Monday, November 5, 2012

The politics of revenge in a zombie apocalypse

SPOILER ALERT -- This blog post discusses season 3, episode 4 entitled "The Killer Within" from "The Walking Dead."

In the image above is Andrew from Season 3 of The Walking Dead and from the comic book of the same name. Those of you who have followed my blog for some time know I periodically like to talk about story elements present within the shows that I watch. Aside from being another nail-biting episode, upon finishing, I had questions about the moral nature of man and the idea of screwing over your fellow man in a zombie apocalypse for no good reason.

Primarily...what I wanted to know is why?

Screwing over your fellow man has never really made sense to me in any science fiction drama that features terrible creatures that will eat you. Burke did it in the movie Aliens and when I watch the movie, I still wonder why. Was Burke insane? Did he not see what the alien xenomorph did to humans. It has got to be one of the most gruesome fates ever imagined.

A zombie apocalypse isn't much better.

With Andrew, he had to run for his life from Rick after his nefarious plot (along with inmate Tomas) was exposed and they tried to kill Rick. Rick chased him to a zombie infested yard where Rick slammed the door shut on Andrew. The last thing we heard were Andrew's chilling screams.

Well, we learned Sunday night that Andrew survived without getting bit and somehow made it to a safe place where the zombies couldn't get to him. Now, if that were me (and trust me...there'd be long odds that I could ever survive one day in a zombie apocalypse) I would count my lucky stars, use the skills that I have to obviously survive multiple zombies, and go into the wild and look for a place where I could find food and shelter away from people that want to kill me. Perhaps I could find another group of survivors that could take me in if I showed them that I could be a good person with valuable survival skills.

But this isn't what Andrew does. He gets back into the prison with the intent to screw over Rick and his crew. Doesn't he realize that each time he encounters the zombies that he is risking his life? Why would you ever do that given that the zombies could kill you and the people you are screwing over can kill you? I would be terrified of both. And he literally gets an entire herd of zombies all riled up by blasting the alarm at the prison. This can only end one way.

So why would a person do that? And does it seem just a little unbelievable? Like maybe they needed to establish that the character was a lunatic before going down this road? Or do you think it's perfectly reasonable that a man on his own (that should feel lucky just to be alive in such a cruel world) would turn from thoughts of survival and focus on those of revenge against people who failed to kill him?

I look forward to finding out what you think regarding revenge in settings where the stakes for your very survival are extremely high to begin with, much less inviting wrath from another front.


  1. Very interesting post. To me, his actions made sense in the context of the show. I mean, he was in with the other guy--Tomas, and they were both these bad-ass prison guys.

    From what I know of prison (which, admittedly isn't much) it's all about establishing yourself as the toughest person there. Not letting anyone disrespect you. A lot of guys grow up on the streets with the same attitude.

    So, if you took someone with that attitude and put him in a situation where these "new guys" came into "his" prison and screwed him over, I find it believable that he could think the most important thing was getting revenge.

    Also, he obviously brought into his own invincibility, since he thought he actually had a chance of taking the prison back. Thanks for the though-provoking post. Walking Dead was CRAZY tonight!!

  2. Still recovering from tonight's ep. What a ride! I totally believe that Andrew would have gone after the gang like that. He knows that being in prison is all about who is the bigger badass and where else is he going to go? That prison is all he knows, Rick and crew are the interlopers on his territory.

    Shelter is the name of the game when trying to survive and Andrew knows it sheer luck that got him through those walkers. He's mad as hell because he should not have been in that position and wants revenge. He wants his prison back to the way it was before the Ricktatorship.

    Cannot wait for next week. I want to know what is up with Andrea and Prince Phillip, I mean the Governor.

  3. The writers decided that going back for revenge was the best way to keep the conflict going. It seems to have worked.

  4. Don't watch the show so not spoiling it for me.
    Why do people do that? When they are focused on self, they don't see anything else. Revenge, personal gains, personal conquests - that's the only focus.
    And Burke in Aliens came to my mind right away!

  5. Although I'm not watching this show, it does sound like he needs some motive. If the reader or viewer doesn't know a reason for this character's action, then we assume he is crazy--which may or may not be the case. Crazy isn't the most satisfying explanation.

  6. When it comes to zombies, is anyone ever going to have anything more to say than the living humans are worse than the undead ones? That's pretty much the plot of every zombie movie and TV show in existence since "Night of the Living Dead" changed our definition of zombies.

  7. I never really understand that plot device. I just figure they need drama.

  8. Ah. I just realised that episode four goes out this Friday for us in the UK. What the heck - at least I'll be viewing the episode with your questions ringing in my ears!

    Personally, I didn't buy the whole lets chase Andrew and kill him part anyway. The other guy (hacksaw in head) yes because he was obviously psycho. But Andrew seemed too young and naive. Perhaps I was reading it wrong but like you, I would have kept on running and never looked back.

  9. I guess the character would have to so self centered that he only considered the immediate reward of revenge and didn't think about the future at all.

  10. I wish I shared everyone's fascination with zombies, but I don't. Maybe if I see one I'll change my mind. I'm not into angels either.

