The Walking Dead

War of All Against All

***A BIT MORE THE WALKING DEAD SPOILERS***

So it finally happened. The build-up of an entire season, the tension, and every drop of sweat that came with it, all pointed to the moment where we would meet him: Negan, the man, the legend. The one with a pentient for words, ascots, and bats wrapped in barbed wire who possibly share a name with your grandmother.

Of course some people hated the cliffhanger. Someone was going to die, and God forbid Americans get denied their vicarious bloodshed. But, that’s beside the point. When Negan pointed Lucille at the camera after his pee pee pants city version of eeny meeny miney moe, he did something more than pick which actor was not getting their contract renewed. He was going to murder your very idea of morality with a handful of Hobbesian swings to its head.

A.) WAIT, WHO’S THE GOOD GUY AGAIN?

Ok, so it’s possible that the writers weren’t thinking about any deep moral implications when they wrote any of it, but they are certainly there at a base level. Negan’s character was, by Robert Kirkman’s admission, supposed to present a kind of moral ambiguity:

Negan is kind. Negan is respectful. Negan is psychotic. Negan is ruthless. This is a very nuanced character that has a lot of different shades to him.

As Rick and Co. were trying to get Maggie to the Hilltop to potentially save her unborn child, most people recoiled and watched in horror as Negan’s Saviors slowly showed their size, cunning, and as Kirkman put it, ruthlessness. These are really, really bad people. I mean sure, Rick murdered a bunch of people in their sleep, but Negan is awful.

Look at Negan’s Saviors, though. Look at how many of them there are. Never before have we seen a group of survivors so large. He has assembled a large group of people under the same flag, and he seems to be able to take care of them all. Isn’t that good and noble? Arguably, up to this point, no one person in the entire show has “saved” as many people as Negan obviously has. If the end goal of a zombie apocalypse is to restart the human race, Negan seems to be fairing much better than anyone else.

So therein lies the greater questions. Is Negan truly bad? How can you tell? How do you know? Really, ask yourself if Negan is bad or wrong. It’s important because the interaction between the Saviors and Rick’s group are not only putting social contract theory on full display, but also because it’s calling into question the very origins of morality.

B.) SOCIAL CONTRACT THEORY

So, I’ve written a lot about The Walking Dead for the past month or so, and arguably that’s because this season has done for us what it has done for the characters: given us time to think. The viewers were in survival mode as much as the survivors as we watched them being funneled into what seemed like a whole lot of forced choices. Recently, the story has focused on the characters being able to catch their breath for stretches (between Wolves, hordes, and other assorted things) and actually think about what’s going on, allowing us to ponder some of the same things.

In those other musings, I discussed the family being the building block of society and how our fledgling Ricktatorship made its first societal decision to go to war. Inevitably, we now have societies interacting and not just individuals, but how are these societies forming? What is the glue that keeps these societies together that are starting to spring up all over the countryside?

While not explicit, we have seen the manifestation of social contract theory. Social contract theory has been around for a long time in one form or another, but they generally share the idea that societies are created when individuals, upon interacting with other individuals, cede some of their freedom to an authority in exchange for protection of their other freedoms. In essence, theories generally start off with an individual in nature, by himself or herself, and then try to describe why they would enter into society with other individuals. There has to be an original state of man before we can figure out why one would want to join with others.

Even though the roots are deep, the Enlightenment really brought social contract theory into its own, particularly through the work of Thomas Hobbes and John Locke.

C.) THROUGH THE EYES OF HOBBES

Thomas Hobbes was influential on social contract theory through his book, Leviathan.

Dude needs an ascot and some barbed wire around that scepter-thing.

Dude needs an ascot and some barbed wire around that scepter-thing.

