Just as we suspected, they are actually killing live humans and eating them. Once again, the zombies are not the real problem. There is something in humanity that makes it much worse than the zombie monster.
So much for sanctuary at Terminus.
In a brief and significant dialogue between two of the butchers in the beginning of the episode, they acknowledge that they are no longer human.
Terminus is a foil for the prison community. Initially, “the signs were real.” Terminus was a sanctuary, but they were invaded by the bad guys. They were raped and killed, but they took it back. And they learned their lesson–“You’re the butcher, or you’re the cattle.” They lost their humanity when they made their survival a higher ideal than their humanity.
The prison community, though fragmented, still place “being human” above all else–even survival. They learned this from Dale, who I think was the secular representative of this humanist ethic. They also learned it from Bible-reading Herschel who embodied the older humanism of Christianity. Although they are both dead, the spirit of these mentors lives on. At one point, Glenn declares that they must risk survival to help those still imprisoned like “cattle.” He says, “We’ve got to let those people out. It’s still who we are. It’s got to be.” Elsewhere, Tyreese shows his humanity by being willing to sacrifice his life for Judy–this is the ultimate act of being human. His willingness to die for Judy is in stark contrast to the man who is willing to snap her neck in order help his own personal survival.
The woman who functions as apologist for what Terminus has become says to Carol, “You could have been one of us. You could have listened to what the world is telling you.” Zombie narratives as modern culture some hard questions. This episode is asking us if we have an answer to what the world is telling us. It asks us to consider what we are as human beings. Are we just evolutionary accidents, “red in tooth and claw”? Or are we something more than that? If so, whose version of humanism describes reality?
Some of the terminal butchers have survived and Rick is going for some “eye for and eye and tooth for a tooth” action. He is on the verge of making the same choice that the residents of terminus made when they elevated something else above their humanity. Carol arrives in time and brings him to his baby daughter. At the end of the episode, Rick seems to have chosen to remain human, for the time being.
There is a third ethic at play in this episode. Let’s call it the Hollywood Family Ethic. This ethic says that it’s OK for good guys to behave exactly like the bad guys if they are killing and maiming in order to protect the weak–women (some women, not Carol), children and especially babies. This explains why it’s OK for Tyreese to pummel a man to death with his bare hands, for Carol to shoot a lady in the leg and then open the door to let some walkers eat her, and for Rick to shoot a bunch of butchers in the back. Our heroes are neither adhering to the Christian or secular humanist ethic, nor that of the “cattle” butcherers. They are adhering to the morality we see again and again in Hollywood films. We accept this moral position because, on the one hand, we don’t want our good guys to be exactly the same as the bad guys, and, on the other hand, we don’t want them to just “turn the other cheek” either. That would make for bad TV because we want to celebrate the bad guys getting what they deserve. We can’t risk assuming the bad guys will have to account for their sins in a future judgment, as the Christian humanists believe. We want to see them pay NOW. So, we assume that the secular humanists are right because it makes for better television.
If episode one is any indication of this season, it will be both more violent and more philosophical than ever before.