Guest Writer: Michael J. Miller
Season Five contained an odd experience for me. By nature, I am a trusting person. I believe in (and hope for) the best in people. I think a better, beautiful world can be forged. I believe we can overcome our darker habits and live in the light of love. I’m as nonviolent a pacifist as you can be, thoroughly believing that violence only breeds more violence. I even unashamedly believe in the potential to transform our world, free of hate and violence, in the power of love, trust, and mercy. However I seemed to forget all of that when our intrepid group of survivors wandered into Alexandria.
One of the most intriguing (and for me, most discussed) themes of this show is just what is required to survive in this type of world. (Remember? I talked about it here.) Again and again we see that this world rewards the dark, violent, and self-centered. Care for the other leads you into danger at best and death at worse. Only occasionally do you find a common ally. It would seem we need to redefine what we mean by “human” if we want to survive in this hellish landscape. However, I can’t accept that. Even as we watch The Walking Dead, imagining myself in that world, I can’t imagine a scenario where I’d let that part of myself go – something Glenn seems to embody vividly in this season. “We were almost out there too long,” Glenn tells Deanna in his entrance interview for Alexandria. He feared that their fight for survival would require them to completely abandon that which makes them human, that which is worth fighting to preserve. Glenn (like Mika and Tyrese before him) seems to believe that you can live in a way where you can still be human. In fact, we’ve yet to see Glenn kill another human being in this brutal world. He is personifying the idea that we don’t have to allow the dark to consume us to survive. And I agree with Glenn…at least I thought I did. Or, rather, I do in real life but the world of the show…yikes! I had a whole mess of feels when they showed up in Alexandria.
When they enter Alexandria (and begin the show’s current story arc), I felt no relief for them. I felt no hope. After Woodbury and Terminus (and the countless violent people they ran into out in the woods) I couldn’t envision Alexandria ending in anything other than a firefight (most likely, with unexpected, abrupt, and heartbreaking casualties). I couldn’t imagine the people of Alexandria being what they appeared to be. In fact, I found myself hoping their inevitable confrontation with the Alexandrian citizens came sooner rather than later. I cringed every time Rick deferred to Deanna, every time Michonne – now apparently so naive – trusted so completely, every time Glen swore it could work, it had to work. And I especially cringed when even Daryl began to think they could belong. I was rooting for them to take up their weapons and kill who they had to kill to bring Alexandria under their control, so they could be protected to the best of their abilities. I wanted it to happen!
Even by Episode 15, “Try,” I still was longing for that eruption. I had learned from the story that the people of Alexandria were, while perhaps a bit unaware of the realities of the outside world, essentially what they appeared to be. Yet, when Rick explodes and beats Pete and turns a gun on the people of Alexandria, I was rooting for him.
Deanna – Damn it Rick! I said stop!
Rick – Or what? (Pulling his gun) You gonna kick me out?
Deanna – Put that gun down Rick.
Rick – You still don’t get it! NONE OF YOU DO!! We know what needs to be done and we do it. We’re the ones who’ve lived. You! You just sit and plan and hesitate. You pretend like you know when you don’t!! You wish things weren’t like they are. Well, you wanna live? You want this place to stay standing?! Your way of doing things is done! Things don’t get better because you want them to. Starting right now, we have to live in the real world. We have to control who lives here.
Deanna – That’s never been more clear to me than it is right now.
Rick – Me? Me? (Laughing) You mean me? Your way’s gonna destroy this place. It’s gonna get people killed. It’s already gotten people killed. And I’m not gonna just stand by and let it happen. If you don’t fight, you die.
Deanna tries to reign Rick in and Michonne eventually just knocks him unconscious. But I felt like this scene was a long time coming. Deanna was insufferable – an idealist with no sense of reality. Aiden and Nicholas were children playing superheroes, while putting everyone else at risk. No one understood what was going on. I wished, instead of knocking him unconscious, Michonne would have turned her katana on the people of Alexandria too and then she, Rick, Carol, and the crew could have taken control and built a stronger version of what they had at the prison, previous tenants of Alexandria be damned.
Who was this person??? Who was this person rooting for violence, death, and bloodshed in the hopes of guaranteeing (at least for a few episodes) the safety of the characters he’s come to love on this show?!? And why couldn’t I trust them to begin with?!? I’m not that person! I don’t watch simple action movies anymore. I’ve long ago been bored by destruction for destruction’s sake and I see no truth in the Myth of Redemptive Violence. Why would I pay money and take time to indulge in a film that only promotes that myth and is filled with casual and careless loss of life? But here, as Season Five of The Walking Dead began to come to a close, I found myself hoping for something that I haven’t enjoyed ever in life or in film/fiction since I was in high school. I wanted to bullets to fly, bodies to fall, and our heroes (exclusively our heroes) to be safe.
This has prompted a few nights of serious reflection. Once I realized how I was reacting to the plot, I wasn’t sure how to handle it. And, as this post makes obvious, I still think about it.
Yes, I know this is just a TV show and yes I know it’s natural (hell, it’s the whole point) to identify most with the “main characters” of a show you love. But I know art also reflects life. I traditionally connect with (and become enthralled by) art that in some way, shape, or form captures my sensibilities and the things I find beautiful and meaningful in the world. That’s part of the purpose of art. That’s what I’m drawn too. I rarely connect to something that makes me doubt humanity and hope for shoot outs! Don’t get me wrong, I’m not considering stopping watching The Walking Dead – far from it. I can’t wait for Season Six to return! Nor do I think the show’s damaging my empathy. I still am who I am. But, I was surprised that reality, as it’s depicted on the show, had sunk so completely into my skin that my default setting was to believe the people of Alexandria were horrific and to casually root for their demise.
In a way maybe I shouldn’t be surprised. Season Five offered some difficult deaths – and the deaths of characters who represented hope in humanity and happiness in life. We lost Bob. We lost Tyrese. We lost Beth. Damn…we lost Beth. For me, her death remains the most shocking and difficult to accept from the whole series. I still can’t believe Beth’s gone! It was so quick, so cold, so pointless. Anyway, I digress. Season Five had some heavy deaths. We also ran into cannibals. (Blah…my stomach still churns thinking of that scene.) The group was at an all time low as they cautiously marched into Alexandria. I guess I can see why the narrative made me react to Alexandria the way I did.
And maybe, that’s part of the experience. The Walking Dead, in addition to becoming one of my absolute favorite shows in television, certainly gives me a lot to think about. It’s been the fuel for many, many conversation with Kalie and with other friends who love the show too. This is just the latest example. Here, at the end of Season Five, the show gave me an experience I’d never had before – my willingness to doubt everyone in Alexandria. I weirdly felt bad about that! And (as Mika observed last season) I wasn’t like this before. Hopefully that isn’t lost in my Walking Dead viewing! May Glenn be my guide as I go forward, cautiously believing (at least at first) in the other people they meet out on the road.