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The Walking Dead Continues to Wrestle with Darabont’s Ethical Concerns

After Frank Darabont’s unexpected and sudden departure from The Walking Dead at the beginning of production for Season 2 many fans wondered and worried whether the quality of the writing for the program would be compromised. Although some have expressed concerns about the allegedly slow pacing of this season in contrast with the first (a curious criticism in light of the nature of episodic television and the ability to explore characters, relationships, and other aspects of story in a protracted fashion unavailable in film) the mid-season finale of The Walking Dead should have removed any doubts about whether the series could continue in a quality fashion without Darabont’s creative input.

I would argue further that the program has continued to wrestle with a major concern of Darabont, one that he has dealt with in a previous horror film of his own, and which other horror directors have explored as well. That is that the real threat is posed not by the monsters on the outside wanting in, but rather by the fellow human beings one is locked up with in any number of apocalyptic scenarios in an attempt to survive. This is exemplified in what I think is the key scene in Darabont’s The Mist where several of the characters meet in the back of a store and strategize about the need to escape their temporary sanctuary and risk death from the various monsters inhabiting the mist. This is viewed as a more tolerable option than waiting for an increasingly popular religious fanatic in their midst to exercise her judgment in human sacrifice to appease her god. In the dialogue that ensues among the characters in this scene a decided lack of trust in human nature is evident:

DUNFREY: You don’t have much faith in humanity, do you?

MILLER: None whatsoever.

DUNFREY: I can’t accept that. People are basically good, decent. My God, David, we’re a civilized society.

DRAYTON: Sure, as long as the machines are workin’ and you can dial 9-1-1, but you take those things away, you throw people in the dark, you scare the shit out of them, no more rules, and we’ll see how primitive they get.

MILLER: You scare people badly enough and you can get ‘em to do anything. They’ll turn to whoever promises a solution, or whatever.

DUNFREY: Ollie, please, back me up here.

WEEKS: I wish I could. As a species we’re fundamentally insane. Put more than two of us into a room, we pick sides and start dreaming up reasons to kill one another. Why do you think we invented politics and religion?

According to several participants in this dialogue it is only social order, and with it the conventions of law, politics, and religion, that keep human beings from reacting in their most base manner and turning on one another, all in an effort to survive the challenges that come with the arrival of the “monster(s)” and the breakdown of that social order. This same major theme is prevalent in The Walking Dead, perhaps more so in Season 2 than in the first, and embodied in the battle between Shane and Rick Grimes. The zombies have overrun society and in the new social order questions have arisen as to who is best suited to lead the group of survivors. In addition, each member of Grimes’ group must ask themselves about what kind of ethical choices and actions are best in this new “survival of the fittest” reality.

So while some may lament the current season of The Walking Dead, I am enjoying its slower pace up to this point in that it provides more opportunities to reflect on the human condition in greater depth. In my view, fast pacing, extreme gore, and the zombie kill of the week is only so entertaining, and many viewers want more “meat” from the monsters they love in this groundbreaking zombie television program.

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