Was Richard’s plan to sacrifice Carol to save The Kingdom on The Walking Dead ethical?

Karl Makinen as Richard, Norman Reedus as Daryl Dixon, The Walking Dead -- AMC
Karl Makinen as Richard, Norman Reedus as Daryl Dixon, The Walking Dead -- AMC /

On The Walking Dead episode 10 “New Best Friends” Richard created a plan that would have sacrificed Carol in order to start war with The Saviors. Is killing one to save many an ethical strategy in the brutal world of The Walking Dead?

Richard is ready for war. But instead of continuing to try and convince King Ezekiel that The Kingdom should join Rick in his fight against The Saviors he’s trying to start a war on his own and force King Ezekiel into striking first.

In “New Best Friends” Richard tells Daryl about his plan to start war with The Saviors. He wants Daryl to help him ambush the The Saviors on a road near The Kingdom. It has a good vantage point where they could attack and hide. Richard has stockpiled weapons and the materials to make explosives.

At first Daryl seems like he is considering this plan. But then Richard tells him that he’s laid a trap. The Saviors who survive would come looking for the attackers. And Richard has created a path that leads to the weapons cache he’s hidden. It would also lead the Saviors to Carol’s house, tricking them into thinking she was responsible for the attack.

Richard’s plan is that The Saviors will kill Carol. Because King Ezekiel cares about Carol this will force him to move against The Saviors and join the war. His plan might have worked if he hadn’t told Daryl about it. Once Daryl knew that Carol was at The Kingdom the plan was over. Daryl made it very clear to Richard that if anything happened to Carol it wouldn’t end well for him.

Was Richard Right?

Of course because fans love Carol the plan to sacrifice her to potentially save the lives of hundreds of Kingdom residents made them angry. But morally is Richard justified in sacrificing one person to save many more innocent people?

That depends on how the value of a life is measured. Carol is beloved by Daryl, Rick and the Alexandria survivors. She’s a fierce fighter with serious killing skills. Is her life worth more than that of a Kingdom resident who doesn’t have the same skill set?

Richard isn’t thinking about her skill set though. He set Carol up deliberately because King Ezekiel cares about her and because she is an outsider at The Kingdom. To him it’s ok to sacrifice her because she isn’t one of them and because whoever dies has to be someone that King Ezekiel cares about.

Richard’s ethical philosophy is Utilitarianism. Utilitarians  judge the morality of an action by the end result of those actions. If an action produces the greatest good or the greatest happiness for the most people then it’s morally right.

The Trolley Problem

Richard’s plan to sacrifice Carol is similar to a thought experiment that is often used in Ethics: The Trolley Problem.

The Trolley Problem presents a scenario where a trolley car is racing down the tracks. Directly in the path of the trolley are four people tied to the tracks so that they can’t move. A conductor is watching the trolley but is too far away to stop the trolley.

However, the conductor can throw a lever and reroute the trolley. Directly in the path of the trolley on the other track one person is tied to the tracks. So what should the conductor do? He can do nothing and four people will die. Or he can sacrifice one person to save four people.

Utilitarian philosophy says that the conductor should sacrifice the one person to save the four people. But is Utilitarianism really a practical philosophy in The Walking Dead world?

The Value of Life In The Walking Dead

Equating all lives as equally valuable is something that is taken for granted in the actual world. But in the world of The Walking Dead it’s a luxury that the communities can’t afford. Survival of the group means that everyone has to contribute. So, it’s necessary to value some lives higher than others. Those that have special skills are going to contribute more to keeping the group alive.

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So Richard’s plan was both right and wrong. From a moral perspective the case can be made that letting The Saviors kill Carol would start war with The Saviors which ultimately would save the residents of The Kingdom and keep the community going.

But he was wrong to sacrifice Carol. Carol is one of the best fighters of any group and she would contribute more to The Kingdom alive. Would it be ethical to sacrifice someone else who didn’t have the skills that Carol has? In The Walking Dead world it probably would be.