This post contains spoilers through the Nov. 13 episode of The Walking Dead.
I’ve been somewhat frustrated by this season of The Walking Dead, but I’ve appreciated the flashes back to the process of society going to pieces, which I admit I tend to find more interesting than the wandering around post-apocalypse bit (a preference I suspend in the case of The Passage, which does both). And tonight’s started off with a bang, the sight of military helicopters napalming the roads into cities in an effort to contain the walkers, with a preview of the conflict to come: is it easier and more moral to protect yourself and embrace a biting realism, or to struggle to build a fragile society under great pressure. “The boy’s hungry. We can spare one box,” Carol says, in the first act that will truly bind her to the group that will become her family. “It’s called operational security,” Ed spits back at her. “How long do you think this stuff is going to last if you keep running your mouth off to every damn person we meet?” In the world after the apocalypse, will we be Ed or Carol? Rick or Shane? Daryl or Merle?
There’s right in both sides. Shane’s probably correct about the danger of reminiscing, when he says, “You shouldn’t be talking about that stuff. It’s gone. That life, and everything in it…It’s like we’re old folks. Everyone in our stories are dead.” And he’s also probably correct, even if he doesn’t know it, that there’s something dangerous about letting the members of the group get comfortable, especially if Hershel isn’t going to let them stay. But as Rick tells Lori, Shane is also probably wrong that “My good intentions are making me weaker…He says it’s math, basic survival…Not much room in that equation for being soft.” There’s no question that’s true, but physical survival isn’t the only kind of survival.
Daryl, after his accident in the woods, sees a hallucination of his brother that’s a perfect dramatization of that dilemma. “You his bitch now?” Daryl imagines Merle telling him. “You a joke, that’s what you are. Playing errand boy to a bunch of pansy asses, niggers, and Democrats. You’re nothing but a freak to them.” He stumbles into camp having eaten raw squirrel, with zombie ears on a thong about his neck. But Carol tells him, feverish and recovering, that “You did more for that little girl in a day than her daddy did for her in his whole life…You’re every bit as good as them. Every bit.” There’s worth in doing the right thing. Even after the end of the world, you can still make a difference in a kid’s life. But whether or not you can make a difference in a zombie’s? Well, Hershel may believe you can, but it seems to me, at least, like it’s an open question.