  11. I love that I can live the shows through you, Michael. That way I get all the good stuff without having to see any scary images ;-)

    It's a win/win situation. Keep up the good work! And I'll tune in next week! LOL.

  12. People are screwed up and derive pleasure from bringing pain or harm to other people. Many of them even find it funny.
    It's why griefing is such a big thing in MMOs and the like.

  13. I don't think I'd ever want revenge that bad to put my life at risk to get it, but it does make for blood-pounding excitement, so I guess that's why this sort of thing is on television all the time.

  14. I'm with you. I wondered the same things. If it were me, I would have bolted from the place and tried my luck elsewhere (but if it were me, I wouldn't challenge Rick in the first place). :)

  15. I don't watch the show, so this'll just be based on what you wrote.

    I'm with you, Michael. Staying alive is much more important than getting revenge. Revenge isn't worth your life.

    But, I've met a great many kids who would disagree. It's all about saving face. They have to retaliate for any perceived wrong done to them. Otherwise, they believe themselves to be weak. Letting things go is seen as weakness.

    Ah well. It could have also been to ratchet up the drama.

  16. I guess if someone is that intent on revenge and showing who's the alpha male, yeah, I can see rationale and common sense going straight out the window.

  17. Didn't see the episode, but humans do stupid things all the time that don't serve their best interests. And, of course, television shows have to create lots of drama so you'll keep tuning in.

    Me, I would have had my brains scooped out on the first day of the zombie apocalypse. I hate running. :P

  18. First of all... I am surprised that you are incredulous considering the Fetishes you just introduced us all to. There are clearly people in our midst who live with a different... (what? vibe? it sounds like they just live to a different type of music or something but I don't want to sound judgmental so okay let's go with that)vibe.

    Second of all... you are an atheist and you trust science so it shouldn't be too controversial for you to hear some of the latest that is being discussed among scientists- neuroscience and neurologists which is that they have found that there are those among us that have a section of the brain that is different from many other and this section means that some people are more prone to think less rationally in a risky situation like the one you have described (I was reminded of a BBC show called 'Survivors' where the people behaved similarly because they want to be rich- and you're watching and thinking "What is the use of money when everyone but a few are dead, you moron?!?")- this coincides with recent (again, controversial( discussions that have been going on among the scientific/philosophy world concerning free will (and the lack of it). I am currently reading 'Free Will' by Sam Harris and he presents a pretty convincing argument that we don't have free will... that everything we do is presupposed by our brain patterns which have been influenced by many factors: biological needs, physical needs, how we were raised, our experiences, and our physical brain- how it functions. Thus someone like Andrew has no will to choose to act any other way- he is driven by internal forces that are out of his control and that are hard for anyone, even in some cases the person acting this way, to understand.

    So glad you brought up Walking Dead! I was waiting to talk about it with you!!! Cheers!

  19. Not a viewer of the show, but I just don't have time for zombies when life is so full of them already!

  20. I would never go near zombies for any reason except to save someone I love. So, my analysis is screwed... but I agree that in a survival situation, revenge seems a strange motive.

  21. I haven't been watching this show but now I want to catch this episode.

    I like what Tamara said in the first post -- the prison background/ experience would certainly shape (or twist?) a person, and saving face, acting tough, and getting revenge can be powerful motivations for some people. There's also the old fable of the scorpion that stings and kills the frog that's giving him a ride across a stream. When the dying frog asks the about-to-drown scorpion why he did it, the scorpion said it's in his nature.

  22. I think it's less of a question of being reasonable that Andrew would seek revenge over his own safety, and more a question of believability. And I do find it totally believable that some folks are such bloody-minded arseholes that they'd put vengeance before anything else, just to screw someone else over. Totally believable, albeit stupid and useless, in the grand scheme of things.
    Mina's Resurrection Blogfest!

  23. Who understands the mind of a criminal? Obviously Andrew was there for a very good reason.

    The reason you don't understand this line of thinking is that (IMO) you don't think this way in your normal life. You have integrity. Perhaps you do have the occasional "white lie" or minor abuse of a faulty economic/political system; but basically you don't believe in screwing over people for your own gain (real or imagined).

    I'm anxious to see how the other two prison inmates develop. I can't remember their names, but I think the black guy committed a real crime in support of his family, and the white dude is a child molester or something equally despicable. Black guy (ah gee, do you think they replaced T-Dog with him?) seems to have a moral code, white guy bends with the strongest perception.

    I could go on forever on this show; I love it :)

    Later Dude.


  24. never seen the show...sounds crazy what people or things will do for revenge, gah! thanks for stopping by my blog today! new follower here...

  25. I think the answer here is that people aren't actually all that reasonable. Just look at people who will argue with the friends of their friends, over politics, on Facebook. Yes, they should just walk away. Sometimes they do, but ... other times it's just like walking back into the well-stocked obstacle course full of zombies!

    Unfortunately for writers, fiction has to make more sense than real life.

  26. I wonder these same types of questions. I have concluded that these are less plot devices and more about human nature. People sometimes ignore all evidence to the contrary in the quest to be right. It's hard for people to have that epiphany and live our lives a completely different way. How many of us transform like that?

    Or it's a plot device.