I’VE BEEN WATCHING AMC’s The Walking Dead for a little over five seasons now, and one thing I’ve noticed about the show is that you never want to become the moral center of the group. It’s almost a guarantee that by the end of the mid-season finale your character will be dead.
Andrea, kinda towards the end.
I’ve also learned that in the post-apocalypse to never be the peacemaker. The worst thing you can do in the post-apocalypse is to suggest that living beings should live together peacefully. Or that it’s wrong to kill people.
Don’t that it or your character will end up like this:
You see, the world the characters of The Walking Dead inhabit is a zombie-infested Hobbesian dystopia – it is a war of all against all, a war with both the living and the dead.
It is a world where Thrasymachean might-makes-right often determines who survives to live another day.
There’s something else that even the casual The Walking Dead might notice – though the world of The Walking Dead is nasty, brutish, and short, somehow in the midst of all the violence, a pacifist *sometimes* emerges.
And as one may assume, in The Walking Dead, this is not a good thing.
So what, you say, does peacemaking get you in The Walking Dead?
Former farmer, veterinarian, and father to Beth and Maggie, Hershel Greene wanted to resolve the group’s conflict with The Governor with negotiation rather than with war.
And this was how Hershel was rewarded for his effort
Deceptively tough-looking Tyreese had no desire to kill the living or the dead.
This is what happened to Tyreese.
Original moral center Dale argued against the group executing the prisoner Randall, even though Randall posed a significant threat to the safety of the group
And you know what happened to Dale, right?
You guessed it.
The Walking Dead is definitely a nice guys finish last sort of thing.
Now, the formerly long-lost Morgan’s “all life is precious” ethic is quickly making him persona non grata in Alexandria.
Although the real world often celebrates those who want peace for all at all times, in The Walking Dead those who refuse to kill can become a serious problem – even a threat to others.
You see, it’s all about consequences.
Tyreese’s anti-violence ethic not only endangered his own life, but also endangered the lives of others. When Tyreese also fails to kill Martin, who threatens the life of baby Judith, Martin later joins Gareth and the other Terminus survivors who capture Bob.
And eat his leg.
Eventually, Bob and Tyreese are done in by zombie bites.
But now, a new problem pacifist has arrived to disrupt the violent world of The Walking Dead.
Morgan Jones, introduced along with his son, Duane, in the series’ opening episode “Days Gone Bye”, saves Rick Grimes after Rick awakes from a coma. Morgan teaches Rick the rules for surviving the zombie apocalypse (Rule #1: don’t get bit) and the two men part company, only to be reunited in the Season 3 episode “Clear”.
Needless to say, when the two men find each other again, Morgan is a bit different.
He’s batshit crazy.
Morgan is possessed by the notion that he must “clear” – to kill every being he encounters – man, woman, or child, living or dead.
After Morgan attempts to “clear” Rick, Carl, and Michonne –
Wait. Let me stop right here for a sec.
You may have noticed that I am referring to characters without describing them or to situations without context. If you, reading this, is unfamiliar with The Walking Dead, I suggest that you see the Wikipedia/Wiki article on the TV series The Walking Dead (See: http://walkingdead.wikia.com/wiki/The_Walking_Dead_(TV_Series).
If you are indeed familiar with the series, this brief recap should be old hat.
After Morgan attempts and fails to “clear” Rick, Michonne, and Carl, Rick and his companions leave Morgan (but not without stocking up on some guns and ammo) and head back to the prison, leaving Morgan to “clear” on his own.
The next time we see Morgan, it’s Rick who is doing the clearing
-specifically, clearing the abusive husband of Rick’s would-be love interest, Jessie.
Viewers cheered at the reunification of Rick and Morgan, and eagerly awaited the badassery to come from two of the badassenest characters on The Walking Dead.
There was only one problem with this coming to fruition.
Morgan had gone pacifist.
Although absolute pacifism may be an unheard of (or even unreasonable) idea in the zombie apocalypse, the practice of living a life according to the principle of non-violence is, in our zombie-free world, an age-old philosophical tradition.
Pacifism is the (sometimes absolutist) argument that
all forms of violence, war and/or killing is unconditionally wrong and conflicts which may arise should be dealt with through arbitration and compromise rather than with recourse to violent means. (IEP).
Pacifism is encouraged in the New Testament of the Bible. In Chapter five of Gospel of Matthew, Jesus announces “blessed are the peacemakers.” Jesus also instructs his followers to “love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.”
The Bible also instructs us to “turn the other cheek”.
The list of notable pacifists is quite extensive, including: the Dalai Lama, Albert Einstein, Mahatma Gandhi, George Bernard Shaw, John Lennon, Leo Tolstoy, Martin Luther King, Jr., Nelson Mandela, Mother Theresa, and Helen Keller.
On the small screen, Morgan’s pacifism presents a problem for some viewers, namely because A) Morgan is a badass and we want to see him do some killing, and 2: As we’ve seen, characters who preach peace don’t live for very long.
Let’s not forget this is what happened to the last guy who tried to be the peaceful moral center of the zombie apocalypse:
It’s soon revealed that Morgan’s new pacifist philosophy isn’t something that Morgan cooked up on his own, but acquired from the teachings of forensic psychologist turned part-time goat cheese maker and Aikido master named Eastman.