In the writing, Hobbes tried to imagine man in his original state, or “state of nature” for the individual, with no government or controlling entity over him. To Hobbes, a person in the state of nature had the right to everything and anything in the world. While that might sound fantastic, it truly isn’t for Hobbes, considering that you probably aren’t alone. If others are out there in the state of nature, they, too, have a right to everything in the world. This ultimately leads to, as Hobbes put it, bellum omnium contra omnes, or war of all against all. It led to his famous description of life in this state:

In such condition, there is no place for industry; because the fruit thereof is uncertain: and consequently no culture of the earth; no navigation, nor use of the commodities that may be imported by sea; no commodious building; no instruments of moving, and removing, such things as require much force; no knowledge of the face of the earth; no account of time; no arts; no letters; no society; and which is worst of all, continual fear, and danger of violent death; and the life of man, solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.

An individual, by himself, has no one to answer to but himself, but he is driven by the constant fear of being killed by others who likewise don’t have to answer to anyone but themselves. At some point, to remove the most fundamental fear of the individual, two or more people are driven to decide that they will accept not being killed in exchange for their ability to kill others. Society starts off, then, as a form of cold war through mutually assured destruction. Joe gives up his right to kill others without consequence if John also gives up his right to do the same. So, no one kills anyone else not because it is inherently wrong, but rather because they don’t want to be killed. The only way to make sure this rule stays in place is to have some form of governing body to monitor it, and voila, society is born.

Of course it gets more complicated once we get past not murdering each other, but we have to start somewhere. This actually evolved into the theory of realism in international politics, where societies then become like individuals in the state of nature when interacting with other societies in the infinite struggle of maintaining oneself in exchange for not offing your neighbor.

D.) THROUGH THE EYES OF LOCKE

John Locke’s work, although still social contract theory, differed pretty substantially from Hobbes. Whereas they both agreed that people are inclined to form societies out of the state of nature, Locke essentially argued that there was morality to human action prior to the social contract as opposed to evolving from the social contract. To Locke, there was the Law of Nature that dictated action, and what people lacked was the power to protect their own rights from others who violated the Law of Nature. The State, then, would be mutually agreed upon by individuals seeking to protect themselves from those that would seek to injure them.

Natural Law is central to much of Western thought, from the ancient Greeks to Catholic theology. In discussing Natural Law, Cicero put it succinctly (as quoted by the Catechism of the Catholic Church):

For there is a true law: right reason. It is in conformity with nature, is diffused among all men, and is immutable and eternal; its orders summon to duty; its prohibitions turn away from offense… To replace it with a contrary law is a sacrilege; failure to apply even one of its provisions is forbidden; no one can abrogate it entirely.

In essence, there is an inherent order to nature that is universal and unbreakable. This law exists above and beyond man and, although we may violate the law (and hence why we would want protection from its violation by forming society), it can never be legislated away. As I’ve written before, the idea of Natural Law is actually central to the very foundation of the United States of America.

E.) NEGAN AND THE STATE OF NATURE

Why social contract theory is so interesting when held up to The Walking Dead is because we have been witnessing man in the state of nature throughout most of the series. Think about it, if you were a lone survivor wandering through the wilderness (a la Enid eating a turtle), what possibly guides your actions? How can any modern notion of action apply to a situation where there is no actor but yourself? How can modern moral relativism, where we define morality simply by whether or not it hurts others, matter at all when there are no others to hurt?

This is the state that most all survivors are found in, and whether they started as a small group or they were an individual found by others, at some point they gave up a little bit of their freedom of action in that state of being in exchange for greater protection as a member of the group. In Negan’s case, he brokered this exchange under his own authority, as opposed to Rick’s more organic form of coming into a leadership role. Still, each new cast member on the show had, at some point, their social contract moment.

We are seeing, then, the most basic functional society possible in terms of being ostensibly one step removed from individuals in a state of nature. However, now we have the Hobbesian realism where we are simply trading single celled organisms in a state of nature for multi-celled organisms in a state of nature. Conflict may be averted between individuals, but now we have conflicts with societies. So, in a state of nature such as this, how is Negan the “bad guy” of the story?

What the conflict between the Saviors and our survivors is doing is putting the very root of our morality to the test by laying it bare. If morality is relative, if morality has no basis other than being a result of mutually assured destruction via social contract, then you cannot possibly argue that Negan is, in fact, bad. His Saviors are the new collective individual in the state of nature, and with their size, he has no reason to enter into a social contract with Rick’s group. Rick tried, he asked to talk it out, but why should Negan talk anything out? Rick had no power. The tables had turned from when Rick had the upper hand and refused to talk it out while he killed a few Saviors in their sleep. What Negan is showing you is the ultimate end of moral relativity, as this is exactly what it looks like. There is no authority higher than mankind and its social contracts, and Negan has no one to answer to but himself because he controls all of the contracts.

Does that sit well with you? Or do you still feel like Negan is bad, evil, wrong, or all of the above? To argue that individuals in the state of nature still have guiding principles, you would have to acknowledge that there is some authority higher than man. There would have to be some law than man could not alter. Like Aristotle, Cicero, and Locke, you would have to acknowledge a universal constant above our control. In essence, is murder wrong because it violates someone else’s right to life, or is it wrong because we’ve collectively agreed to not murder each other for fear of punishment from our mutually established authority above us? Is there a greater authority above someone like Negan, or is Negan the authority because there is no one higher than him? This is the very internal struggle Carol is now going through on the show as she begins to view her own actions through a different lens. For so long, she killed because there was no higher authority than her own survival. Now, she’s not so sure, and perhaps there is a morality above her own power that she has been flaunting for so long.

We are lucky that most of us already live in a fully functioning society. We don’t have to necessarily worry ourselves with how or why it formed and we can simply enjoy the protection it offers. However, we should never be immune from having to think about any of our actions, and whatever moral code we ascribe to our actions should hold true from the beginning and beyond. Hobbes was often accused of being an atheist for his theories, which he denied, but one can see why that label would hold weight. In a state of nature with free action, there is no right or wrong, and right and wrong are simply societal constructs to protect ourselves from others. For Locke, though, right and wrong are inherent and universal in nature itself, and you can certainly imply divinity there if you felt so inclined.

I won’t guide anyone one way or another, but Negan and the Saviors certainly are the most perfect demonstration of social contract theory and the very foundation of morality. So, is Negan wrong in his actions because his actions are inherently wrong, or is Negan right because there is no one to tell him he’s wrong? In our base state, is it truly a war of all against all, or are we called to be defenders of all against some? Whatever the answer, kudos to Robert Kirkman and The Walking Dead for providing us such a thought provoking character and story.

Advertisements

Thomas Aquinas and Zombies

***MORE THE WALKING DEAD SPOILERS***

Amazingly enough, The Walking Dead keeps spitting out those morals dilemmas faster than I can keep up with them.  For the second post in a row, I find myself pondering what the show is laying down.  And boy, is it laying it down hard.

In my last writing, I attempted to delve into The Walking Dead’s treatment of society by touching on both family and life as the building blocks of civilization.  So, now that we have civilization (or some proto-form of it), where do we go from there?  Of course it would be easy for everyone to kick back, start farming, and try to learn Latin, but you’d be a fool to think our favorite survivors would have an easy road.  Or you read the comics.  Either way, to quote our favorite mullet-coiffed character, we are now in “Phase 2” of society mode: how to deal with other societies.

eugene

Sweet hair not necessary, but helpful.

A.) WAR AND PEACE

After Rick’s realization that he wants to truly build again through family, he and Daryl have an unexpected meeting with a “clean” gentleman on the road.  Through a bit of trickery, and quite a bit of slipperiness, the man who goes by the name of Jesus ends of getting away with the team’s large haul.  Not for long, though, as they chase him down, lose their supplies that they were trying to recover in the process, and (begrudgingly on Daryl’s part in a sort of role reversal) haul Jesus back to Alexandria.  Jesus, being part Houdini, breaks free and has some stunning news for our mostly clothed group, explaining that there are other groups of survivors out there.  The world got bigger instantaneously as Jesus explained that he is from the Hilltop community.

Now, not only is the world bigger, but it just got a whole lot more complicated.  Besides a misunderstanding and a long chase scene, Jesus committed no acts of violence, even though he could have on numerous occasions.  For the first time, Rick’s group can start a meeting with other human beings from a perspective of diplomacy instead of bullets.  Diplomacy offers some healthier options than blood, namely trade and possible mutual assistance.  For the first time in the show, a meeting can occur in relative peace.

That is, until blackmailed Hilltop members come back to kill Hilltop’s leader for another group of survivors with some issues.  Like the mob, the Saviors said they’d protect Hilltop if they gave them pretty much all of their stuff.  Hilltop of course agreed, albeit under a bit of duress and through the Saviors’ style of diplomacy via dead bodies.  Daryl, Abraham, and Sasha had their own meeting with a band of Saviors prior to meeting Hilltop, and it went poorly until a well-placed RPG hit some motorcycles.

So, Rick and the gang, who desperately need supplies, strike a deal.  Food for blood.  Peace and trade for war and death.  And make no bones about it, that’s what it is.  The survivors have had plenty of conflicts, but it’s different this time, because a conflict between two societies is war.

B.) JUS BELLUM IUSTUM

Rick holds a town meeting to finalize their trade arrangement.  Besides Morgan’s predictable disapproval, the Alexandrians are clearly in favor of defending themselves preemptively.  The plan is quick, decisive, and brutal.  Rick and the survivors find the Saviors’ compound and, in the middle of the night while most of them slept, pretty much slaughtered all of them like cattle.  It was gut-wrenching to watch as some of the characters take their first human life in such a cold manner, driving knives through the skulls of their unconscious enemies.

The big questions that I’m sure went through every viewer’s mind that night were simple.  Were they right?  Were they justified?  Again, whether they know it or not, the writers of The Walking Dead have now broached another philosophical concept in Just War Theory.

Like most philosophical topics, there are smart people throughout history that thought about this stuff long before we did.  Thomas Aquinas was just such a man, and he covered this very topic in his Summa Theologica.  In his writing, Aquinas stated that there are three things necessary for a war to be just, so let’s see how Alexandria stacks up.

saint-thomas-aquinas-16

Writing took an extra step back then.

C.) THE THREE REQUIREMENTS FOR JUST WAR

First, the authority of the sovereign by whose command the war is to be waged.

The first requirement for a just war derives from a sovereign authority.  Aquinas points this out because war must always be carried out for the common good of the people, so naturally those with authority over the common good need to be making the decision.  An individual cannot summon an army of the people to take care of his grievances, after all.

Does such a sovereign authority exist within our group of survivors?  Arguably, it does.  As funny as the “Ricktatorship” slogan is, there is a modicum of truth to it.  Prior to her death, Deanna was clearly running the show in Alexandria, and after bringing in Rick’s group, she also very clearly began the process of handing the reins over.  Even if he wasn’t clearly the leader, Rick called together all of Alexandria to essentially vote on whether or not war was the answer.  If Rick isn’t a sovereign authority over Alexandria, the entirety of Alexandria had a say in the matter.

So, this requirement seems to be met, although few likely had a problem with the actual decision to fight.

Secondly, a just cause is required, namely that those who are attacked, should be attacked because they deserve it on account of some fault.

Aquinas explains this point by simply quoting Augustine, who also opined on the subject.  “A just war is wont to be described as one that avenges wrongs, when a nation or state has to be punished, for refusing to make amends for the wrongs inflicted by its subjects, or to restore what it has seized unjustly.”

Whereas the survivors had little interaction with the people that led the Saviors, it’s hard to say that their first encounter with them was anything but belligerent.  The motorcycle gang of Saviors clearly wanted to take everything the survivors had at the moment, and it looked as if they were seconds away from killing one of them.  Most would say that the aforementioned RPG was fired in self-defense.

Furthermore, Rick witnessed firsthand that the Survivors’ diplomacy tactics were questionable.  Well, I think most would agree that blackmailing someone to murder someone else is questionable.

It seems as if there are plenty of wrongs to be avenged, and the Hilltop’s supplies were unjustly seized for the Saviors’ “protection.”  However, at the time, there was little actual contact with the group by anyone from Alexandria.  Can we be sure that they refused to make amends?  Has it ever been discussed?  Are we sure that these aren’t rogue groups?  Although there was no contact, it seemed on each occasion that the Saviors were doing it on behalf of their leader, Negan.  It’s safe to say that these weren’t isolated incidents, and that the continued use of such tactics is a refusal to make amends for wrongs committed.

I would say this requirement is met as well.

Thirdly, it is necessary that the belligerents should have a rightful intention, so that they intend the advancement of good, or the avoidance of evil.

Augustine is again quoted by Aquinas to further describe what is meant, further discussing right intention.  “The passion for inflicting harm, the cruel thirst for vengeance, an unpacific and relentless spirit, the fever of revolt, the lust of power, and such like things, all these are rightly condemned in war.”

Being viewers of a TV show, we often have clear views into the motivations of some characters.  Rick, in particular, seemingly turned a new leaf in wanting a new world for his son and newfound family.  It would be hard to imagine that he would immediately destroy that with a dangerous war.  He is not out for power, for vengeance (at that point there was nothing really to even avenge), or some kind of masochistic desire to cause others harm.  The war comes into focus through desiring peace with Alexandria’s neighbors and, to probably a greater extent, pure survival.  Although not entirely altruistic, there is a desire to see Hilltop at peace just as much as Alexandria, and the Saviors seem to be a threat to that peace.

So, it would appear that the criteria are met for Alexandria’s war with the Saviors.  However, that’s only half of the analysis, and it is what followed that caused the most pause.

D.) JUS IN BELLO

The above section was mainly in regards to jus ad bellum, or right to war.  However, even if there is a just cause, what about the conduct during a just war?  This is a separate philosophy know as jus in bello, or law in war.

First, it is clear that Rick and his group are, in essence, ambushing the enemy.  Aquinas states that the purpose of an ambush is to deceive the enemy, but he makes a distinction between two types of deception: lying and not declaring purpose.  To Aquinas, lying is always wrong, whether it be saying something false or breaking a promise.  However, not declaring your purpose is not the same:

[A] man may be deceived by what we say or do, because we do not declare our purpose or meaning to him. Now we are not always bound to do this… Wherefore much more ought the plan of campaign to be hidden from the enemy. For this reason among other things that a soldier has to learn is the art of concealing his purpose lest it come to the enemy’s knowledge, as stated in the Book on Strategy by Frontinus. Such like concealment is what is meant by an ambush which may be lawfully employed in a just war.

Nor can these ambushes be properly called deceptions, nor are they contrary to justice or to a well-ordered will. For a man would have an inordinate will if he were unwilling that others should hide anything from him.

In war, much of the conduct, whether it be troop movements or battle strategy, has to be concealed from the enemy.  What is the alternative?  If, during war, the enemy knew all of your plans, surely it would come at the loss of both troops and, most likely, the war itself.  Likewise, an enemy shouldn’t expect their opponents to divulge that information.  So, ambushes aren’t necessarily unjust as a tactic.

Aquinas, unfortunately, doesn’t go much beyond that for conduct during war, and that is also where it becomes the most grey for our survivors.  First, it goes without saying, that the Saviors were never even aware of Alexandria’s existence, let alone that they were in a war.  However, with the way they conducted themselves, it would be difficult to say that they shouldn’t have expected retaliation at some point.

The real difficulty, though, lies in more modern principles of jus in bello as it pertains to civilians.  Military action needs to be 1.) directed towards enemy combatants, 2.) conducted so as to not excessively harm civilians, and 3.) a legitimate military objective.  In the world of The Walking Dead, it is virtually impossible to say who is a civilian and who is an enemy combatant, and unfortunately you don’t necessarily have time to sit and ask.  Rick’s group had a clear military objective in reaching the armory first, but how would you classify a man sleeping in his bunk?  Are you sure they are fighters?  Would they have surrendered if given the opportunity?

E.) BLURRED LINES

Back in Alexandria, Morgan began the construction of a prison cell while the assault was underway to give Rick “options.”  And, perhaps, that is a meaningful addition to Alexandria’s society.  In the ancient world, corporal punishment and executions were often used not as deterrents, but rather because there was no other meaningful way to protect society from those who sought to harm it.

