I’VE ALWAYS HAD an inkling that there was something odd about the way characters act on The Walking Dead. Sometimes a character’s actions defies common sense. Like something makes them act in a particular or peculiar way.
Those things are usually called writers.
But seriously, characters on The Walking Dead sometimes seem unable to do other than what they do, even if what they don’t do is the logical thing to do – almost as if an unseen force is compelling these characters to act in a specific way.
Characters on this show often have a bad case of the dumb.
I used to think that the inexplicable choosing of bad choices was the product of bad writing.
I blamed bad writing until I saw The Walking Dead Season 7, episode 16, “The First Day of the Rest of Your Life”
It was then that everything became more clear to me.
Characters on The Walking Dead do dumb things because that’s what they’re determined to do.
In the universe of The Walking Dead there is no free will.
There is only determinism.
“Determinism is the philosophical idea that every event or state of affairs, including every human decision and action, is the inevitable and necessary consequence of antecedent states of affairs.
The reason why I think the lives of the characters on The Walking Dead are governed by determinism has a little something to do with a speech by Maggie Rhee.
In the aftermath of the brutal bludgeoning murders of Abraham Ford and Glenn Rhee (Maggie’s husband) by the leather jacketed, inexplicably leaning to the side, baseball bat-wielding Negan, Maggie delivers this speech:
The decision was made a long time ago. Before any of us knew each other. We were all strangers who would have passed each other on the street before the world ended. But now we mean everything to each other. Glenn didn’t know you but he helped you. He put himself in danger for you and that started it all. From Atlanta, to my daddy’s farm, to the prison, to here. To this moment now – not as strangers; as family – because Glenn chose to be there for you, that day a long time ago – that was the decision that changed everything. It started with both of you and it just grew, all of this: to sacrifice for each other, to suffer and stand, to grieve, to give, to love, to live, to fight for each other. Glenn made that decision, Rick. I was just following his lead.
As poignant as Maggie’s voice-overed speech was, there was something that struck my mind about it, namely, the first line: The decision was made a long time ago.
Maggie’s speech suggests that everything that happened (presumably from the first episode on) was the inevitable outcome from one decision.
A decision that was made a long time ago.
A decision I call determinism.
The French-German philosopher (and hard determinist) Baron d’Holbach (1723-1789) writes of man’s actions:
Man’s life is a line that nature commands him to describe upon the surface of the earth, without his ever being able to swerve from it, even for an instant. He is born without his own consent; his organization does in nowise depend upon himself; his ideas come to him involuntarily; his habits are in the power of those who cause him to contact them; he is unceasingly modified by causes, whether visible or concealed, over which he has no control, which necessarily regulate his mode of existence, give the hue to his way of thinking, and determine his manner of acting. He is good or bad, happy or miserable, wise or foolish, reasonable or irrational, without his will being any thing in these various states.
You will say that I feel free. This is an illusion.
The character’s lives are kind of like dominoes: You knock down the first domino, setting off a chain of events, causing each proceeding domino to fall.
IF Maggie and Baron d’Holbach are correct, Glenn’s actions, and the events in The Walking Dead are the inevitable consequence of a prior series of events.
Glenn had to save Rick.
Rick had to be reunited with his family.
Shane and Lori had to have an affair.
Rick had to kill Shane.
Lori had to die.
The group had to leave Georgia.
The group had to find Alexandria.
Maggie had to have complications with her pregnancy.
And this had to happen to Glenn.
Now, Maggie says that Glenn made the choice, but it is plausible that something else made the decision.
That is, something made the choice for Glenn to make a choice.
You can call it fate that Glenn found Rick Grimes hiding in a zombie-surrounded tank in Atlanta. But Glenn had to be there just as Rick had to be there.
Because the decision was made a long time ago.
But who made the decision?
Is it possible that a Divine power has determined the character’s fates?
The show seems to suggest that (the Christian) God exists, or at least the possibility that God exists.
Religious characters exist in The Walking Dead: Hershel Greene, Father Gabriel Stokes. Characters pray. Bible verses and references to Bible verses appear throughout the series. Events in the show have paralleled stories in the Bible (Abraham’s sacrifice of his son Isaac/Rick’s sacrifice of his son’s arm).
And a few characters have religious names.
When Rick’s group encounters a lone doctor, Edwin Jenner, at the CDC, Jenner does not exclude the possibility that the zombie apocalypse may be due to an “act of God”.
If God exists and everything that happens in The Walking Dead is the result of a choice made a long time ago, Maggie Rhee’s view of the world may be fatalistic, events are fated to happen.
There’s a religious doctrine that teaches (us that) all human action is determined: Theological determinism.
Or fatalism, if you prefer.
Predestination if you’re a Calvinist.
Theological determinism is a belief professed by St. Thomas Aquinas, John Calvin, Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz, and the American philosopher, Jonathan Edwards.
Strong theological determinism is the belief that
“everything that happens has been predestined to happen by an omniscient divinity.”
Some believe that the Bible makes the case for theological determinism. Ephesians 1:11 states
“In him we were also chosen, having been predestined according to the plan of him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will.
According to theological determinism, God does not need to follow (natural) causal rules of d’Holbach’s philosophical determinism. Human actions and events are not the necessary result of a series of prior events, but occur according to the totally inescapable capricious will of an omniscient, all-powerful deity.
Things happen because HE has ordained it so.
A long time ago.
As John Calvin says,
“All events whatsoever are governed by the secret counsel of God
So… does Maggie Rhee’s decisions made a long time ago speech mean that The Walking Dead exists in a determined universe? Of course not. If anything, the abundance of bad choices and poor decision making indicates that Rick Grimes, Maggie Rhee, and their fellow survivors possess an abundance of free will.
After all, what kind of all-knowing deity would make people do so many things that are so… dumb?
It’s probably a safe bet to assume that The Walking Dead, like the real world, is frequently governed by dumb luck, chance, and the occasional stars lining up just right that it only seems like everything works out the way it’s supposed to.
…unless they’re compatibilists
Baron d’Holbach. System of Nature (1770). http://www.ftarchives.net/holbach/system/a11.htm