Monday, February 15, 2016

Bite, Chew, Swallow, Repeat

In anticipation of The Walking Dead's mid-season return, I got sucked into the TWD marathon and saw a lot of post-Dale death episodes over the past few days.

As a result, one of the things that stood out to me was the importance of realism.

That might sound ironic when you're talking about a show where walkers are routinely trying to eat you and your friends, but one of the main catalysts for the plot centers on the ability characters have to accept their reality.

One example? Season 4's gut-wrenching episode, The Grove. All the signs of Lizzie's inability to understand the true nature of walkers were there. In fact, she'd openly stated beliefs that were so disconnected from their reality, and dangerous, that Lizzie almost smothered Baby Judith before ultimately murdering her sister to try to prove that walkers weren't dangerous.

Her inability to come to terms with reality was her undoing. Carol's inability to recognize and address Lizzie's distorted views contributed to the situation, causing her to share some responsibility for what happened.

One has to wonder how much of her denial over Lizzie was connected to her own pragmatic choice to execute Karen and David and subsequent exile, and her guilt over what she put Tyreese through.

Leading into this episode of The Walking Dead, Jessie had been coddling son Sam, and instead of helping him confront the reality of their world and learn how to stay safe she indulged his denial, and the result? Sam, Jessie and Ron die. 

Jessie's inability to force her own son to confront reality is her own way of avoiding the full truth about their situation. It shows that while Jessie is giving speeches to her neighbors and showing her skill with a knife, part of her still thinks that there's room for indulgence, and ignorance, and that she can protect Sam from the world they live in.

Most of Alexandria lived in denial, and carried on day to day as though the world beyond their walls wasn't gone.

Think back to the days of the Governor, and his first community, Woodbury. Most of the community lived at a distance from the walls, and carried on with regular life and routine. Imagine the level of ignorance you have to have to think that, after one incident with a breach of the walls, they were ready to leave, thinking they were safer outside the walls of their town.

It seems that whenever characters fail to come to grips with their reality, they soon find themselves with a shot-out eye, because the boy who tried to kill them mere hours earlier has not gotten over how much he hates you.

One of the things that I think could be most interesting as the second half of this season progresses is to watch how Rick balances the realities of building a community that can be kept safe. He's attempted this before, at the prison. His denial about the threat of the Governor contributed that. When he arrived at Alexandria, he seemed to have difficulty trusting in the safety in the community, but what he's really grappling with is the need to eliminate that denial that's threatened so many individuals and groups before. He needs the Alexandrians to see the reality of the world they live in and be prepared to defend themselves, and he's ultimately proven right.

On a smaller scale, this played out with The Wolf in episodes 8 and 9. Morgan tries to share his wisdom, which falls on deaf ears. The Wolf is not capable of philosophically-based redemption. He doesn't buy what Morgan is selling, but when Denise tells him he's full of shit, he seems to connect with her honesty. Was he really redeemed in the end? We'll never know, but he did save Denise's life, and without the realities of their situation, and Denise's ability to confront her own anxiety and fears and to confront The Wolf's bullshit, that might not have happened.

Accepting reality and dealing with it seems to be an underlying theme throughout the series, and perhaps the path to survival is best summed up on a quote from one of The Saviors.

"If you have to eat shit best not to nibble. Bite, chew, swallow, repeat."

I know some people think there's no character development or substance to this show, but The Walking Dead is a bit like a James Sallis novel, and the evolution of the characters and the story often builds in a slow burn, but is far more realistic than characters magically fixing all their problems in 45 minutes, only to forget everything they learned and make the same mistakes again next week. And if we consider our day to day lives, and the little truths we withhold from others, it isn't hard to believe that the human mind functions in a state of denial. A $50 prize keeps the dream alive that the next ticket will win the big lotto prize. Our own Walter Mitty moments convince us the next great book deal is just around the corner.

The ability of the mind to subvert reality and develop a more appealing fantasy is within us all, and that's why it's so easy to understand how the mind tries to suppress the horrors of The Walking Dead world in a way that few works of fiction really seem to address. Even that moment when Carol tells Morgan she should have killed him... She's again struggling with reality and responsibility and her own humanity, and in some respects, that seems to be the truth this show is really about finding. Can there be any more worthy struggle to face?

No comments: