Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Lessons from the Walking Dead: Good vs. Evil?

I’m not big on watching television. Outside of some sports (NOTHING beats the NCAA basketball season and March Madness), I don’t watch a lot of TV shows.

One show I do watch, as do most of the people in my social circles, is The Walking Dead. Over the past two episodes something has struck me, and being a writer this is the only way I know to share.

I think sometimes in life there is little difference between good and evil, and I believe The Walking Dead shows that, in many cases, the difference is only a matter of perspective.

Let’s take a look at Rick Grimes, leader of our little band of survivors in The Walking Dead. These are people we’ve watched come together and persevere through the zombie apocalypse. They’ve managed to survive, to even find a safe haven of sorts, despite this worldwide epidemic that seems to have claimed most of humanity. They’ve watched their own family and friends fall victim. They’ve endured what few could survive.

Our good buddy Rick has taken on the mantle of leadership. He’s put his life on the line numerous times, he’s shouldered the constant worry of ensuring all are safe, and when they found Sophia, the little girl they had been spent months searching for, had been turned to a zombie, Rick is the one who put a bullet in her head because he knew the trauma of doing so would be too much for anyone else to bear. Quite frankly without his leadership my guess is everyone in his group would be dead by now.

And he’s managed to do so while holding on to some vestige of his moral code – you never leave your folks behind, there are certain rights that are always right, certain wrongs that are always wrong.

A stand-up guy.

Then we have the governor, the man who leads Woodbury. He’s evil. He keeps disembodied heads from his victims – zombies and regular folks – stored in tanks in his private bedroom for his own personal viewing pleasure. He led his men in an ambush where they killed a half dozen or so soldiers and stole their equipment. He assigned one of his men to assassinate Michonne once she chose to leave Woodbury and strike out on her own. And when they captured two of Rick’s people – Maggie and Glenn – the governor let one of his thugs tie Glenn to a chair and then beat the living-crap out of him before letting a zombie loose on the bound prisoner. Then the governor assaulted, and threatened to rape, Maggie.

A true, in-the-flesh bad dude.

But is there really that much difference between Rick and the governor?

Rick’s a good guy, but he’s done some horrible things along the way. When he, Glenn and Hershel encountered a few strangers in an empty bar, Rick shot them down with the icy cold calculation of a serial killer or a gunman in the old West. While his wife withered away emotionally, starving for some sort of comfort from Rick while she carried their baby, he would barely acknowledge her existence. And when it became apparent he and Shane could no longer co-exist in the group, and that Shane was setting Rick up to kill him, Rick went along with Shane’s plan until forced into a fatal confrontation with his former best friend, rather than less violently banishing Shane to go out on his own.

The governor, by contrast, has created an oasis for nearly 100 people, a village where they can live peacefully, protected from the zombies. He allows newcomers to take up residence in the village, provided they do so in small enough numbers as to not pose a threat to the village. And, through the course of the series, we’ve learned the governor has an undying love for his daughter, the sort of all-encompassing devotion only a parent can truly understand. While his little girl has been turned into a zombie, he has kept her there, hidden away but separated from others to keep the rest of the village safe, supporting research into curing the zombie virus, mostly driven by this love.

You might say Rick’s evils, if you want to call some of his acts by that label, are driven by his desire to keep the group safe, that everything he’s done is consistent with his role as group leader, and even the bad stuff is okay when viewed in that light.

I would argue the same for the governor. Virtually everything he’s done can be construed as necessary, or at least likely necessary, to protect the town, to keep its people safe, and to one day bring his daughter back from her zombie state.

Does he take a little more dark pleasure in inflicting pain or retribution on others? Sure, but then again Rick seemed to take some sort of perverse satisfaction in the emotional pounding he inflicted on his own wife, day after day, until she was dead.

Do we view Rick as good only because the show’s creators and producers have shown him to us in that light, and we see the governor as evil, again, only because of the way the show has present him to us.

At their core, is there really a difference between good and evil, other than perspective?

I'm curious to know your thoughts. Leave a comment below and tell me what you think.

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