After last Sunday’s The Walking Dead, I did something I usually don’t do: I went online. I’m not sure why. Maybe for the same reason all those robots huddled together in IRobot; if others were as meh and/or angry as I was about the episode and we sought each other out, then maybe it meant I had a soul.
Regardless, every person I chatted with did, in fact, feel some type of way about the episode. Here is a truncated list of the words used that night: trope, rage, bored, why, predictable, boring, “one good scene.” You get the idea.
To that end, I don’t feel like writing about that episode.* Instead, I want to talk about the TWD universe generally and doctors specifically. Well… kind of.
Who are the doctors on the show: Herschel, the veterinarian; the doctors at Grady Memorial Hospital: Steven Edwards and Gavin Trevitt; Pete Anderson; Denise Cloyd; and the Harlan Carson at Hilltop.
While all of these people may have been lovely humans (they weren’t), what they truly were was valuable. Each of these people was valuable. Obviously Herschel saved Carl’s life after he was accidentally shot in a hunting accident. That he became a part of the group and a trusted advisor to Rick obscures the fact of his value. When we look at the others, though, the idea is clear.
Steven Edwards has Beth (unwittingly) kill his patient and former colleague Gavin Trevitt because he knows that as soon as Dawn (the leader of the hospital survivors) found another doctor, he would be replaceable – which is the nice way of saying killable.
Similarly, while Alexandria is painted in idyllic tones of naivete, it is vital that we not forget that Pete was allowed to physically abuse his wife (and children) because of his medical background.
I am guilty, too, of this way of valuing the characters. In “Twice as Far,” I couldn’t help but think, “How stupid is it of Daryl and Rosita to take the doctor outside of the walls for no good reason except her own whimsy and thirst for adventure?” I screamed at the screen when the group split up (to train track or not to train track? that is the question) because while a good soldier is vital, they aren’t making any new doctors it would seem.**
We are in the zombie apocalypse. I always want to say post-zombie apocalypse, but that’s not accurate, is it? The zombies are still a threat. They continue to be one of the largest factors shaping the reality of the survivors.
And while the class structure as we know it as has collapsed; haves and have-nots have morphed into the breathers and the walkers. However, there is an obvious military undertone at play as well. There are also the takers – those who move from having-not to having through violence, the neutral – those who neither seek out violence nor recoil from it, and the taken-from.
If this is true then the obviously examples would be Negan and the Saviors, Rick Grimes and his survivors, and the Hilltop.
So in terms of economic systems, the TWD world is one in which both a bastardized feudalism/colonial exploitation and bartering are at play. In this way, the specialized labor of the doctors is something that the powerful want to control and the less powerful might want to trade or loan (I see you, Maggie’s predictable pregnancy emergency and Harlan at Hilltop).
So I’m juggling these ideas in my head as I watch this last season. Then in “The Same Boat,” I see Carol morph into a mousy religious coward and I’m struck by the heretofore absence of religion.*** Carol begins to carry around the rosary and cross and in doing so becomes more profoundly affected by the violence around her. From this we have to infer that religion is not a workable ideology in this world. What, then, is?
It would seem militaristic violence that commodifies people and their skills in a way that even capitalism doesn’t. Because I live in arguably the most capitalistic country in the world and I do not see a way besides militaristic violence for the survivors to exist. That is how convincingly the violence has been sold to me – it’s natural.
Simultaneously it is the logical and only child of a collapse capitalistic nation. If capitalism asks that we buy more to prove our worth, then in a violent world, of course we should take (by force more) to prove our worth. In doing so, the survivors (not just Rick’s group, but Hilltop, Negan and the Saviors, Grady Memorial, the Wolves, the group Daryl briefly joins after Beth’s disappearance) repeat and recreate the ills of this country on a sliding scale. We see what amounts to indentured servitude at the hospital. We see a blatant form of colonialism in the Negan/Hilltop relationship. We see the Survivors become mercenaries.
Which brings me back to the doctors and to their value. I keep wondering about how useful are they. I’m stuck on the idea that they are only useful when they are alive and that they are only kept alive by violence (which is ironic as in this world they will likely die by violence as well). When I add to this that they are most useful because of violence, I begin to wonder about the ideology that the show has convinced me is the natural ways of things. What else can they do? If I can scream, as I have often since 2010, encouraging a character to kill another character or to leave them behind or to protect them because of their value to the group or to do some savagery, then I have to wonder whether the show is teaching me something or revealing something.
Why am I more disappointed when a character is a bad soldier than when they are a bad person?****
*Here’s what I came up with anyway: I guess they really want us to be ready for next week. So instead of “East,” let’s call this episode what it really is “Lube.”
** Seems like a good time to advocate for a TWD internship program. Hopefully more successful than the one Reg Monroe attempted to start. #FuckNicholas #NeverForget
***No, father Gabriel doesn’t count. Because being a failed priest who literally causes the death of his parishioners is pretty much the opposite of what his religion tells him to do. Just like I can go buy a big ass Sunday hat and hang out in New Orleans and it won;t make me Beyonce; being in a priest’s clothes and in a church doesn’t automatically make one religious.
****Which leads to, should I always root for the more effective killer?