The Politics of the Walking Dead (Spoilers)

The third season of AMC’s The Walking Dead is in full swing, and with it the world of zombies has returned to us.  As many of you are no doubt aware, the show is based on the series of graphic novels of the same name.  The plotlines are generally parallel to those laid out in comic form, while the specifics can vary somewhat drastically.

Last night we met a well-known character from the books, and his entry hearkens the beginning of a new chapter for show.

That character’s name?  The Governor.

One of the taglines for  this season is simply this: “Fight the Dead.  Fear the Living.”  With the Governor in the picture, this has never been more true for the characters on the show. The character is essentially a petty lord that has managed to protect survivors behind a walled-off town.  The civilization that exists behind these walls might be a little rustic, but is paradise compared to wait lurks–and feeds–out in the open.

In last night’s episode, the Governor at first appeared to be a benevolent leader of the small community.  Only as the show progressed did we find out about his murderous and mentally imbalanced shadow side.  Because the storyline often diverges from the graphic novels, I wondered early on if the character would be different–perhaps better–than his comic counterpart.  Considering the tranquility of the safe haven he created, I honestly wished he had been “good.”  This would have been a real ray of light in a very dark world.

As I was watching, though, I began to consider that if I lived in that universe–with the living dead constantly trying to kill me–how much I would care about how my leader acted…as long as I was safe.  Whether his immorality or vicious heavy-handedness would stop me from wanting to be a part of his community.  From wanting him to be my leader.  When everything else is stripped away, don’t we just want someone to keep us safe, regardless of the cost?  It is a dark  and uncomfortable question.

Considering the recent actions of Rick Grimes in protecting his band of survivors, this just might be one of the major themes of the show this season.  It is certainly one worth exploring.  For while we in the modern West don’t often have to make such stark decisions, our answers to the questions of safety, security, justice, and righteousness may tell us a lot about ourselves…and what we really believe.

Historically speaking, humanity has tended to feel much better about a dictator that keeps them safe than a just government that might not.  In the end, our desire for our own self-preservation remains.  Most people would assert this “self-ish” desire over all else.  On an individual level there may be exceptions; societally, however, this is probably a rule.  Theologically we might call this a sign of our fallen world…yet it is all human history has known, save for that little bit at the very beginning.

What this has to do with modern American electoral politics?  With our world today?  Well, for that I’ll let you come to your own conclusions.  For now, I’m going to continue watching The Walking Dead.

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