Every story needs a villain, an antagonist to test the protagonist’s morals, strength, and beliefs.
The post ZA world in no different. In an environment like that, the need to survive clouds morals. Right and wrong become shaded areas of grey. The protagonist, the hero, is actually an antihero and even the villains have a point. Surviving means looking at things in a different way and judgment between good and evil can often be blurred.
TWD has had three such villains and one antagonist that is a debatable villain. The Governor, Gareth, and Dawn are all “bad guys” in this universe, while Shane grows into Rick’s nemisis throughout season 2. But what makes a Jim Jones, a cannibal, and a slave holder villains? In spite of their despictable acts, they all did what they did for one reason – bring survival to themselves and to a group of followers. That is a noble act. Their methods are, shall we say, questionable at best, but their reasons are no different than Rick’s desire to keep his group alive. Rick has killed; they have killed. Rick’s gone insane, and their sanity is certainly under question. So why do they stand out as villains if they are just trying to do what the hero is doing, survive?
All three of the villains have sound reasons for their actions – “in this world, you kill or be killed,” “you are either the lamb or the slaughterer,” and we have to help each other out. In other words, as Dawn puts it, “it’s for the greater good.” Throughout time, the weakest have perished and the fittest survived. Dawn rationalizes that the weaker are to be kept around in order for the strong to do their jobs, and Gareth likens cannibalism to bears who eat their young in order to survive because, if they don’t, the cub will die anyway. Eating the weak (join us or feed us) keeps the strong alive. The Governor believes you need to take from the weak before someone else does. All very logical reasons for doing “the right thing,” as Shane puts it, “The right thing is what keeps us alive.”
So these villains all take advantage of the weak, the “cubs” of society, in order to make them and their followers stronger. It seems to be this philosophy that runs through all the villains of TWD. If the greater good demands that the weak get exploited, killed, enslaved, or eaten, so be it. It only makes the rest of us stronger. And stronger means survival.
So what about Rick? He’s killed, but he’s never eaten anyone. He’s done whatever it takes to protect his group, but he’s never exploited the weak. The different between his methods of survival and the villains he’s faced is just that – protecting all instead of helping just the strong survive.
And Carol? She did kill the weak, the sick in fact, in their sleep. And she’s killed a mentally disturbed child, another one in today’s society who would be considered weak and worthy of care by a community. Her reasons? Same as the villains – for the greater good and protection of all.
So where is the line? Is it in the action? The guilt that one feels? The justification? Or is there no line between good and evil in this world?
And if there’s no line, then what is a villain? If the justification is the same, “for the greater good,” then how do we truly judge.
That’s the perplexity that is the world of the Walking Dead. Good people can do evil acts for the right reasons, and bad people can do things for logical reasons. As immoral and wrong as they are to us in this time frame, their reasoning may be very logical in their time frame.
So is there such a thing as good and evil? Right and wrong? Or does that all disappear once humanity breaks down?
That is the question posed by the antagonists in TWD……