(Note: A discussion on The Walking Dead TV show which contains spoilers)
Over the course of seven seasons, Rick Grimes and his rag-tag group of zombie apocalypse survivors have faced many threats and challenges. With the death of the old World, a new one exists and navigating through it can take body parts and sanity. There may be one way to survive, but there exists many ways to live in a World of the undead…
One of the strengths and weaknesses of the show is its large cast. Some characters fade into the background while others stand out as engaging pro/antagonists with unique motivations. We can see this all the way back in season one between Rick and his former friend/rival Shane. While Rick advocated compassion and rules, Shane pushed the group to do anything necessary since the old rules didn’t apply anymore. New character for the show Meryl pushed this belief to a more extreme degree. Around this time, someone like Andrea was contemplating suicide as she felt she had nothing to live for.
Eventually, Rick, Shane, and Andrea come to Herschel’s Farm in season two. Although old and kind, Herschel at first was adamant that Rick’s group not stay and endanger his family. Despite being a doctor, Herschel believed that walkers were merely afflicted with a sickness and could be cured. Shane saw this naivety as weakness and proposed the group simply kill Herschel and take over his farm. Eventually, Herschel’s farm gets overrun by walkers after he allowed Rick’s group to stay and right before Shane had tried to kill Rick and steal his wife.
By the time Rick’s group, with a few new faces and minus a few old ones, finds a mostly empty prison with intact fences Rick is tired of running. He’s lost two sanctuaries by now, and he doesn’t want to lose a third. He quickly displaces the current inhabitants, and moves his group into the prison where they manage to put down some roots. Almost two dozen miles from there, is a city named Woodbury run by a man more dangerous than any Rick has faced before. The Governor is one of the more memorable antagonists of The Walking Dead, and for good reason. His public persona was one of kindness and strength, while in private he was ruthless and cruel. Like the power struggle with Shane, the fight between Rick and the Governor was a tense and eventful clash. While at first the two groups were unaware of each other, the Governor was committed to wiping out any competition to Woodbury and vowed to kill Rick’s group.
The Governor’s chief weakness seemed to be his lust for power, with every victory only increasing his viciousness. That mentality drove him to kill most of the people that posed a threat, real or imagined, to Woodbury. None of that can compete with the depths that the residents of Terminus went to in order to survive.
The residents of Terminus embraced an “Eat or be Eaten” philosophy to such a desperate world, although their reasons were not fully explained its hinted that they suffered at the hands of a group more depraved than themselves. What’s most ironic about the figure the show points to is the only one who somewhat succeeds in rebuilding civilization.
Negan, the leader of the Saviors, forces those he meets to either join him or die. If survivors don’t directly serve Negan, he puts them to work gathering supplies under threat of death. He commands a legion of followers, many of them out of shear fear. Yet, he’s the strongest foe that Rick and his group have faced up til this point other than the walkers themselves.
While many leaders were content to simply build a small community and venture short distances to scavenge, the Governor willfully killing any competition, Negan sees that the only way mankind will ever take back control of the world is if they’re forced to cooperate for a greater goal.
Those without lofty ideals of surviving, like Morgan and Carol, have tried pacifism and isolation respectively. Both have seen the evils that are wrought by others and hoping to avoid them, they’ve tried to distance themselves from others for convenience or out of hopelessness.
It’s a testament that in seven seasons, The Walking Dead has depicted such a variety of viewpoints at navigating the zombie apocalypse. Most stories tend to focus on “kill the zombies, and/or the crazy people along the way”. With TWD, there’s an evolution (or degradation if you will) of the human spirit. The longer Rick remained on the road searching for safety and security, the more calculating and desperate he became. By this point, he’s only a few steps away from where Shane ended. Many of the more good-natured characters have died, while those that still live have come away with more scars and a stronger will to live.
By this point, some of the survivors, like Morgan, have stopped advocating “The Way” and instead insist on “A Way”. They’ve seen and tried many methods to survive, with varied success. The only thing they can do in response to that failure is press on (almost no character on the show has contemplated suicide and followed through on it, which is surprising). If there’s a message to take away into the New Year from a show where rules and logic no longer matter, its that no matter how hopeless things are you have to move forward to get away from that hopelessness. The arrival of Negan on the show coincides strangely with real world events, but fans of the source material know that Negan is defeated partly due to his success at rebuilding civilization. Faced with a seemingly unbeatable and heinous foe, many people came together to stop him and continued working to a world where humans can live despite the heavy presence of walkers.
With a large amount of uncertainty about 2017 and the years to follow, the struggle of Rick Grimes and company can serve as inspiration to us should we ever feel lost and without a path to traverse the world and our inner demons.