***Spoiler Alert: This post is going to talk about the Walking Dead episode from Sunday March 16th. If you haven’t seen it yet, STOP READING!***
Bluntly, the Walking Dead is a show about the Zombie Apocalypse (ZA). What was once, a few years ago, the realm of Comic-Con nerds and Sci-Fi freaks has become firmly and decidedly mainstream. Before the TV show there were hit movies like 28 Days Later and Dawn of the Dead, but nothing catapulted the un-dead into the limelight quite like the AMC hit television show.
To re-cap: as the series opens, we meet small-town police officer Rick Grimes. He pulls his cruiser off the road near a gas station with a large lot full of cars. Rick needs gas, but for some reason he goes wandering through the seemingly empty lot. Up and down the rows, until we see two small feet in pink fuzzy slippers shuffling along on the other side of a car. Rick turns to see a little girl, maybe eight years old, wearing what looks like a pink bath robe to match her slippers. He calls to her and she stops. She turns. She is clearly… dead. Zombi-fied. She starts to advance on Rick, who promptly puts a bullet in her head.
Throughout the first episode we learn that Rick, having been shot in the line of duty, has awoken from a coma to find himself smack-dab in the middle of the zombie apocalypse. We learn that Rick has a wife and son, and he’s sure that they’re alive. He’s going looking for them. We learn that the only way to kill the zombies is to kill their brains. We’re set for a good, zombie-killing adventure.
While there certainly is a decent amount of zombie killing (both the killing of zombies and the zombies killing humans – to make more zombies), Seasons One through Three prove to us that this show isn’t just about killing zombies. This show is, or tries real hard to be, about much more than just killing zombies. The show examines both the destruction and the re-building of societal groups and hierarchies; the strength of relationships and the importance of character and resolve. Some people choose to work for the good of a group. Others prefer to strike out on their own. Maybe either way would work, but a recurring theme of the show is definitely that there is strength in numbers, and that the bonds you forge with a group are perhaps the most important thing of all – even more important than survival itself.
This is illustrated when we meet Morgan again in Season 3 episode 12. After having met Rick in episode one, Morgan and his son set out to find Morgan’s family; he and Rick plan to meet up later in Atlanta. But when we meet him again presumably months later he is alone, and his alone-ness is driving him, literally, insane. He has created for himself probably one of the most secure set-ups that we’ve seen so far on the show and he somehow has enough weaponry to kit out a small town police force. But yet he’s losing his mind, and he’s so far gone that even Rick’s pleas for him to come with them back to their own safe haven are refused. Morgan has no will to live, and yet he continues to survive. It’s not pretty. The episode reinforces the protective nature of the group and the importance of human connection. We depend on each other for so much more than just safety.
Speaking of the group dynamic, we’ve seen Rick and his group go through quite an evolution. In the first season, the ZA had just started and complete strangers just clung to each other no matter how little they had in common. The first group included both police officers and a wife abuser, a young black man and two prejudiced backwoods hicks. The natural leaders (the police officers) took charge, and everyone pretty much deferred to them. The name of the game was survival and little else mattered.
By Season Two, people were starting to come into their own and assert their own personalities. Some of them were finding strengths they didn’t know they had. They had different ideas about what it took to survive and there seemed a real danger of the group fracturing amidst this struggle for power.
Season Three, after a near catastrophic event where we again realized the serious risks inherent in the ZA, the group seemed to solidify. They found the prison and made it a safe place. They each adopted certain roles needed for the group as a whole to survive – scavenging, farming, hunting, child-minding, healing, entertaining. They had overcome most of their differences and were loyal to each other. No longer were they willing to accept outsiders into the group without serious consideration. They were autonomous, and they were pitted against other groups of survivors in an ironic twist; their primary enemies weren’t zombies but other, predatory, humans.
This theme continued into Season Four when after another catastrophic event (this time at the hands of a human enemy), the group was scattered and almost completely split up. By a twist of fate, each smaller group seems to be making their way towards the ominous sounding ‘Terminus’ (Those Who Arrive, Survive – creepy!). But along the way, they have to contend with finding themselves without the protective bubble of their larger ‘family’ of survivors. Once again they’re up against both zombie and human threats, only this time with only one or two other people and a frightening lack of firepower.
Which brings me to Sunday night’s pivotal episode. Little girl Lizzie has clearly been a bit deranged for quite some time. I think it was pretty obvious that it was her who was feeding the zombies at the prison which eventually brought down the fence. And her refusal to accept that they were dead – and dangerous – was certainly building to a nasty conclusion for awhile now. Not to mention her clear enjoyment of causing pain to others – the rats at the prison, the rabbit at the campfire…baby Judith.
In any event, this episode saw Lizzie’s serious psychological problems culminate in her determination to prove to everyone, specifically to Carol and Tyreese, that zombies are just people who have been ‘changed’. They don’t want to kill her, they just want her to change to be like them! Sadly no one believes her, and they keep killing her zombie ‘friends’. So Lizzie takes matters into her own hands. To prove her point, Lizzie basically guts her sister. She kills her and carefully lays her out on the grass, and Carol and Tyreese interrupt her just before, by her own admission, she is about to kill baby Judith as well. She is convinced that once the girls ‘come back’, this will prove her “point”. When Carol is appalled by her actions, Lizzie threatens to shoot her to enforce her point.
Carol and Tyreese have the obvious conversation – there is no helping this girl. They’ve tried to talk sense into her, tried to show her the dangers of the zombies. They know she almost killed baby Judith. They can’t trust her and no one is safe around her. The ethical dilemma: do they leave her alone to fend for herself and almost certainly get bitten by a zombie? Or do they put her out of her misery, for the good of the group?
The shock of Sunday’s episode, is not only that they decide to kill her, but that AMC shows Carol leading her out the Grove, telling her to “look at the flowers”, and raising her gun to the back of Lizzie’s head. We hear, but don’t see, the gun go off, and Carol leaves the Grove alone.
There are so many moral questions to be debated here! Did they do the right thing by killing her? Could they have done anything else to help her? Should they have just left her to fend for herself? Isn’t it their fault that she killed her sister because they had left the children alone in the first place? I don’t know what the right answer is here, but clearly this show is not just about zombies. The Walking Dead is pushing the limits on deeply emotional and controversial topics. Life and death, and individual rights versus the good of the group. For me, it wasn’t a huge surprise that they decided to kill her; Carol previously killed two of the sick people in the prison to try to prevent an outbreak of disease (for which Tyreese handily forgives her, obviously after living through their decision about Lizzie). Carl had to kill his own mother who was dying during childbirth to prevent her from becoming a zombie. Rick had to kill Carol’s daughter Sophia when she emerges from the barn in Season 2 as a walker. The list goes on for how much this show has pushed the limits.
But is the ‘mercy’ (?) killing of a child too much for television? Personally, I don’t think you would still be watching this show if you weren’t expecting them to challenge your moral compass a bit at this point in the series. Obviously, this episode was a shocker and it’s to be expected that some people would be caught off guard, unpleasantly so. But I think we’ve been so desensitized in so many other ways that this episode really shouldn’t push us over the limits. I try not to get too offended by fictional TV shows, so I didn’t mind this one although it did got me thinking about how this will impact the characters down the line. So while I think this one pushed the envelope, it wasn’t too much different from lots of other controversial scenes they’ve shown in the past.
What do you think? Did The Walking Dead go too far? Should they stick to straight-up zombie killing? I’d love to hear from you!