In a world where every person is a potential threat, and there is no distinction between civilian and soldier (much like ongoing issues surrounding terrorism), it can leave one wondering what is right and wrong in conflict.  Still, Morgan may be right.  It isn’t enough for society to be born, it needs to be maintained as well.  Without options, without the ability to show mercy and to always punish, society may not be able to move past its first steps.  That’s why the assault on the Saviors’ compound was so difficult, because for once Rick and the group could decide.  They weren’t forced to kill and they weren’t acting on instinct.  Rather, they were making a conscious, societal decision on how to conduct themselves along blurred lines.

Alexandria might have been right in their decision to go to war, but their conduct during war was inching towards the gray.  It can be argued that their action was justified, and maybe it was, but the trouble with acting in the gray is that it can inch towards black or white.  It can always potentially lead down the wrong path as easily as it can move towards the right one.  Either way, most fans want Rick and his group to do the right thing, and that’s why it hurts to see them venture into the morally ambiguous.  They may be good by comparison to a group like the Saviors, but there is no guarantee that there will always be good guys in the end.

The Walking Alive

***THE WALKING DEAD SPOILERS***

There, got that part out of the way.  Anyway, The Walking Dead is, for the most part, not a happy show. Zombie apocalypses generally don’t lend themselves well to feel good stories, long walks in the park, and puppies. I mean, I’m sure there are still puppies out there, but it’s hard to cuddle with them when flesh-eating monsters are ambling towards you with teeth a-chomping.

We are more than halfway through the sixth season, and the characters have had their ups and downs. Some are permanently down, since it’s hard to recover from death. Still, even though it was hidden in plain sight, the past few episodes, particularly the most recent one entitled “Knots Untie” that aired this week, have given what might be the most basic and perfect glimpse into human society that has appeared on TV for some time.  And, it was done beautifully through something that seems contrary to the title of the show: life.

A.) CIVILIZATION COLLAPSES

For those that watch the show, our hero, Rick Grimes, begins his adventure when he wakes up after things have already gone down the toilet. There are some moments where he has to learn the hard way about maneuvering in the new rotting flesh world, but uncertainty about the world at large keeps hope alive for a time. He finds other survivors, along with his wife and son (odds aside), and they try to find out just how bad things are. Sure, they are in survival mode, but they are still largely struggling to get a glimmer of hope that the world isn’t over. There is still a struggle to stay civilized.

That hope fades, though. Each turn becomes grimmer, even if they take steps forward for brief moments. The band of survivors finds a family farm and tries to coexist, only to be overrun by zombies.

Zombies.

Zombies.

They find an abandoned prison, only to be overrun by a sociopath along with his unwitting teammates.

And zombies.

And zombies.

They seek refuge in a mysterious settlement, only to be prepared as dinner for other people.

And then get overrun by zombies.

And then get overrun by zombies.

They head to DC because they think they have a scientist that has the answers, only to figure out it was a lie, and then arrive at a settlement anyway and get overrun by crazy people.

And zombies.

And zombies.

If you’ve watched the show, you know the drill.

Through the slow burn, Rick Grimes begins to not only lose hope for civilization, but he also begins to completely lose his humanity. As his beard grows and he becomes more disheveled, he soon almost becomes an animal and, in my opinion, it reaches its lowest point in the final episode of Season 4. Backed into a horrible situation by horrible people, Rick actually bites out the throat of his captor. It was the transformative moment in Rick Grimes’s downward spiral and, quite possibly, his lowest point when it came to cementing his loss of humanity. He looked like the walkers they were trying to avoid.

B.) BEYOND SURVIVAL

The interesting thing about Rick’s loss of humanity is that it follows an interesting linear progression. Sense of civilization is lost, then sense of family is lost, then sense of self is lost. It is a sort of funnel in regards to loss of purpose and identity, and at the other end is the most basic portions of existence in the form of pure survival. Eventually, when they are on the run, all that matters is making it to the next day. Nothing else is important, nor could it really be under the circumstances.

