WELL, ZOMBIE FANS it looks like another season of The Walking Dead is drawing to a close. It’ll be a whole half year until the adventures of former sheriff’s deputy, Rick Grimes, and his fellow survivors will return like a walker to entertain us with more, gruesome zombie killings and plot holed plotlines that will make a sane man scream like a madman at his TV.
Like many popular television shows, fans of The Walking Dead have created their own fan theories and in-jokes about the show: The Black Highlander Theory*, the mind-numbing stupidity of the show’s female characters… and the one sign that a character is certainly going to die – the moral compass.
There’s been a number of characters on The Walking Dead who have occupied the position of the moral center of the group: Dale, Hershel, T-Dog, Bob, Tyreese, Glenn…
It’s worth noting that all of these characters are dead.
Although it’s a bit of an in-joke among fans of the show, the inevitable death of the moral center does present a bit of an ethical problem in the world of The Walking Dead. If the group’s moral center has a habit of dying, then we can assume that those who remain are the not-so-good people. In the Season 3 episode “Clear”, Rick Grimes’ long-lost friend, Morgan Jones, tells Rick that the good people die first.
In a zombie-infested world where people must fight to survive and those who are prone to performing acts of goodness will be the first to go, we know that bad people population will explode at an exponential rate. But think about it, in a world where the only occupation you have is surviving to see the next day, how not so good is a person, really?
We can re-evaluate anyone’s seeming bad acts as good acts if, as Obi-Wan Kenobi tells us, we see truths from a certain point of view.
A certain relative point of view.
The Walking Dead has had its share of bad guys (Dr. Jenner, The Governor, Claimer Joe, Gareth, Officer Dawn Lerner…) But there’s one bad guy that though he’s been called evil, if we re-evaluate him from “a certain point of view” may be the most moral character in the show’s five seasons: Shane Walsh.
He’s not going to win Miss Congeniality, but what Shane lacks in social graces he makes up for in his single-minded moral consistency. And that’s what’s important when discussing morality, isn’t it?
Unlike Rick, who is often criticized for his inconsistency** Shane is suffers from no moral ambiguity. He is totally morally consistent. Although his actions appear contradictory, Shane has a singular goal: to save Lori and Carl Grimes.
….and to eventually steal them both away from Rick.
The reason why Shane is actually a morally good person is because his motives are actually not all that bad.
Ok. I know. Shane wanted to steal Rick’s wife from him but think about it this way: Shane’s desire to keep Lori Grimes for himself actually saved the group.
We know that Shane is willing to violate moral rules, however, Shane is also willing to do whatever it takes to survive – which makes him, in a way, a very moral person.
Although it seems like the morally incorrect thing to do:
- Shane defends a battered woman when her husband smacks her by beating the tarnation out of the guy.
- Shane makes the right call when he leads the group to kill the walkers in Hershel’s barn.
- He’s ultimately right in his decision to “cut loses” and discontinue the search for Sophia. Shane says that the group is needlessly risking their lives to search for Sophia who is more than likely dead (Shane is right about Sophia and Daryl is nearly mortally injured when he is thrown from a horse and impaled on an arrow).
- Shane makes the right call in shooting Otis to save the life of Carl. He reasons that Otis did not belong in the world of the dead (He‘s right).
- Shane even makes the right decision when he informs Lori that her husband is dead. Shane knew the Lori would not have left her husband behind if she suspected that there was a chance that he was alive. If Lori had stayed she and Carl would have likely died (In a flashback scene we see Shane attempt to save Rick while Rick is in a coma in the hospital when the facility is overrun by the undead. So contrary to what Lori thought, Shane didn’t abandon Rick. ).
- Even Andrea observes that Shane has done more to protect the group than Rick. Andrea says Shane is willing to make the tough (moral) choices that others can’t (or won’t).
Ultimately, even Shane’s bad intentions or “evil” (or self-interest if you think about it) sometimes has good outcomes. Although he’s selfishly focused on his own interests (Lori and Carl), by extension Shane’s selfish acts saves the lies of the group. Optimally, we want people to act on good intentions, but do intentions truly matter when the outcome is good?
John Stuart Mill writes:
the creed which accepts as the foundation of morals, Utility, or the Greatest Happiness Principle, holds that actions are right in proportion as they tend to promote happiness, wrong as they tend to produce the reverse of happiness.
So if you think about it Shane is kind of a utilitarian.
Shane’s only rule is protect Lori and Carl at all costs.
… so maybe Shane’s a rule utilitarian.
Rule utilitarianism, as defined by Wikipedia is:
Rule utilitarianism is a form of utilitarianism that says an action is right as it conforms to a rule that leads to the greatest good, or that “the rightness or wrongness of a particular action is a function of the correctness of the rule of which it is an instance”
Ok, I know what you’re saying. Shane is a bad guy. He did bad things. He didn’t have to kill Otis or the walkers in Hershel’s barn. And Shane definitely played his bad guy card when he attempted to kill Rick. I admit it. It’s difficult to successfully argue that Shane Walsh is not just a good guy, but a guy whose moral aptitude is worth praising.
Rick Grimes may be the focus of the show, but Shane by far is the more morally interesting character. Shane leaves the viewer asking “would I do that?”. We get angry at Shane because we know that we’re also capable of going to extremes to protect the ones we love.
Sure, Shane does a lot of bad things: he sleeps with his best friend’s wife, points his gun at anyone who disagrees with him, attempts to rape his best friend’s wife after she refuses his advances… but we’re all putting Shane Walsh on our fantasy zombie hunting team because we know Shane is willing to do anything, ANYTHING to protect the people that he loves.
And that seems like a pretty good thing to do.
* If you’re curious about The Walking Dead and the Black Highlander Theory check out:
** For a list of Rick Grimes’ inconsistencies: http://www.wired.com/2013/11/walking-dead-recap-indifference/
John Stuart Mill. Utilitarianism.