The Walking Dead (1): Ethics and Science

The Walking DeadNight of the Living Dead shows the uselessness of traditional values as the characters who represent these values are overwhelmed by the undead.  The Walking Dead, as almost all intervening zombie narratives, is still exploring cultural values.  In season 1, a lot of attention in given to morality within human relationships and the modern faith in science.

Every episode of The Walking Dead is an exploration of people under stress.  For it is under these circumstances that you can truly see ideal principle run up against brutal practicality. Some of the stress comes, of course, from the herds of “walkers” that seek to graze upon living flesh.  Even more stress comes because of the collapse of civilization.  But the greatest stress of all comes from living with other people in the context of the first two.

The main question is, “Do the moral values by which we lived before the zombies, still apply.”

Consider this situation:  A cop, let’s call him Rick, is thought to be dead so his wife, Lori, gets into a relationship with Shane, his partner and best friend.  But Rick isn’t dead.  Rick learns of the relationship and Lori discovers she’s pregnant.  This is pretty a pretty difficult situation in a pre-zombie world.  Now ask folks to sort it all out when surviving to their next meal is doubtful.

In season 1 of The Walking Dead we some behaviours that are good and some behaviours are bad.

Ed is bad when he beats his wife Carol.  And Shane is good when he stops him, but bad when he nearly beats him to death.  T-Dog’s lack of composure (cowardice?), that leaves Merle helpless, is bad, but it’s good when he volunteers for the rescue mission.  Merle’s racism is bad, and Daryl’s loyalty to his brother is good.  It’s really good that the nursing home employees stayed to take care of their charges. It’s not good that Dr. Jenner’s despair leads to his is planning on killing himself, but that he’s going to take everyone with is really bad, but it’s good that he eventually lets them leave in the nick of time.

The characters are under a lot of pressure and so we see them at their worst, but because the stakes are so high, we also see them at their best.  Not all the situation in season 1 are quite so ethically clear.

The first scene in the series is of a policeman, who we will later know as Rick Grimes, shooting, in the head, a little girl wearing pink bunny slippers .  Sure she’s a zombie, but traditionally, the primary function of a policemen is to protect people, none more than little girls wearing pink bunny slippers.

Andrea’s sister is bitten by a walker and killed.    Some of her comrades offer to ensure Amy stays dead, but Andrea turns her gun on them.  Andrea keeps vigil over Amy’s body until she “turns.” Then she puts a bullet in her brain.

Clearly the zombie infestation problematizes simple moral principles, but it doesn’t mock them.

Some traditional values seem to survive the zombie apocalypse, but faith in science is not one of them.  The season ends with the hope that science will save the day.  Our would-be-survivors fight their way into the seaming oasis of the Center for Disease Control facility near Atlanta.  There Dr. Jenner explains to the group the impotence of science to deal with the zombie invasion using a computer model called Test Subject 19–his wife.  In his despair he blows up the facility.

It’s pretty clear that, if there is going to be salvation, it’s not coming from science.

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