hey everyone, jared here, one of the creators here at wisecrack. today weâ€™ve got another special episode about a show that everyone is excited to see come back on the air: the walking dead the walking dead is the tale of sheriff rick grimes and his small band of survivors as they're transformed from coddled complainers carol: "my daughter doesn't deserve to die like this!" into battle-tested zombie murdering badasses. itâ€™s also a show about british actor andrewlincolnâ€™s struggle to pronounce the name "carl." rick: "certainly not in front of 'coral.'"
rick: "corel!" rick: "koral!" rick: "corral" rick: "corol" rick: "quuraaal!" rick: "corall?!" rick: "cural's gonna be alright" rick: "cural"carl: "i got it!" the zombie sub-genre has a rich history of social commentary, and the walking dead is no different.
whether they be the slow walking, brain craving type or of the fast running, shrieking persuasion, the figure of the zombie has been a metaphor for all sorts of things that keep us up at night. zombies have represented everything from mindless consumers under capitalism in the dawn of the dead to fears about public health crises in 28 days later immigration in world war z or mega-corporations in resident evil. and then thereâ€™s the fact that zombies originated in haiti, where many have argued it was a metaphor for slavery.
zombies are projections of our own societal fears. but the walking dead isnâ€™t quite any of these. sure, it draws some parallels to predecessors, such as when andrea picks out a necklace for her sister while a horde of zombies clamor to eat her, similar to the dawn of the dead where survivors take refuge in a shopping mall and epitomize mindless consumers, while another kind of mindless consumer, while another kind of mindless consumer eagerly awaits the opportunity to indulge in some organic, mall-to-table meat. instead, the walking dead explores a multitude of issues like politics, psychology, and our relationship to death. also, the joys of cosplaying. welcome to this special episode on the philosophy of the walking dead
part 1: what does it mean to live? why are zombies so scary? itâ€™s not just the fact that getting eaten alive probably sucks but our revulsion at zombies providesdeep insights into how we view our own lives. after all, plenty of things can rip out our intestines and, instead of inspiring terror, inspire the dulcet tones of werner herzog. herzog: "i see only the overwhelming indifference of nature." zombies keep us up at night because theyâ€™re like us, but not quite us. they also mess with the fundamental reason that we use to tell ourselves that weâ€™re special.
the walking dead is, above all else, a showabout philosophical boundaries, and 3 in particular: what constitutes life? what constitutes â€œlivingâ€? and what constitutes being human? pharrell: â™«"these blurred lineeesss~"â™« the show is constantly asking us to interrogate the difference between life and death. it is after all, called "the walking dead," and theyâ€™re not just talking about the zombies â€” theyâ€™re talking about the survivors. it raises the question: what makes us alive?
one of the best moments of the show that exploresthis happens early on, at the cdc. rick: "but they're not alive." dr. jenner: "you tell me." when itâ€™s revealed by dr. jenner that everyone is infected all of the sudden, the line between â€œwalkerâ€ and human seems a bit blurred. not only will everyone reanimate, but theyâ€™re always so close to death that the distinction seems to melt away. clara: "please help me." when they open the door to the cdc, rickâ€™s group is blinded by a flood of light, clearly evoking â€œthe light at the end of the tunnelâ€ to heaven, or whatever it is that people believe in these days.
inside the cdc, a brain scan shows the small section of the walker brain that still lights up, allowing them to move and groan and eat, but everything else is turned off. one could argue that this means theyâ€™re biologically alive carl: "they're dead now." lizzie: "no they're not. they're just different" plenty of animals, like worms and insects, do just fine with not much more than what the walkers are working with. the show is constantly exploring the distinction between life and death, sometimes blurring it, sometimes questioning it, sometimes affirming it. characters are constantly unable to let go of their loved ones.
morgan canâ€™t shoot his wife and eventually loses his son for it. hershel goes collecting zombies like theyâ€™re pokã©mon, convinced that thereâ€™s still something human about them. and the governor keeps his daughter trapped in the closet. r. kelly: â™« "i'm in the closet like, 'man, what the f**k is goin on'"? â™« in the scene where andreaâ€™s sister dies she seems to be lovingly looking into the eyes of her sister before we learn that warm embrace is just the normal murdery-zombie kind of embrace. if they have trouble letting go of loved-ones who have turned, itâ€™s because the definition of life was never really clear to begin with. we can break up the questions of life intothe philosophical and biological senses.
