The Walking Dead: A Ricktator to Make the Impossible Choices

Society begins and ends with difficult choices.  But, what is a society? This week in our online zombie course from Cal State Fullerton, we are discussing the development of societies from the point of views of philosophers such as Aristotle to Karl Marx. According to Thomas Hobbes, society begins with self-restraint and an agreement to give social justice decisions over to a designated leader. In past seasons of The Walking Dead, that leader has been Sheriff Rick Grimes. He organized the prison-tribe before they were a prison-tribe, he redistributed power at Woodbury and led a hungry, terrified and exhausted group of survivors to safety time and time again. In seasons past, Rick has stated that the group power is not a democracy, and rightfully so. The “Ricktatorship” has worked well in the past, but as Rick began to buckle from the weight of losing Lori not only to Shane, but to childbirth, as well as the knowledge that there is no greater society at work to help the group in times of grave danger, well, the Sheriff began to lose his mind last season, didn’t he? A recovering Rick, gardener Rick, farmer Rick of season 4–doesn’t want to pick up a gun and see his Carl lose his humanity by murdering zombies or even willful, human enemies. Season 4 Rick, at least in episodes 1-3, seemed content to allow the newly formed Council to make the difficult decisions, while he remained safe in the bubble he created for himself. Unfortunately, as Carol notes in this episode, Rick can be a farmer during the zombie apocalypse, but he can’t ONLY be a farmer.


Episode: S04xE04 “Indifference”

This show’s natural evolution of a Western society–from community forming during season 1 at the camp to relationship building and character development during season 4 within the prison-tribe–has had Rick Grimes at the helm to help guide the members of the group through the ordeal. The exploration of Rick as a leader, father and friend is a main theme throughout the show, and yet in season 4, we have seen Rick withdraw from the decision making process, while the Council (Hershel, Sasha, Daryl, Carol) make the everyday choices. It reminds me of a monarchy and parliament, because, while Rick is able to avoid the mundane choices, we see him take charge during the last episode when the fence is collapsing and also during this episode, when the search party does not return from the vet hospital with the medicine in a timely fashion. Rick, who we have seen this season step back from a leadership role, returns with a controversial decision to banish Carol for her actions against the sick pair in last week’s episode.

Rick forces Carol out of the group.
Rick forces Carol out of the group.

Historically, Rick has had to follow through on some seriously fucked up decisions. He also has made many of these without consulting the larger group, but none since the formation of the prison-tribe Council. While the idea of a democracy is nice to audiences living in an established societal construct with at least the semblance of laws, morality and shared responsibility, the prison-tribe is hardly a sound institution. With zombies flooding the world, resources scarce and hard to come by, the living, violent and unpredictable, we cannot expect the masses–even well represented as they are within the Council–to react appropriately to obstacles without some sort of leadership. Rick Grimes is the established leadership figure, and ultimately, the group has acquiesced to his decision making skills, even when they did not comprehend his reasonings.

The search party risks their lives while Carol took the decision out of their hands.
The search party risks their lives for the group while Carol took the decision out of their hands.

Still, I am loathe to experience Daryl’s anger at the loss of his friend, Carol, to the teetering leadership decisions of Rick the gardener. Daryl is nothing if not loyal to a fault (Hello, Merle?!) and me thinks that he will not take kindly to Rick deciding without any outside consultation, to isolate Carol from the group. Her brutal actions do deserve some sort of punishment, though, and I am not sure that Daryl would be able to follow through in terms of his dear friend, Carol. On the other hand, Tyreese has not only lost his will to live but his girlfriend and potentially his sister, Sasha, who is sick with the killer flu, but also his chance at a violent revenge. While Rick was right to warn Carol of Tyreese’s desire for retribution, who is more justified, Carol or Tyreese? Carol–who dragged out two living and breathing, albeit sick and dying, members of the prison-tribe and murdered them for the health of the greater good–feels vindicated in her actions. She acted in defense of the group but in a cold and premeditated manner, which ultimately went against the established social norms of the prison-tribe. Her development as a calculating killer is just one avenue that I wish the showrunners would explore in more depth. Carol has been with the group longer, she has contributed a great deal to them and has become an important part of the narrative. Tyreese is new to the group, has already established himself as adverse to the necessary difficulties of prison-tribe life–such as stabbing walkers face-to-face at the fence–and yet, societal values deem his position as the morally sound one. In an established society, Carol would be tried for her actions and sentences and Tyreese would experience justice.

Stay safe and sane, Carol.
Stay safe and sane, Carol.

In a way, Rick Grimes is attempting to swing the prison-tribe pendulum of justice back to center by taking the decision into his own hands. It seems that while he might have been debating what to do about Carol for a part of this episode, he made his choice when they encountered the injured couple in the house. Carol’s lack of pity for the couple and then lack of remorse as her decision to allow them to go into the open and look for food while hurt most likely got them killed.  Rick spied a callousness in Carol that caused him to fear for his own children and ultimately, banish her from the group for an undetermined amount of time. YIKES.

And that is why there is a Ricktator to make the impossible choices.


The Collectiva Diva

Want to see a clip from next week’s episode? Watch below.