The Walking Dead: What Does Morality Mean in a Zombie Apocalypse?


Moral compass is a term that is tossed around quite a bit on Talking Dead, especially when talking about character deaths. The joke is you don’t want to be the moral compass on the show The Walking Dead or you’re walker bait for sure.  Morality, though, is a much more complex topic and you can have your own morality without the responsibility of being the moral compass for the group.  Let’s take a look at some of the characters, events and concepts of morality and what it does and doesn’t mean in the extremes of a zombie apocalypse. I may be posing more questions than providing answers.

Killing Walkers

From the first scene of the series, we are exposed to the killing of walkers. We see Rick Grimes kill Bunny Slipper Girl. We see some sadness , but also resignation in his face. We’re taught from the first minutes of the series that morality is a little different in this world. Killing these beings is probably not only okay, but necessary. We see Morgan kill one, but then we feel the heaviness with him as a tearful Morgan’s trigger finger cannot move for what feels like minutes.  Walker killing has become pretty universally accepted everywhere now in Walking Dead land as necessary for survival and compassionate for those we know.  Although somehow because of the Governor’s attachment to a cure for Penny, Michonne’s sword through her head was looked at differently by him and even some fans. Hershel’s family was looked at differently by the Greenes and some fans, but served as a lesson for the ways of the world. Some of the morality lessons happen for us as the audience and some happen for the characters.  Some of our characters are exhilarated by killing walkers, some are fearful and some are repulsed. Does this have anything to do with their morality or just their personality?

 Killing the Living who are Suffering

Much like the caring decision of putting down pets is for us, so is the decision to put down some of our fellow living. We know in the zombie apocalypse what lies ahead for those bitten–excruciating suffering. We also have no time or resources for palliative treatment, no hospice, no morphine, no Netflix and visitors holding hands. So putting down those whose fate is sealed has become a new accepted morality in Walking Dead land. I don’t think anyone was outraged when Daryl pointed his gun at Dale and said, “Sorry, brother.”

Killing the Living

This is where morality gets tangled and twisted. In a non-zombie apocalypse it can get twisted a bit with self-defense. Self-defense gets augmented in the zombie apocalypse in the sense that many times now self-defense becomes pre-emptive, which is not accepted as self-defense in our current judicial system.  Rick’s first kill of the living in the bar, while clearly self-defense, was shocking to my system and now we have things like the church slaughter to contend with as measures of justice and morality. I confess, I cried quite a bit during that scene, and I think it was for our group that they had to experience such brutality in their lives. 


There are other aspects of morality that have been touched on in the show. Andrea worried at first about stealing a necklace. Obviously, stealing and looting is now known as scavenging.  Other morality questions include loyalty,  fidelity, lying, corruption, etc. We’re dealing right now with shades of Shane and infidelity.  What about helping others? Are we morally obligated to help others? An irony I see in Alexandria is that they see our group as morally bankrupt in many ways yet they are quite willing to let others die if it means they can get back to the safety of their home and some are quite willing to lie to make themselves look like heroes and protectors.


I’d love to hear your thoughts on Zombie Apocalypse morality and what would change and what you would want to hold onto in the world of The Walking Dead. Can you think of certain instances that demonstrate a character’s sense of morality or lack of it?

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