if itâ€™s the ability to walk around and make noises well, the walkers already have that covered. but thereâ€™s also the philosophical questionof life: what constitutes a life worth living? each character has their own reasons for going on with life. for dale all life is sacred. dale admits that he just canâ€™t let go, no matter how bad things get, even when his own wife was dying from cancer. dale: "after all the surgeries, chemos...she accepted it, ya know?" dale: "but i never could. and i spent, last few years, so angry." carol values survival as its own end too, but without the saccharine moralism.
no matter how terrible things get in her life, she just goes on surviving. sheâ€™s utterly pragmatic. secretly teaching kids how to defend themselves, pretending to be a harmless housewife, dressing up like one of the wolves â€” the list goes on. and, of course, thereâ€™s this speech fromrick: rick: â€œi asked my grandpa onceif he ever killed any germans in the war." rick: "he said he was dead the minute he stepped into enemy territory." rick: "and then after a few years of pretending he was dead, he made it out alive." rick: "and that's the trick of it, i think. we do what we need to do, and then we get to live." the question at hand here, at the cdc, andthroughout the show seems to be:
whatâ€™s the point of living if weâ€™re already dead? is the small glimmer of electric â€œlifeâ€ inside the brains of the dead that much different than the tiny glimmer of hope that allows rick and the group to beast through this hell on earth? for rick, being biologically alive is simply a means to an end â€” for the chance that one day, youâ€™ll get to live. mike: "where's the happy ending here? this isn't life!" according to our old friend albert camus, â€œthere is but one truly philosophical problem, and that is suicide.â€ at the cdc, jenner, andrea, and jacqui decide there's no point to live a life devoid of meaning and full of misery and want to end it. andrea: "there's nothing...left."
but for camus, despite the meaningless of it all, suicide isnâ€™t liberating â€”â only life offers us freedom. the rest of rickâ€™s group cling to a notion of freedom,â not exactly camusâ€™ notion of freedom,â and keep going. and then they, you know, lock themselves up in a prison for the sake of surviving. another philosophical question at hand in the walking dead is: what makes us human? or, put the other way, what makes us not a zombie? we could say that, unlike zombies, humans have purpose and, for one, donâ€™t hunger for flesh. except, well, weâ€™re literally confronted with a band of cannibals, and the existential question of the show seems to be: if the survivors are just aimlessly wandering around without a purpose from one source of sustenance to the next
and eventually have to resort to cannibalism, then what really differentiates them from the zombies? this blurry distinctions between human andanimal leads to a dilemma â€” a dilemma that is constantly driving the survivors to distance themselves from the walkers lori: "you put me down immediately!" most survivors want to be killed so they canâ€™t turn. if you die before youâ€™ve turned, you get a proper burial. glenn: "we don't burn them!" glenn: "we bury them." and huge parts of the second season center around herschelâ€™s refusal to lose empathy for his turned loved-ones. it seems that everything that comes to define us as humans is stripped away, leaving only our biological selves.
rick is no longer a cop, but a man searching for his offspring and mating partner. social distinctions are, allegedly, gone. rick: "look here, merle." rick: "things are different now." rick: "there are no 'niggers' anymore." rick: "no dumb as shit, inbred, white-trash fools either." rick: "only dark meat and white meat. there's us and the dead." glenn used to be a delivery guy, now heâ€™s just really good at sneaking around. still, the survivors still desperately cling to symbols that used to define their humanity.
symbols that, in the grand scheme of things, seem kind of stupid. rick is constantly losing, and recovering, his sheriffâ€™s hat before bestowing it on carl â€” a reminder of rickâ€™s past life and the law. carol misses her maytag, carol: "i do miss my maytag." andrea takes a mermaid necklace, itself an amalgam of man and beast, for her sister, and the showâ€™s creators really really wantto show us how awesome hot showers are. so, in other words, a big part of what separateshuman from animal seems to be: our social status, our stuff, and hot showers.
what makes humans, well, human, is one ofphilosophyâ€™s oldest questions. aristotle, for instance, argued that that our abilityto speak and reason separated us from animals, who merely had the ability to grunt base needs. zombie: "more brains!" in the world of zombies, the very idea that a human has lost their ability to reason and speak warrants the claim that they are no longer human. then again, we could also think of the small part of the brain animating the walkers as the animal part of our own brain. part 2: moral lines in the world of the walking dead, zombies arenâ€™t always the scariest thing out there.
