The Walking Dead 309: Brother Against Brother

Norman Reedus (Daryl Dixon) and Michael Rooker (Merle Dixon) in The Walking Dead (2010). Photo: Gene Page/AMC
Norman Reedus (Daryl Dixon) and Michael Rooker (Merle Dixon) in The Walking Dead (2010). Photo: Gene Page/AMC /

In The Suicide King, episode 9 of The Walking Dead’s third season, The Governor has literally pit brother against brother — ostensibly to the death — for the amusement of a bloodthirsty crowd. What might this scene represent?

Certainly, a show like The Walking Dead risks being over-analyzed, but it’s fair to say that certain story elements happen for a reason. In this case, one can say the arena represents the classic crowd-pleasing display of macho aggression, and the basic need to be entertained (sometimes regardless of cost). It also could represent a world turning on itself, to the destruction of family and social bonds. Whatever the ultimate reason for the scene, it was definitely a shot in the arm for the season (particularly for those who missed Merle’s whacked out character dynamics).

At the same time, one could say the battle represents perceived security for Woodbury. If people can be entertained on a fairly regular basis, isn’t it life getting back to normal? Sure, the walkers are on obvious danger, but Woodbury’s fence isn’t particularly different from other fences people have built — or walls — to supposedly keep bad people out, with the implication that our problems tend to come from without rather than within.

The Governor and Merle engage in small talk. (AMC’s The Walking Dead)
The Governor and Merle engage in small talk. (AMC’s The Walking Dead) /

What The Walking Dead does, however, is make it blatantly obvious that we are not safe anywhere. In this case, any time a person dies anywhere, they risk getting transformed into the flesh eating undead.

While we don’t face this particular problem in reality, it’s still clear that people — no matter where they dwell — are perfectly capable of creating their own hell, and sometimes in the name of security and strength. This is, after all, where many of the character’s hardships origin. What makes people stronger can often just as well cripple them.

The Prison as False Security

Another example of this would be the prison. In theory, the prison is much more secure than Woodbury’s fence, yet the reality of attaining and maintaining the prison has been overwhelming. When I first watched the show, I found it obvious that the prison might not keep anybody safe. In a hypothetical zombie apocalypse, it simply seems sensible to be willing to stay on the move. Dwelling in a prison, or any one place, could turn into a death trap.

Of course, one would ideally find a “Goldilocks zone,” where they could occasionally head out for supply runs (and just to see what’s out there) and return to a home base, but it’s possible that such a strategy is better sited for a better world — not one where death is always chasing you.

Michonne and Andrea provide an interesting example, too. They didn’t live perfectly while on the move alone. Why not? Well, aside from the obvious stress of avoiding walker bites, they were probably too alone to make things work. Implied in their struggle is the need for basic things people often take for granted — food, drink, shelter, clean clothes, sanitation, some culture, the ability to rest and have the occasional luxury. Unfortunately for them, Woodbury offered much of that, but at way too steep a cost.

Rick Grimes deciding his next move. (AMC’s The Walking Dead)
Rick Grimes deciding his next move. (AMC’s The Walking Dead) /

Blind Independence vs. Obedience

When Daryl and Merle set off on their own, there are some obvious echoes of Andrea and Michonne. In fact, Merle demonstrates the dangers of both realities — being too independent or too obedient to a group. Arguably,Merle’s independence and chaotic ignorance lost him his hand, while his willingness to follow others almost saw him kill (or be killed by) his own brother.

When put together, these characters remind us that we become how we are treated, and if we treat ourselves to a world intended only for ourselves, those we neglect will lash out at us with fury. The Governor may lament Rick’s attacks, but he’s too shortsighted to understand why they truly occurred. Thus, he creates for himself a dangerous cycle that could too easily repeat itself.

Andrea, on the other hand, seems to wish to break any such cycle, as she wants to regard Woodbury as a nice, stablehome. Who can blame her? After being suicidal at one point, and after struggling with Michonne, Woodbury is just as much a personal symbol as it is a place to physically live. When signs of strife appear among Woodbury residents, she even finds it necessary to take charge of the situation and give the people hope for stability. Of course, The Governor regards this as a challenge to his own power, and distrusts her for being formerly a part of Rick’s group.

How To Greet Uninvited Guests?

One interesting question in the Walking Dead is, how should people treat uninvited guests? The Governor has his own way, and so does the prison. Their particular newcomers — Tyreese, Sasha, Allen and Ben — are either expected to prove themselves or get out, depending on the whims and interests of Rick and the others. It may be that rational criteria isn’t even the best to use, in a world where everything is dying and the dead return to feast on the living.

This is surely why, in determining who should stay or go, there are no absolute rules. The best example of distrust having validity? Ben and Allen actually discuss overtaking the prison. Though Tyreese and Sasha quickly shoot the plan down, it pays to keep in mind how quickly plans can change.

It’s basically the same issue with Merle, or someone like him? Can a truly concrete plan work effectively with such wildcards thrown into the mix? Maybe if all things go right, but people like him seldom allow for that to happen. Instead, they carve their own path, and to hell with what everyone else thinks or needs. Before their plans were halted, some in Tyreese’s group no doubt entertained that mentality before — and possibly used it, with the rationalization that it eases survival.

In Conclusion

The Walking Dead presents a world built on whims and chance — not entirely unlike our own. This no doubt feeds into Rick’s mental breakdown, which itself symbolizes the group’s own breakdown. So, any time the group shows signs of piecing things together, it’s probably a false assurance. Hey, isn’t that life?