Of course the show would be pure misery if it stayed that way forever. A rebound does start to slowly build for Rick and his band of survivors once they reach Alexandria. The walled city that still lived in relative luxury was a shockingly stark contrast that was incredibly hard to deal with for the group (and Rick in particular). There was still an us vs. them mentality, and the weak Alexandrians were seen as soft and, possibly, a huge liability to survival. Rick was hell-bent on making them “understand” how the world now works.

Things slowly change as they spend more time there, and in a story arc that took half of the sixth season, Rick has his turning point. After the heartbreak of losing others he started to grow close to, as well as seemingly losing his son, Rick goes on a final suicide attack on the zombie horde that has at that point surrounded them. But he doesn’t die. The Alexandrians rally around him and, with luck and an RPG launched from a fuel tanker, the day is won. It is in those moments that Rick turns it around. And what realization does Rick have that makes him flip the switch?

Family. These people are family. And he needs to treat them that way instead of liabilities or just a few more people to watch his back. This is the “new world” that Rick now wants to show his children.

C.) REDISCOVERING FAMILY

Even though it may seem obvious, it really isn’t. What The Walking Dead showed in that moment is something so basic and fundamental to humanity that it takes a complete loss of it to fully grasp it. If there is any hope to build (or rebuild) society, you absolutely need to have its most fundamental building block: the family. Without a sense of family, Rick lost his humanity. And, on the other hand, Rick could begin to regain his humanity through the formation of family. Without family, what are we but lone survivors in the wild? Likewise, if you were to build society from the ground up, like the survivors on the show, where should you start but family?

This realization of the importance of family was building through multiple angles and at different times. Glenn was probably the earliest one to, on some level, understand the need for family. Hershel, the owner of the farm that got overrun by zombies, didn’t accept Glenn at first. It was through his taking in Glenn as almost a son and giving his daughter’s hand to Glenn in marriage that planted those early seeds. Glenn’s respect for Hershel and family is readily apparent in his desire to marry Maggie in the first place. To think, in a time when the world is ending, that marriage is even a thought in his head. Glenn’s respect for Hershel and family guided his respect for a societal tradition that didn’t seem like it would be necessary anymore.

Michonne, another survivor that lost much during the apocalypse, spends a lot of time with Rick and his children, Carl and Judith. Michonne slowly begins treating Carl as if he was her own son during their journey, and she too has her own epiphany, stemming from a conversation with Deanna, the “mayor” of Alexandria. At one point, Deanna asks Michonne what she truly wants for her whole life. Michonne ends up helping Spencer deal with his eventually zombified mother, Deanna, after Carl led her to them in the woods, and when confronting Carl about his recklessness, they have this exchange:

Michonne: “Was that some sort of game out there? Did you think that…”

Carl: “No”

Michonne: “Then why?”

Carl: “Because it should be someone who loved her, someone who’s family, and I’d do it for you. I would.”

Michonne: “Come here. Me too.”

In that moment, Michonne realizes that what she wants for her whole life is family. Likewise, Carl finds his anchor point in family after the ordeal.

These are some of the biggest examples from the show, but the thread is the same. After losing civilization, after losing hope, and after simply surviving, they can only come back and start to regain hope for humanity by rediscovering family.

D.) FROM FAMILY TO CIVILIZATION

It doesn’t end there, though. This realization brings them together and gives them a common purpose other than survival. They have the beginning of civilization in their hands. But, is it enough to rebuild?

Deanna had grand plans for Alexandria. Expansion, farming, even a church. There were search parties to find survivors and bring them into the fold. Deanna wanted to rebuild society from the ground up. Still, we need to ask ourselves this: why? Why should any of them care to rebuild? By the time they expand and get things off the ground, will some of them even be alive to enjoy the fruits of their labors? What hope do they have for their efforts if they will all eventually die?