the show is constantly exhibiting humanityâ€™s worst: abusive partners rapists bandits whatever the hell the wolves are doing and, of course, terminus. the fact that the home of the cannibals isnamed after a roman god isnâ€™t a coincidence. terminus is the roman god of boundaries, and throughout the show we are confronted with oh-so-many boundaries being crossed. not only do its denizens survive by eating human flesh,
but its captives are kept in train cars that evoke nazi death camps. carol even stumbles upon a room of possessions stolen from their victims. rickâ€™s group is brought to the floor of an industrial slaughterhouse, where garethâ€™s henchman first knock out their victims and then slice their throats as if they were cattle. gareth calmly walks in with a notebook asking his henchmen what their shot counts were for accounting purposes. gareth: "what were your shot counts?" bat smock man: "38" we could probably make a whole episode about this scene alone, but what we've got here is a series of binaries human â€” zombie
human â€” animal good â€” evil civilization â€” barbarism all being blurred. the residents of terminus have simultaneouslylost their humanity and yet, ironically, have exhibited humanity's crowning achievement: bureaucracy these boundaries function as more than just empty rhetoric â€”â theyâ€™re deeply productive, for better or worse. the line between human and animal serves as a framework for how people should live their lives
before and after the zombie apocalypse, but it also demarcates what gets screwed over in the distinction. gareth: "you're either the butcher or the cattle spoiler: it sucks to be the cattle. itâ€™s why the show focuses so much on thegroupâ€™s struggle to retain their humanity. the residents of terminus were not always like this and function as a sort of cautionary tale for surviving in the zombie apocalypse. originally an actual sanctuary for survivors, a group of bandits rolled in and proceeded to lock its inhabitants in train cars before sexually assaulting and eventually murdering them. when the original residents of terminus successfully rebel, they lock their tormentor in a train car to rot,
where he spends his time yelling, â€œweâ€™re the same." it becomes clear that morality, along with a maytag and a shower, is what separates us from animals. when escaping from terminus, rick wants to abandon the others trapped in the train cars until glenn convinces him thathelping other is essential to their identity. glenn: "that's still who we are." "it's gotta be." in the episode "judge, jury, and execution,â€ rickâ€™s group is faced with a decision of what to do with a captured survivor, who may or may not imperil the group if let go. dale is convinced that the loss of justice equatesto the loss of humanity.
dale: "now the world we know is gone, but keeping our humanity? that's a choice." even gareth likens the signs that would leadto his torture with his humanity. gareth: "we were being human beings." alex: "what are we now, gareth? other citizens of terminus equate morals withthe inability to survive. martin: "you're a good guy." "that's why you're gonna die today." clearly, being human is more than just a setof biological questions. what the walking dead really explores is that there are many, many things that define our humanity.
a critical point in all this is whether or not the walkers maintain a shred of their former selves. the governor: "let me ask you something, huh..." "do you still believe the 'biters still have some spark in them, huh?" "of who they were?" milton: "i think so" the governor: "and that was my daughter, wasn't it?" then again, one doesn't have to "turn" to become a monster. milton: "i knew philip â€”â before he became the governer. that man still exists." just as we question whether the undead maintain any element of their past identity, we also ask:
do those alive, but morally contaminated retain any sense of their former selves? this is further explored through the character of morgan. after his wife and son die, morgan loses not only himself, but his connection to reality. but he's revived with the help of a former psychiatrist, who teaches him that no person is too far gone to be rehabilitated. it's why morgan refuses to kill even the wolves, who most consider to have lost every last bit of their humanity. part 3: dictatorship a recurring theme in the show is the struggle between dictatorship and democracy. as it turns out, trying to juggle finding food
maintaining a shelter and not getting murdered is pretty complicated. especially when multiple people are involved. we see early on the complications that arise from this: arguments about where to go how to get there who needs to do what and what to do when people break the rules.
also, whoâ€™s in charge? while rickâ€™s group of survivors talk it out the always-imminent backup plan is sheer violence. not to mention that, when walkers are a-comin', talking it out isnâ€™t always the most expedient solution. when shane and rick canâ€™t see eye-to-eye on anything anymore both of them conclude itâ€™s murdering time.
with rick eventually winning. as the show progresses, rick is more or lessin charge. but the most interesting thing happens at the end of season 2 when rick openly declares a dictatorship. rick: "this isn't a democracy anymore." itâ€™s important to note the origin of dictatorships. the term comes from the ancient roman legal convention wherein absolute power was bestowedupon an individual in cases of extreme emergency. while now the term is thrown around to indicateshitty rulers
and the people we think "resemble" those shitty rulers the roman dictatorshipwas a necessity to protect against utter annihilation from invading armies. the famous good-guy-dictatorwas cincinnatus. cincinnatus was a roman statesman who, after his son ran into some legal trouble sold most of his land and retired to a small farm. when rome was in imminent danger froma neighboring italian tribe the roman consul elected cincinnatus to the position of dictator.
