The Walking Dead: Is the popularity of zombie shows taking justice into our own hands?

Rick and Daryl. The Walking Dead. AMC>
Rick and Daryl. The Walking Dead. AMC> /
Four walls and a roof. The Walking Dead - AMC
Four walls and a roof. The Walking Dead – AMC /

There are many theories about the popularity of zombie shows like The Walking Dead. I’ve made many stabs at theories myself. I’ve suggested the idea that we might like the thought of living life in a simpler way without the technology that runs so much of daily life now. But with 21st century sensibility. Perhaps part of it is the idea of taking justice in your own hands.

The idea of morality and humanity comes up quite often when discussing events and characters in The Walking Dead and Fear the Walking Dead. Most recently, with Fear the Walking Dead things that have happened in The Walking Dead are starting to become clearer. I love the integration of the shows by theme and time rather than by story and character.

We often hear people say things about all bets being off in a zombie apocalypse. And people trying to maintain some shred of their humanity. Perhaps that’s the appeal of the zombie show. So much of the frustration of politics and the news is injustice. Injustice is frustrating because we have humanity and compassion.  In the zombie apocalypse, you get to do what you think is right without waiting for police and judges and juries.

Daniel Salazar, Fear The Walking Dead - AMC
Daniel Salazar, Fear The Walking Dead – AMC /

You can do things that would be considered wrong and immoral in civilized society, but we say, it’s the zombie apocalypse, you have to do whatever you can to survive. I remember reading A Time to Kill by John Grisham many years ago and while I understood Carl Lee Hailey’s motivation to kill the two men who raped his little girl, it’s a complicated case involving lawyers and politics and juries, etc. In the zombie apocalypse, not so.

Justice for Pete slashing Reg’s throat and inadvertently killing him doesn’t require handcuffs, jails, lawyers, opening and closing arguments, distinctions between murder 1, murder 2 and manslaughter, judges, bail, eyewitness testimony or forensic evidence. Deanna says, “Do it.” And it’s done.

But is there a reason we don’t take justice into our own hands in real life? Who’s to decide what justice is? We seem to forgive Daniel for his torture because of Griselda and Nick and finding out about Cobalt. But how does that differ from Merle torturing Glenn and Maggie to find his brother? Would we want Nicholas to decide justice? 

Travis Manawa, Fear The Walking Dead - AMC
Travis Manawa, Fear The Walking Dead – AMC /

In Fear the Walking Dead, society hasn’t crumbled completely yet so people are still having trouble with taking justice into our own hands. Part of the interesting dynamic and perhaps the debates among fans are caused by people whose brains let go and move into survival mode and accept the “all bets are off” philosophy and people whose brains fight it.

That’s maybe why the Dales and Tyreeses and Travises are called weak and wimps and liabilities by those who move quickly into “every man for himself” or “by any means necessary” thinking. And they are favorite characters and defended by those who seek to hold onto their humanity.

One thing that has really emerged for me from Fear the Walking Dead combined with The Walking Dead is how we can’t really be objective about anything as much as we try. We make decisions based on how things are presented to us and how we feel about them.

Daryl hugs Carol. The Walking Dead - AMC
Daryl hugs Carol. The Walking Dead – AMC /

So perhaps the zombie apocalypse creates a situation where we don’t always have to be objective. We can kick zombie butt with swords and hammers and screwdrivers. We can think we wouldn’t mind eating snakes and squirrels. We can defend and forgive whomever we choose because the free-for-all-survival-mode-time liberates us from traditional logic.

We have a little wiggle room with our themes. The Walking Dead explores great themes of loyalty, forgiveness, family, perseverance, grief, and more. But we have that tiny bit of inventiveness with what we might do or whom we like because it’s a fictional scenario. We can like shady characters who are charming survivors that we might not like in real life. We can wish to take swift justice and kick zombie butt and still have loyal family to do it with.

Next: The Walking Dead: A Timeline of Events-From Morgan to Morgan

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