Last Man Standing: A Review and Defense of AMC’s The Walking Dead
By Carly Twehous
Admittedly, I am rather late on jumping on The Walking Dead wagon train. I’ve always had this disproportionate, yet completely reasonable fear of cannibals and, well, flesh-eating zombies fit the bill. Eventually, I broke down. It was finals week, I’d just finished my traditional annual re-watch of Supernatural, then someone intent on ruining my life went and took Bob’s Burgers off of Netflix.
Honestly, I didn’t have a choice. What was I supposed to do? Study?
Turns out the freakiest thing on this show isn’t the zombies. To quote another pop-culture, zombie-killing icon, Dean Winchester, “Monsters I get. People are crazy.” If you’re caught up with this show, you won’t have any trouble believing that. If you’re just starting, well…
The Walking Dead starts with status quo: two friends—practically brothers—a strained marriage, an ordinary day. The world ends, zombies rise, and what’s left of the government napalms Atlanta.
Rick Grimes wants to find his wife and son; Daryl Dixon, his brother. Carol Peletier is a timid little thing who only starts to live when a zombie eats her abusive husband.
A bunch of strangers come together and decide that they’ll do anything to keep each other alive. Morality evolves from Rick’s by-the-book, we-only-kill-the-dead policy into murder in self-defense and mercy-killings to blanket elimination of the threat, zombie or otherwise. Now, people keep season tallies to see which character has the highest on-screen death count.
Honest to God, I couldn’t tell you the point I stopped watching a show about moral characters and started watching one about a group of people who pretty much amount to serial killers.
Serial killers or no, I’m hooked. If the ratings are anything to go by, so is a great deal of America every Sunday night.
Maybe morality is a little more subjective in a post-apocalyptic world. Or maybe the moral standards are the same and people just change because they have to.
This ain’t like Breaking Bad, where it’s clear from the beginning that the characters are psychotic at best and by the end, nearly irredeemable.
The Walking Dead is far more terrifying. I found myself cheering Rick on when he beats the crap out of Pete because Pete’s too volatile. I breathed a huge sigh of relief and might have applauded a little bit when twelve-year-old Carl Grimes made his first human kill. I understand what Carol did in that episode with the flowers in season four and, although I’m 100% sure it scarred me for life, I’m also 100% sure I would have done the same thing. To be perfectly honest, that thought will keep me up at night.
These people… They’re trauma survivors, in a rather literal dog-eat-dog world. Their choices, in our world, are contracts of damnation. In their world, at worst, they’re ambiguous, even when everyone knows the objective right and wrong.
Eventually Rick’s going to ask the three questions:
How many Walkers have you killed?
How many humans?
This show is worth watching, moral ambiguity and all, because of that why. Why implies an acknowledgment of necessary evil. Why means that there’s a value in whatever human life you might be forced to take.
Why begs for remorse, forgiveness, understanding, redemption. Ultimately, it’s an acknowledgement that there’s no point in surviving Judgment Day if you’re going to compromise your own humanity.
This show is full of desperate survivors, who’ve had to make decisions that I’ve had the great privilege of never having to answer outside of hypothetical scenarios.
Until such time as the last man standing sells his soul to the devil, I will be here every Sunday night, watching Rick Grimes and company fight tooth and nail to keep each other human.