as legend goes, a group of senators were dispatched to tell cincinnatus the news and found himplowing his farm. cincinnatus put on his toga headed for rome defeated the bad guys and immediately resigned from his position as dictator. later, cincinnatus was elected dictator again this time to save rome from a coup. and again, once the coup was stopped
cincinnatus resigned and went back to farming. did we mention rick grimes is totally cincinnatus? not like, oh... rick grimes kind of reminds us of this other guy who had absolute power in the face of scary invaders. but like, oh... this guy leaves his life as a farmer to protectagainst hordes of enemies only to go back to farming when the threat is gone. this roman connection is suspiciously everywherein the show
the governorâ€™s fight club is reminiscent of gladiator battles and as previously mentioned terminus is the roman god of boundaries. the bible verse where jesus rises from the dead? romans 6:4 which is scrawled on gabrielâ€™s wall. itâ€™s not exactly clear what the showâ€™screators are doing here. it could just be that roman history is a treasure trove of material when youâ€™re trying to think of creative ways drama could play out
in a hyper-violent society always on the lookout for hordes of invaders. but in doing so, the walking dead ends upmaking some really smart commentary on politics, and specifically, sovereignty. rome, after all, the was site of both historyâ€™s most extreme tyrants and foundational representative government. part 4: state of exception what makes a ruler? according to controversialgerman political theorist carl schmitt
the sovereign is whoever makes the exception. whether youâ€™re living in the united states or ancient rome the sovereign is always theperson who can discard the law to carve out exceptions to the rule. itâ€™s kind of like your shitty hometown mayor who has the police look the other way when his relatives drink and drive or smoke crack.
mayor ford: "yes i have smoked cracked cocaine."r.i.p the most obvious example of this is rick â€œcincinnatusâ€ grimes who simply declares that democracy-time is over. but we also see that when alexandriais in imminent danger itâ€™s rick, not deanna who is in charge. coral: "i know you're gonna say it's not up to you..." "but it can be."
the law is constantly being suspended, andnot only by rick. shane bypasses the will of the group and kills randall in the woods. carol kills and burns flu victims in the prison to stop it from threatening the group. in fact, shaneâ€™s criticism of rick seems to be heavily rooted in rickâ€™s ability to make the exception when he wonâ€™t execute randall. italian philosopher giorgo agamben argues that
the state of exception has become the law of our time. no longer an infrequent occurrence the suspension of the law permeates our society we see it in the war on terror and refugeecamps around the world. agamben wanted to figure out just how the nazi concentration camps could happen and it was in the state of exception that he found his answer. but because weâ€™re talking about the walking dead letâ€™s put it this way: rick is your typical modern sovereign.
he suspends thelaw to get shit done and to save people. glen: "i told for the good of everyone." rick: "well i thought it best that people didn't know." sometimes, that means rick does really messed up things. the difference between rick and gareth is only that the suspension of law has becomepermanent in terminus. sure, there is order, but the denizens of terminus have thrown aside the most basic laws of human morality like donâ€™t eat people.
and for agamben the idea that all of the rickâ€™s of the world are only a few setbacks away from becoming gareth is terrifying. the show makes it really clear why as we discussed earlier all of these atrocities are in the name of survival. the whole â€œyouâ€™reeither the butcher or the cattleâ€ might as well be the familiar tale of the â€œbirdof preyâ€ and the â€œlambâ€
espoused by nietzsche, who of course, the nazis loved totake out of context in their own propaganda. rick is constantly invoking thisâ€œus or themâ€ logic. rick: "but they can't keep up, you keep going." suggesting that what separates rick from gareth may not be all that much. gareth: "nnnooooo!"r.i.p as agamben says: "the camp is the space that opens up when the state of exception starts to become the rule." the problem with all of this, agamben argues
is that whether or not atrocities are committed whether or not bob is for breakfast is dependent on the law enforcer as sovereign rather than the rule of law. and while weâ€™re not livingin a zombie apocalypse that logic still rules the day. whether itâ€™s swine flu natural disasters or isis
the ability of the government to suspend the law is always imminent. conclusion the walking dead continues to be one of thesmartest shows on tv and despite being set in a fictional zombie apocalypse its questions still hit pretty close to home. questions like: what makes life worth living? what makes us human? and in what circumstances am i allowed to resort to cannibalism, again? itâ€™s unclear where the show will go
will rick and his group save the world and build anew or will rick continue to ruin every place he comes across? or, in the end will the world need to be saved from rick? thanks for watching everyone. i hoped you've enjoyed this special episode on the walking dead. if you're not already a subscriber to wisecrack be sure to go to our channel page and
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alright guys i gotta get back to work on the final fantasy episode be sure to follow us ontwitter, facebook, all that good stuff the links are in the description below and as always thank you so much for watching.