I don’t talk about The Walking Dead often. Seriously, I don’t. Okay, yeah I probably do, too much. But it’s a more complex and thoughtful narrative than people give it credit for. And before you roll your eyes, let me set the foundation.
Back in 1997, OZ (as in the HBO drama and not as in The Incredible Wizard of) was highly praised by critics and fans alike for it’s dark but honest portrayal of the relationships formed in a man’s prison. But ultimately, if you pay attention, it’s Beecher’s story. He’s the main character around whom all other tales are told. The show begins with Beecher processing in to the Oswald Penitentiary and ends, six seasons later, with Beecher on a bus leaving the prison as it explodes. A regular guy, white collar with a wife and kids, hits and kills someone while driving drunk. And we watch, one gritty graphic episode at a time as the punishment for this crime strips him of humanity, corrupts his soul, and a monster is formed. By circumstances. How many of us – good people – are one mistake away from savagery?
People come on that’s the basis for TWD!!!!! We are all one mistake, one tragedy away from savagery. How much of your humanity are you willing to sacrifice to survive? To ensure the people that you love go on? It’s a character study and often an emotional one. But regardless, very well done. If you’re willing to look a little deeper. Just a little, they’re not exactly sneaky with the sub-text. In fact, the writers are often as blunt as a baseball bat dressed in barbed-wire.
Enter Rick Grimes, our Beecher of the zombie apocalypse, who awakes from a coma after “the fall”[i] with his integrity, morality and ethics completely intact. Sadly, for Rick, the rest of the world has already shucked those non-life saving, often life-threatening, principles and we watch in agonizing detail as his are ideals are tested. And as they crumble.
The morally “right” call had dire, deadly results. The morally “wrong” choice proved as grim an outcome. For a man struggling to keep the not-so-merry band of survivors he calls family alive, he’s had to compromise time and again that which keeps him human. And eventually take on the very qualities he despises most of a dispatched villain in order to conquer the newest threat.
Don’t believe me? Remember everything we loved to hate about Shane? Remember the thread involving Rick and another man’s wife? Yep. How about the Governor? And Rick led an assault team against the Saviors unprovoked…. Oh yeah. I think I’ve proved that point; why poke at a dead horse? Ahh, remember Buttons, so sad. Your attempts to save something ultimately destroy it. Yet another not subtle analogy.
And Carol – I call her “my bitch” and that’s a compliment – she’s already figured out what Rick hasn’t… once your humanity is gone, it doesn’t come back. You have to choose, as she has, between doing ANYTHING to keep those you love alive and lose yourself in the process or walk away. She walked away. And for her that was the more difficult choice; evidence it was the right one.
Rick can’t, won’t, ever walk away. He has a woman and two children to raise. Therefore, he’ll risk turning into a monster (poor dead Abraham losing his family in just that situation) to keep their hearts beating.
And I’ll keep watching the dead walk while Rick slowly falls into a Nietzsche sized abyss.
To the fans bemoaning the first half of season 7’s slow burn: you have to build, you have to set the scene, you have to provide the details – however tiresome – necessary to tell a story that is cognizant. Otherwise, it’s Sponge Bob Square Pants i.e. make no sense at all.
[i] Yes, I’ve seen Cillian Murphy’s 28 Days Later. Yes, I recognize the similarities in basic premise. But 28DL is a 2-hour essay compared to TWD’s 7 season deep character study in the breakdown of HUMANITY.