Submitted by Corodon Fuller
Let’s pick up where we left off in The Denying Dead: Rewatching The Walking Dead Season 3.0.
All the way in Season 5, in Alexandria, Deanna hears about the terrible things Rick has done to protect his family of survivors (adopted and otherwise). She shrugs, “Sounds like I want to be part of your family.”
But who gets to be a part of that family? Now that the survivors have a safe place to defend in the prison, the question gets more urgent. Glenn is the first to express the cold calculus of it: “It’s wrong, but… I’d trade any number of people for one of ours any day.” But it was there before, dealing with the aftermath of the barn, in Andrea’s prophetic disposal instructions: “We bury the ones we love, and burn the rest.” A zombified world forces you to choose between “us” and “them”—between the people who matter and the people who don’t.
Returning from the raid on Woodbury, Rick has to make a series of snap judgments about who gets to be part of “us.” Daryl, who has been part of the group from the beginning, is “part of that family” but his jerkwad brother can’t be—so Daryl has to choose which family he stays with. What about Michonne, who saved Glenn and Maggie’s lives and led the group to Woodbury, but has no history with them? Her status is dicey at best. And what about Tyreese and his group, who just wandered into the prison?
When Rick rejects Tyreese and his people, it’s not just out of heartlessness. Of the five prisoners he let into the group at the beginning of the season, four are dead by that point. Rick’s plagued by visions of Laurie, but she’s only the most important person he’s failed to save. “I can’t be responsible,” he says. It’s not just grief, but the pressure of that responsibility that breaks him.
But the real question is what to do about the people of Woodbury.
With the opening shots fired between the prison and Woodbury, it would be easy for the season to turn into a straightforward war story. On one side, righteous Rick and his good-hearted survivors; on the other, the mad Governor, and his merciless thugs. But if zombies are good for anything, it’s providing guilt-free targets for our violent impulses. It would be redundant—besides simply bad writing—to cast the people of Woodbury as expendable or irredeemable.
The seventy or so inhabitants of Woodbury are frightened human beings, but the Governor is intent on turning them into soldiers to use against the prison. Andrea, formerly with Rick’s group and now part of Woodbury, makes it her mission to avert war and save everyone. An impossible task, in the end; “I didn’t want anyone to die,” she says when it’s all over. And yet. And yet.
Rick does realize, by the end, that the survivors can’t just fight for their lives or their spot in the prison—whatever the Governor thinks the fight is about, it’s also for the souls of two groups of people. That’s why it matters how they defend the prison. Their battle plan is to drive the invaders out without killing anyone. In fact, we get our first happy ending to any story arc so far as the prison takes in the remnants of Woodbury.
Ultimately, the value Rick’s group puts on the lives of outsiders is the distance between the group and savagery.