The Walking Dead, Tap Out, and The Naïveté of Self-Sacrifice

*There are spoilers for both Tap Out and the series finale of Season Four of The Walking Dead in this post*  Proceed at your own risk.

I had a conversation about Tap Out, post-finale of this season’s Walking Dead that I’ve had before. Except this time, because of Rick’s actions, the conversation took on a different context.

Person: But Tony killed. He murdered those people.

Me: But he would have been killed. What’s your point?

Person. One, we don’t know that. Two, I could no longer relate to him after that.

Me: *trying very hard to keep calm about that first comment because, author* So if someone is pushed to the limit, essentially put in duress, they can’t save themselves?

Person: No. They can save themselves, but they can’t kill others in the process.

Me: So, then what Rick did, biting Joe’s neck like that, to save himself, Carl, and most likely Daryl and Michonne, that wasn’t okay?

Person: But that’s different. That’s post-apocalyptic Sci-Fi and not contemporary fiction.

This is where my brain kind of collapsed on itself. Because even though Sci-Fi is not my thing, I understand that the parallels of the stories often run against those of our contemporary lives. So to dismiss that genre as such is foolish. However, what struck me the most was the naïveté expressed. Somehow, in this person’s world, the notion of self-sacrifice is only viewed as noble. While I’m not going to say the notion isn’t noble, I believe what matters is context. And in Tony’s and Rick’s cases, self-sacrifice would have proved no benefit.

Tony, forced by Cameron to pour the gas and light the fire that burns down the warehouse, is not responsible for those deaths. That’s on Cameron. Yes, in a purely black and white logical sense, Tony’s a murderer. I understand that. But what in Tap Out is black and white? Nothing. That’s the point.

People force others into inescapable situations and then we look at the victim and say, “How dare you protect yourself. Surely there was another way.” No, there wasn’t. In the context of that novel, Cameron would most certainly have killed Tony, and most likely on the spot. And what good would that have served?

Tony did what he had to in order to survive. I’m not suggesting we applaud his actions, but to denounce them in light of ALL THE THINGS that are done to him…please!

Same holds true for Rick. Say what you want about the push pull of Farmer Rick and Monster Rick, but when push came to shove and his son’s life was on the line, along with his own, Rick let the monster out. And good for him. I see nothing wrong with him doing what he needed to do, albeit in a very gory manner. But the very act of biting Joe’s neck like he did was so symbolic. What else in that world bites to kill? Exactly. Rick is willing to be as ruthless as he needs to in order to protect Carl. He cannot do that if he is dead. Therefore, he must do whatever it takes to stay alive.

And survival is a very powerfully ingrained instinct. Both Tony and Rick went through the ringer before getting pushed to the brink. I think it is a testament to the spirit that each does not given up.

Not that giving up is easy, not when your life is on the line, but neither is it inherently noble. Not if evil wins because of this sacrifice. Because there is real evil in this world. And Walking Dead comments on that. Who is really to be feared, now? Not the zombies, but the humans. And what is Tony to fear? Repercussions for his actions? No, the evil of Cameron and the biker gang, set on making him a pawn.

Both do what I hope we all would do if brought to our knees––fight.

And win.

My addiction to the humanity of The Walking Dead

I am addicted to The Walking Dead. Yet, I don’t read many Sci-Fi novels nor watch any other shows of the genre. I don’t even care for zombies all that much. So why do I like the show? Precisely for all that it is beyond the obvious.

I was late to the game with The Walking Dead, having only begun watching it over the summer. I admit, the first season was, good, not great. But I wanted more, because I felt as if the show had a significant amount to offer, much like a new author and a sophomore effort. Therefore, when season two was released to Netflix, I went on a Walking Dead marathon, watching all thirteen episodes in two days.

My wife was worried about me. She didn’t understand my addiction, and was concerned about my predilection for gore. I agreed, because it was over the top, and I didn’t understand the pull, either. And then I thought about the similarities with my reading habits.

When I read a novel I love, I devour it. I read non-stop, as if compelled. Obviously the same is true for The Walking Dead–as well as Breaking Bad, but that’s a whole other post–so it begs the question, what am I drawn to in both novels and this show?

It is the focus on questions of humanity. The Walking Dead isn’t only about staving off zombie attacks, it digs for answers about how we view our worth as humans, and possibly more important, how we view the worth of others. For me, any time a novel brings this issue to light, I’m on the edge of my seat. I don’t know if it’s because I’m still looking for an answer for myself, or because I know finding one is as elusive as holding water. Therefore, I am enamored with any story willing to probe the issue.

Our world is constantly evolving, and I’m in the thick of it as a parent, a writer and a teacher. I want to be able to provide a framework for understanding for my children, my students and my readers. Isn’t that what a good story should provide?

I think so. That message is very clear in Tap Out. I believe that is why it is so raw and moving and painful, and ultimately, too difficult for some readers. I do not deliver easily palatable answers. I don’t think such are warranted for such a topic, setting, conflicts and characters. Yet, I am currently revising my next novel. It is a much lighter affair, but still has some very dark undertones. I’m happy reading through and finding that I am still asking some very important questions. Ones that teens are asking, and want answers to.

And why wouldn’t they? It’s a crazy world out there, especially when a show about zombies may contain more substance and importance than the prime time offerings or popular writing. That’s not to say that all we should ever read or watch should be heavy and dark. But whatever we find ourselves in love with should strive for more than the superficial.

I’m into season three and am considering the novel I wrote this summer, the one that has yet to be analyzed. I will return to it as soon as I am done with my current novel, and I am certain my critical mind will be at work. Does that mean there will be zombies?

No. But there will be substance. And I hope you will fall in love.