The Walking Dead Finally Questions the Ethics of Cold-Blooded Murder

Monday, 07 March 2016 - 10:55AM
Monday, 07 March 2016 - 10:55AM
The Walking Dead Finally Questions the Ethics of Cold-Blooded Murder
Many Walking Dead fans hated the second season morality plays on Hershel's farm (should we keep looking for Sophia? Should we kill the walkers in the barn? Should we kill this scout from a violent scavenger group? On and on and on.). And I agree that the morality plays weren't executed very well, as they were far too explicit and melodramatic at times. But in a certain sense, that was the last time there were real emotional stakes on this show, at least when it comes to the questionable morality of killing other human beings. Remember when Rick was the reasonable "good guy" who didn't want to kill humans unless absolutely necessary, and Shane was the loose cannon (and essentially a villain) who didn't think twice about it? Over the last few seasons, Rick has become an even more brutal version of Shane, and for the most part, rather than being horrified by him, we're encouraged to think he's an awesome bad-ass.

As a result, when Morgan's "no-kill" philosophy was introduced this season, it didn't seem like a genuine moral counterpoint to Rick, Carol, and the others. I would probably agree with Morgan to some extent in real life, but within the structure of the show, his philosophy was painted as a cowardly relic that served more to avoid getting his hands dirty than to actually help other people. It's one thing to avoid killing people in cold blood, but it's another to let people go who have already proven they're willing to kill you and everyone you hold dear. There's a difference between righteousness and self-righteousness, and the show has made it clear several times that Morgan probably falls in the latter camp.

But all of that changed in this episode, at least to some degree. We were supposed to cheer the survivors when they slaughtered the Wolves and the Termites (the latter of which was not at all self-defense), and I thought it would be the same with the Saviors. The moral center of this show has become so off-center, I wouldn't put it past them to expect us to cheer even when the Rickettes kill people in their sleep. But instead, the show made it very clear that the group has finally gone too far. They've heard that the Saviors are extortionist murderers, but they haven't actually seen them commit violence (unless you count Gregory, but they have no idea why the Saviors would want Gregory dead), so killing them in cold blood can't really be considered justifiable on any level. But luckily, and for once, the show wants us to be horrified when they start stabbing the hapless Saviors in the heads while they sleep. We thought the Wolves were evil when they attacked a defenseless Alexandria, and in this episode, the Rickettes are similarly the villains of the piece.

Ironically, when I thought Morgan was being annoying earlier this season, I would always compare him to Glenn, who doesn't commit violence when he doesn't have to, but isn't self-righteous about it. He's never killed a human, not because he's trying to keep his hands clean, but because he's been savvy and lucky. So it was a huge emotional gut-punch when he killed a human for the first time in this episode, and in such brutal, callous fashion. He's still the same kind person he's always been, as we see when he spares Heath from having to murder anyone, and so he illustrates that even the best of them are morally compromised. The guilt and shame experienced by Glenn and Heath served as the emotional anchor of the episode, and ensured that the viewer would feel the weight of the Rickettes' actions.

This moral heft made this episode of The Walking Dead one of the best of this season (probably the last few seasons, as a matter of fact), but still, "Not Tomorrow Yet" wasn't without its problems. The relationship between Carol and Tobin came completely out of left field (although it was nice to see Carol happy for a change), and while Abraham's breakup with Rosita was a long time coming, his cruelty towards her seemed unnecessary and out of character.

But most of all, this episode illustrated the idiotic view The Walking Dead has of mothers and motherhood. The idea that Carol, arguably the most ruthless fighter on the show, is strong because "she's a mother" is one of the stupidest things I've ever heard. Is Rick strong because "he's a father"? Granted, Rick forgets that he's a father most of the time, and you could make the argument that Carol's strength partially comes from being forced to cope with Sophia's death, but she's certainly not strong "because she's a mother." That's not only sexist, but also just plain dumb and a cliche. And then Carol, of all people, shames Maggie for coming along on the mission simply because she's pregnant? Maggie is a leader and a fighter, and they need all of the fighters they can get. I can understand Glenn being worried and upset, but Carol shaming Maggie for coming on the mission, as if she's supposed to sit home for nine months like a goddamn invalid, is ridiculous.

And the fact that after all that, Maggie does, in fact, get captured and ruin everything, makes me even madder. Let's not pretend that motherhood is inherently either a weakness or a strength; it just is.

And where are we on Lucille watch? It seems like Glenn is more likely than ever, as he found those Polaroids of the Saviors' smashed-in heads in a heavy bit of foreshadowing (which may have made their massacre a little more justifiable, but the Rickettes didn't know that when they went in there). He also seems to be more willing to get his hands dirty and put himself in danger to protect Maggie now that she's pregnant, which might put him in Lucille's path, unless Maggie takes his place as a result of her "reckless" behavior (whatever). But then again, Abraham also seems like he's a man headed for disaster (and after the way he treated Rosita, I wouldn't shed any tears over him). 

What do you think?

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