This, again, is the next obvious, yet forgotten, part of the equation. It is hinted at with Morgan’s return and philosophy, but the other characters themselves don’t quite get it yet.  Particularly Abraham. With Maggie being pregnant and Abraham dealing with his own struggles revolving around women and his future, he asks Glenn in his typical Abraham way: “When you were pouring the bisquick, were you trying to make pancakes?”

Glenn doesn’t know what he’s asking at first, but most of us with our minds in the gutter knew pretty quick what he was getting at. Glenn’s answer is stunning to Abraham when he acknowledges that they fully understood what they were doing, and they wanted to. Abraham is incredulous and follows up with another colorful piece of Abraham linguistics in the following exchange:

Abraham: “Well, given the precarious state of affairs on any given Sunday, I am damn near floored that you or anyone else would have the cojones to make a call like that.”

Glenn: “I mean, well… we’re trying to build something, me and her. All of us.”

Abraham: “For the record, I see rain coming, I’m wearing galoshes.”

Abraham’s reaction can’t be faulted. How could anyone possibly want to have and raise a child in this new world? Interestingly, how often do we ask ourselves that question even though we are in nowhere near the same dire straits as the characters on the show? Abraham’s not ready for it, and he can’t fathom how anyone would make that decision consciously.

It isn’t the first time that there was a pregnancy on the show. Rick’s wife Lori became pregnant much earlier in the show with Judith, along with the drama of not knowing who the father was. There was the same thought process that was driving Abraham’s questions. Is this really a world to bring a new life into? Can she deal with the uncertainty of who fathered the child? Should she even have the child? Perhaps Lori came to the same realization as Glenn and Maggie, but Glenn vocalized it in the above exchange. They are building something. Not just for themselves, but for everyone.

Subtly, and maybe not entirely unknowingly, The Walking Dead has shone the light on what is needed to make civilization. It isn’t just family on its own. They had that now. No, family is the building block, and what springs from that human relationship is life. Deanna wanted to build walls and farms, but what good are they without life to fill the walls, to till the soil, and to eat the food? You see, Deanna was building family and community. Glenn and Maggie consciously decided to take family and build civilization.

Glenn and Maggie, on their way to meeting another functioning colony, happened to rescue a doctor who was an obstetrician before the mayhem. As a part of a trade deal with their new semi-neighbors, Maggie ended up getting a sonogram and a checkup for her pregnancy. On the ride home they shared the picture. Words weren’t said, but the looks on both Darryl’s and Abraham’s faces said it all. They were no longer simply fighting for their own future. They were fighting for THE future.

E.) THE FOREST AND THE TREES

In today’s world, it’s hard to see the simple with the multitude of distractions in front of us. Also, many of us live lives of relative ease, especially when compared to the doomsday that we see weekly on The Walking Dead, so the simple often escapes us. We frequently hear the phrase about not being able to see the forest for the trees to caution us about getting lost in the details. Why worry about the tree when there is a whole forest out there? But the tree is at the heart of the forest, and the seed is the beginning of the tree. Such is the, for a lack of a better phrase, simplicity of the complexity of the human relationship, where such a simple detail gets lost in the shuffle. We bond with each other, from that bond springs life, and the bonds of the future weave themselves into a beautiful web that forms our society.

Now, even with how basic of a concept it is regarding family, society, and life, it leads to arguments today. Some, unfortunately, can’t have children. Others choose not to have them. None of this is to say that having children is necessary for a life to have meaning. However, we are starting to collectively forget what gives birth to civilization. When we fail to realize the dignity of every life, or of life itself, we see the degradation of society through the rejection of its very core. Children are the future, and those without children, as they grow into their twilight years, will need to rely upon the children of others in order to keep society alive and moving into that future.   We need to return to a societal understanding that life is precious and in need of our protection for the good of all humanity, whether we have children, can’t have children, or don’t want children. Having children isn’t necessary to respect the dignity of all human life.

Looking back on The Walking Dead as it has progressed, it is truly amazing how they have brought the most basic parts of the human condition into the spotlight. In order to show us civilization, they tore it down to its very core. And now, through one sonogram picture in a sea of despair, we are being shown how to bring civilization back. It’s fascinating how a show about the dead can teach us so much about life.