Wednesday, December 2, 2015

The Walking Dead & Peacemaking

Though I am constantly irritated by the show, I have been a pretty avid fan of The Walking Dead. The show has become overbearing with its cliches, its rote dramatic performances, its almost cyclical developments, its inability to have a firm direction. And besides that, the show's pervasive darkness is a little grating. All TV now has taken up the theme of darkness. We see mankind revealed as utterly debased. Twenty years ago, the mask was just being ripped off. We saw feel good-shows begin to disappear. Paranoia, anxiety, despair, cruelty, malice, cold-calculations, and raw power became the domain of TV. These plot twists were to shock and awe. Now its getting a little hackneyed.

Anyway, The Walking Dead embraces this in some ways. It's a standard zombie-apocalypse trope, the living-dead show that we, the Humans, are the living-dead. Fictional monsters hold a mirror back up to our face. We are the ones who feed on each others indiscriminately; we are the ones who mindlessly congregate to get our fill. It's great stuff. But the other-side of that is that behind the mask of civilization, there is nothing but raw survival. The only ones who can make it are the ones who do what it takes. You see the moral-conscience of the group mauled to death, those people can't survive.

However, the one character that remains fascinating in this standard world of zombies is Morgan Jones.

Morgan underwent a conversion experience. Insane from the loss of wife and son, he becomes an animal, killing everyone and everything. His initial sensibilities about dignity and life are trashed. But through the patience and kindness of a stranger, Morgan slowly reconsiders the bestial existence he has subjected himself to. The kill-or-be-killed is challenged. It takes the death of his master for his repentance to become complete. Morgan begins to wrestle with his demons, his demeanor changes, his philosophy is radically transformed.

His new motto: All Life is Precious

This comes from a Zen book in Akido. It's a Buddhistic kind of thinking. And strangely, when explained and played out, is the most Christian thing in the show. Morgan has given up the right to judge in such a way. For him, life maintains a sense of possibility and change. Death is final and absolute. To take someone's life is to judge them unfit or incapable to live. Morgan resists this temptation tooth-and-nail. As one commenter said, Morgan is like a duck on water: calm on top, legs kicking on the bottom.

The last episode, the mid-season finale for season six, was a really good display.

*spoiler alerts*

Carol, a rather pragmatic, ruthless and survivalist member of the group, discovers Morgan has hidden a member of the Wolves in the basement of a house and has been talking with him. The Wolves are a mysterious group of near-insane survivalists who, for no rational reason, attacked the group in their community in Alexandria. Despite his protests that he will kill again, Morgan refuses to give up on his captive. Carol has other plans. In the midst of chaos, she escapes from Morgan's attention, and goes to kill the captive. Morgan catches up and protects him. In the ensuing fight, the Wolf gets free, takes a gun and knife, and leaves with a hostage. His survival is to be determined.

The significance of the scene will be determined with how the show judges the actions of Morgan. But it looks good from my point of view. It is Carol, who is truly no different than the Wolves in ruthless violence, who instigates this process. She takes it upon herself that she is the judge to declare, absolutely, that this member of the Wolves is not fit to live.

Morgan stands as a Peacemaker, one who is not constrained by liberality and utilitarian notions. Morgan is quite a proficient fighter. Peacemaking requires this. It requires the strength to stand your ground, to actually fight. But unlike other fictions where killing is outlawed for crude or simplistic reasons (i.e. non-identity with the evil that does kill, outright refusal, some traumatic experience), Morgan gives a basis, as stated above. Life comes with possibilities. If Morgan can turn around, and be different, then why should he be so quick to judge?

It will be interesting to see how this all plays out. I hope Morgan's character remains and offers a principled challenge to the dominant philosophy of the rest of the group. Most characters so-far that have resisted the main-course have died. They are the ones who cannot live in this world anymore. They not only have died, but they must have died. They are slowly dying epidermis of the old world of niceties, civilized infrastructure, and diplomacy. But Morgan doesn't need that. He is no longer bound to an old-world, nor is he trapped in the paradigm of kill-or-die that most others function from.

Morgan represents a fictional character that has rejected the course of things, but remains. He is in the world, but not of the world. He does not stand idly by, not willing to get his hands dirty. He does not recourse to some vague notion of democracy. He does not cower or refuse to bear arms. But he bears arms in defense of life. He wants to live. It's not his time to die, not yet.

I am pessimistic about a show like this to maintain such a brilliant character without marking him as expendable and just one more warning against trying to remain different. I still have hopes though. For viewers, Morgan represents the possibility of difference in a world of blood and death. He shows that real change, real justice, doesn't come through death. Instead, real change, and the chance for real justice, can come through repentance. I guess that's a different kind of death.

All life is precious.

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