar we are, about thoughts and emotions, about crime and punishment, about Beauty and decay, about anger and forgiveness. It is about the ability to remember and the ability to forget. It’s about sadness and joy, about despair, longing and happiness, about life and death, about you and me, about us…

  • 👍👍👍👍👍👍👍👍👍👍👍👍👍👍👍👍

  • Chantel Manthe

    I love this show. It’s been awesome 😍 I am so sad that it has ended

  • Carol Mahoney

    I am 64 years young and I have all seasons. The moral authority has been questioned since season 2. Every season became harder to remain good. All the characters struggled to stay strong. Carol struggled so much that she ran away because she couldn’t kill anymore. She finally found her courage again because of Negan.

    • Great description of the moral of the show. I enjoyed it. Thank you

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