Dystopian literature many times focuses on the aftermath of an apocalyptic event that leads to a complete breakdown of society and its rebirth – many times with overt authoritarianism as the result. It’s a familiar story: Society breaks down —> People clamor for peace and serenity —> A leader or a group of leaders step in and give the people hope —> Ultimately, they consolidate power and control over the people —> Resistance movements form —> War, rinse, repeat.
What I love about The Walking Dead is that the show portrays that complete cycle – from breakdown onward – and while the whole zombie thing is less than realistic, the realism and raw power of the show comes from the living. It comes from the characters’ interactions with one another vice their constant zombie eradication. Zombies are pretty much like cockroaches with teeth at this point. Fatal head trauma – DONE!
Surviving the living? Now that’s another story.
We’ve seen some pretty brutal survival techniques. Cannibalism. The killing of a dangerous child, which led many to believe that the show had stepped over an unspoken red line (I disagree, for the record), Rick taking a chunk out of the neck of a bad guy with his teeth in order to protect his loved ones – in order to prevent his son from getting raped by a savage thug in the woods… We’ve seen a “kill them first or become a victim again” attitude from our core group of survivors, and we’ve seen it take its toll on their humanity.
Rick always asks newcomers a couple of interesting questions: how many walkers have you killed? How many people have you killed? Why? In the apocalypse, the questions are a relevant and (provided that the responses are truthful) insightful look into the character of the respondent. How many walkers have you killed? Translation: are you physically capable of surviving? How many people have you killed? Translation: are you emotionally and mentally ready to do what must be done, even if your adversary is another human? Why? Translation: are you a survivor who only kills to neutralize an active threat, or are you a murderer? Are you a moral human being, or are you a threat?
Ultimately, the question is: what are you willing to do to survive, and how are you willing to do it?
In last night’s episode, Eugene Porter, who until recently was just a weird, borderline creepy ass weasel, who tricked others into protecting him from the zombies, and got his rocks off watching his friends having sex, grew some balls and showed the world what he was willing to do to survive in the apocalypse. He realized he could no longer remain scared and weak in the apocalypse. He understood that in order to survive, he must kill or be killed. He acted on it. Whoo boy, did he act on it!
To make a long story short, Eugene was captured by Negan’s goons after a fight with Abraham while on a supply run. The goons ran into Daryl, Rosita, and Denise on a parallel supply run, killed Denise with a shocking arrow that pierced her head and her right eye, forced Eugene to kneel, and threatened to kill them unless Daryl, Rosita, and Eugene take them to Alexandria to loot the place. Eugene turned his head slightly and saw Abraham hiding behind some barrels. Apparently Abraham had been following Eugene, even though he walked away and left him alone after their row. Eugene used that odd intellect of his to create a diversion by seemingly betraying Abraham and directing Negan’s goons to the barrels, telling them another one of their group was hiding there.
And then things got interesting.
As attention shifted to the barrels, Eugene turned around and chomped down on the lead goon’s crotch. Hard. Bit down and didn’t let go like a pitbull with a porterhouse. Hung on as the goon flailed and screamed, teeth firmly attached to gigglestick and berries!
Later in the episode, an injured Eugene lies in the infirmary, and Abraham, voice filled with admiration at Eugene’s determination to live and protect his friends, tells him, “You knew how to bite a dick, Eugene. I mean that with utmost respect.” I’m still giggling at this like a puberty-struck middle-schooler. Yeah, I’m immature. Sue me.
But there’s a larger issue at stake, beyond the cock biting. Can you escape the apocalypse – zombie or otherwise – with your humanity intact? What are you willing to do to survive? Are you willing to threaten said humanity in exchange for another few breaths in this world?
Was staging a preemptive attack against Negan and his gorillas moral? Was it murder of people who did nothing to threaten them, or was it self-defense with the knowledge that the thugs would eventually attack Alexandria?
From Carol’s exit, it’s a bit obvious where she stands. She never calls it “murder,” but it’s evident that the killing bothered her enough to go walkabout. Carol has stabilized from her extreme swing from meek, abused Carol to warrior, Queen of the Apocalypse Carol, and the things she has had to do to survive are beginning to bother her as her pendulum finds a more normal course. Did she really have to kill Karen and David to prevent them from turning after dying of the flu? Did she really need to terrorize Sam? Did she really need to kill Lizzie?
For us, watching from our couches every week, the answers are clear. You do what you need to do to protect those whom you love, and threats come in all shapes and sizes – even young, innocent-looking ones.
But from the perspective of someone living it… where do you draw the line to ensure that you don’t become like the Termites? Just what kind of atrocity are you willing to commit in order to protect yourself and the ones you love? Would you chew through the enemy’s jugular Would you chomp down on his twig and berries? And how long before you’re chowing down on unsuspecting people’s sweetbreads a la Hannibal Lecter?
What would you do?