Rick and company move into a portion of the prison after clearing it of walkers. During the clearing of a cellblock, Herschel is bitten in the leg by a zombie, but quick-thinking Rick amputates the leg below the knee, saving Herschel’s life. This event symbolically asserts that it is sometimes necessary, and regrettable, to cut off an offending part for the benefit of the whole.
The prison community values and seeks to increase its human resource. Although implementing this strategy can be problematic, those in the prison ultimately seek to incorporate others. Even five former residents of the prison are given a chance to join and contribute to the group. Three don’t survive because of incidents involving Tomas, the leader of the convicts who is unwilling to live according to Rick’s, quite reasonable, terms. The two remaining prisoners, Axel and Oscar, want to join the group. The group freely debates and discusses their admittance. Ironically, there is a lot of freedom exercised by those who have taken up residence in the former prison.
Nearby is a town called Woodbury. Within the town’s fortified perimeter, life resembles that of the pre-apocalyptic mid-west. It is ruled by a benevolent dictator who calls himself The Governor. There is no free discussion as to who will join the community; the Governor is in complete control. A soldier, Welles, ends up in the town and informs The Governor that the rest of his squad is not too far away protecting their vehicles, weapons, and supplies. The Governor takes his men out to the location, executes the soldiers and takes their equipment. On his return he sadly reports that all the soldiers were killed by zombies.
The Woodbury approach is very different than that of the prison community which is open to, at least the possibility of, incorporating others. Under the Governor’s leadership, the human resource is destroyed out of hand–Welles seemed willing to work with the community–in order to remove a remote threat to his authority and to acquire more material resources. Rick, on the other hand, is open to including convicted criminals and doesn’t kill Tomas until he exhibits “Woodbury principles” by attempting to forcibly take control of the prison.
Although, there are a lot of complications, the prison community continues to be one which seeks to incorporate others. Michonne is allowed to join. So too is Daryl’s brother, Merle (formerly the Governor’s second in command and all-round lowlife). He is admitted despite his mistreatment of Glenn and Maggie while they were prisoners in Woodbury.
As if to problematize the idea that the prison community is always operating from a far higher moral plain than is Woodbury, episode 12, “Clear,” is framed by an incident with a backpaker. In the beginning of the episode, Rick, Carl, and Michonne are driving down the road to collect supplies by which thy might protect themselves from the Governor. They pass on the road a backpacker who implores they stop, but they ignore his pleas and just drive by. As they make the return trip back to the prison at the end of the episode, they pass the backpacker’s ravaged corpse and discarded backpack. They stop and take the backpack before continuing on.
In the final episode, after a battle with The Governor and his army, the idyllic Woodbury is destroyed and the remnant of the townsfolk is incorporated into the prison community.