In the first episode, Rick prays in the church and later in that episode Carl is shot. Seemingly suggesting the ineffectiveness of prayer. But because of the injury, they meet up with Herschel and his family. Carl was fixed up and our group of would be survivors linked up with a pretty neat family.
This family and their farm represent traditional family values. Most of the women get busy cooking and tending to the sick and injured. But these values are under attack.
Shane illustrates his complete shift to a new ethic– on a scavenging trip he sacrifices Otis so that he can escape. Otis grabbed him by the hair, so he then shaves his head, a practical and symbolic gesture indicating that no one has anything to hold him.
The sanctity of life is challenged as Lori considers letting Carl die, rather than living in a zombie future. Given the state of things, this isn’t as preposterous as it sounds. Rick finds out that Lori is pregnant and perhaps the child is Shane’s–they debate the ethics of bring a child into a zombie infested world.
Herschel as the embodiment of traditional values, is blinded from the zombie reality. He still adheres to the principles of doing right for one’s friends, family and neigbours, even if they are zombies. He has a whack of them stowed in his barn.
One of the most interesting episodes in the season revolves around a captured man named Randall. He belongs to a group that has raped two teenaged girls forcing their father to watch. Conflict arises between to ethics regarding what to do with their hostage. To release him would be a risk to their group because Randall knows where the farm is and could lead the bad guys back to rape and pillage the good guys. Shane argues to kill him. This ethic is countered by Dale who recognizes inherent value in humanity and an objective morality. Rick is caught between, but decides to go with the Shane ethic for the good of the group. Rick stays the execution over Shane’s objections when he sees his son, Carl, watching. Shane releases Randall and breaks his neck him in the woods. He then tells everyone he escaped. Dale is killed by walkers. Zombified Shane is later killed by Rick.
Although both are dead, Rick, along with the audience, continues to be caught between the “Shane” and the “Dale ethics.”
In the final episode, Rick reveals to the survivors that the virus that causes zombies is carried by everyone. Everyone will become a zombie when they die. This is an interesting take on the Christian doctrine of original sin.
As if this wasn’t enough, he also admits to killing Shane. Then he declares that group decisions will no longer be decided democratically. One more American ideal has been rejected by the zombie apocalypse.
In the final shot, we see a prison.