Some of the most interesting—if not always the most exciting—episodes of The Walking Dead deal with morality in a post-civilized world. And if the hemming and hawing of Shane and Rick can get a little old, forcing every survivor to wrestle with the fate of a potentially dangerous prisoner was handled with reasonable care.
The spectrum of opinions ranged from the already-tried-to-kill-him Shane to the we-can’t-lose-our-humanity Dale. We have a former Civil Rights lawyer ready to send a kid to his death (before a late change of heart) and a former death-penalty opponent supporting her husband pulling the trigger. But mostly we have a group of people just wanting the problem taken care of without the blood to trickling its way down to their hands.
The most interesting perspective, though, comes from those of us watching from the comfort of our decidedly non-zombie-infested living rooms.
Rather than lead us to particular conclusions, the writers let us struggle right along. I’m rather stridently anti-death penalty or so I like to think. But earlier this week, a writer friend was talking about a story on targeted killings. I had to really look inward at why I was so glad to hear Osama Bin Laden had been killed. My sanctity-of-life beliefs were forged in the security of a suburban American upbringing. I’m not a complete pacifist—I believe in Just War, though that definition has been tarnished lately. But where is that murky line between justified and rationalized violence?
That’s a big question from a TV show that mostly just has us hoping for the next zombie kill. Which leads us to the second most interesting perspective on tonight’s proceedings—that of Carl.
He awakened from his coma talking about the beautiful doe, but ever since the dead body of Sophia limped its way out of that barn door, he’s become colder and harder. When Carol sees him at Sophia’s gravesite, she tries to comfort him with talk of heaven, and he calls her an idiot. He’s looking to emulate the men leading the group—the different kinds of toughness displayed by his father, Shane and Daryl. And he finds the chance to test his own bravery, playing near a zombie stuck in the mud by the creek, keeping the discovery to himself.
It’s his innocence, already so lost, that saves the prisoner’s life for now. Rick realizes there are more things he needs to protect his son from than physical danger. And Carl realizes—in that heartbreaking moment when he recognizes the zombie who kills Dale—that he’s still very much a kid.
The show has been criticized this season for the plodding pace on the farm, mostly away from danger, and rightly so. But sometimes it doesn’t take a horde of walkers to keep the show engaging. Sometimes the scariest thing to be faced with doesn’t want to eat your brain; it just wants to challenge it.