Viewers don’t have to do much figuring out things to realize that the name “Eastman” seems to coincide with his Eastern philosophy.
Eastman’s name is also nearly as obvious a name as Porkins in Star Wars.
Eastman practices the Japanese martial art Aikido, which focuses on defense rather than on an attack. Over time, Eastman rehabilitates Morgan, who he determines is suffering from PTSD and eventually cures Morgan of his urge to “clear”. As a part of Morgan’s treatment, Eastman shows Morgan a book on the philosophy of Aikido, “The Art of Peace”, in which contains the passage:
“Aikido means not to kill. Although nearly all creeds have a commandment against taking a life, most of them justify killing for one reason or another. In Aikido, however, we try to completely avoid killing even the most evil person.”
Most importantly, Eastman tells Morgan he’s found a way to inner peace. He tells Morgan:
So, when Morgan is unwilling to kill other living humans, even when a murderous group called the Wolves launch a deadly attack on Alexandria, he holds fast to his personal philosophy, which is, as Morgan explains to Daryl, the belief that
In “Ethics of War”, Clifford Simmons says:
I could not stand aside from the experiences of others… I still believed that the position of the pacifist was ultimately right but I was beginning to realize that, at the same time, I could not stand aside from the struggle which was engulfing my contemporaries
It certainly seems that Morgan is willing to stand aside, even in the face of evil. Morgan definitely believes that his pacifist ethic of not killing is the only morally correct way to live. It isn’t just Aikido that tells us that killing is morally impermissible. The Ten Commandments explicitly dictates that “Thou shalt not kill”.
But is intentional killing always immoral?
Well, that depends on where your ethics are coming from.
The nature of our (or Morgan’s) pacifist philosophy is rooted in what system of ethics we (or Morgan) adheres to: For instance, are we acting from Kantian or Biblical duty-based ethic or from utilitarian principles?
When considering the pacifist path, we must decide which moral rules outweigh others. We (or Morgan) must weigh our duty to others and our (or Morgan’s) duty to preserve life versus the consequences of either taking a life or allowing a potentially dangerous person to live. Morgan decides that the moral rule “all life is precious” not only outweighs the “necessity” to kill the Wolves to protect Alexandria, but that the consequences of letting some of the Wolves go (another potentially deadly attack) is worth holding to his ethical principle.
The philosopher Edmund Burke (1729-1797) states, “the only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing”.
The thing is, Morgan is not totally against violence, just killing. He’ll still beat the holy hell out of people.
That makes Morgan kind of not completely pacifist.
Not completely pacifist or not, Morgan is adheres so strongly to his not-quite-so pacifist ethic that he fails to see the dire consequences of his actions.
This is because Morgan is focused on duty rather than to consequences.
Ok. Sure, we can’t necessarily fault Morgan for having morals. Or that he’s acting from a sense of duty. Or even for being a pacifist. However, the problem with Morgan and his pacifist ideology boils down to this:
Before arriving at Alexandria, Morgan encounters a couple of Wolves, who he chooses to spare instead of kill. The Wolves clearly have intentions of killing Morgan. Their attempt at killing Morgan is foiled due only to Morgan’s excellent skills with a bow staff.
Morgan’s failure to kill the Wolves he encountered sets off a chain of (unintended) consequences that ultimately result in the deaths of several Alexandrians, including Rick Grimes. This happens because, as we’ve been told, Morgan believes that
- Some fans of The Walking Dead may have observed that Morgan’s pacifist philosophical view is an odd choice for Morgan, considering that he had previously failed to put down his zombie wife, Jenny, who later attacked their son. Morgan stated that his mistake was that he had not put down his wife as if there wasn’t going to be “a reckoning”.
The chain of (unintended) consequences of Morgan’s (somewhat) pacifism goes a little like this:
- Morgan encounters the Wolves. In particular, this guy:
And this guy:
- but because Morgan believes all life is precious he does not kill them, even after the Wolves attack him.
- The Wolves, in turn, find Aaron’s bag containing pictures of Alexandria.
- Based on the information in Aarons bag, the Wolves raid Alexandria.
- Where they proceed to viciously attack and murder the people of Alexandria.
- During the attack, Morgan allows one of the Wolves to escape with a gun.
- That Wolf, in turn, almost successfully uses the gun to kill Rick.
At this point, it’s kind of fair to place some of the blame for the attack on Alexandria on Morgan’s ethic. And it’s not unreasonable to argue, at least on a utilitarian scale, that although Morgan is motivated by a sense of duty to respect all life, his actions have done more harm than good. Morgan’s actions clearly have endangered the lives of his fellow survivors
Perhaps Michonne is correct when, in the Season 3 episode “Clear” she observes that Morgan is “dangerous”?.
- To make matters worse, Morgan is secretly keeping a mortally injured member of the Wolves in a home that serves as a makeshift prison.
In what is sure to result in another series of horrific consequences, rather than kill the Wolf outright, Morgan has allowed the Wolf to live.
We can only imagine the extent of the death and destruction that‘s going to happen if – rather, when the injured Wolf dies and becomes a zombie.
Certainly all of it will be unintended.