[SPOILERS ahead for The Walking Dead season six, episode eight “Start to Finish”]
The Walking Dead’s season six mid-season finale didn’t muster the taut heft or sweeping grandeur of the season’s best episodes, but did zero in on one of the show’s most fundamental themes: what is the meaning of “one of us”?
The definition of “one of us” has shaped most inter-human activity on AMC’s post-Zombie Apocalypse juggernaut, as Rick’s hearty band of survivors has expanded and retracted through interaction with good, variable, and really effing bad people – from Hershel’s farm, to the prison, to the Governor’s Woodbury, to cannibalistic Terminus, and now to twee little Alexandria.
Not to overstate the case, but the “one of us” theme has shaped not just The Walking Dead, but much of real human history as well. The gradual morphing of who gets included as “one of us” — from immediate family, to clan, tribe, nation, mankind, perhaps even all living things, with considerations based upon religion, race, culture, and politics — continues to shape conflicts and events in the news every single day. Who are we responsible for? Who do we share with? How big is the pie and how many slices are there in it? Inclusion vs exclusion. The Greater Good vs individualism. “Live and let live” vs “Kill them all and let God sort them out.”
Times of relative abundance and greater specialization generally lead to increased interdependence and an expanding sense of “one of us.” As our existential struggles become less acute, we tend to more easily see our commonalities with others. But when resources become scarce — like say when a Zombie Apocalypse destroys the infrastructure of civilization — we circle the wagons, our vision narrows, our view of “one of us” shrinks down as far as our conscience will let it go.
In the case of the pre-converted Morgan, it was an “us” of one: he avoided or killed everything and everyone he came in contact with as a potential threat. As with those who tend toward extremes, after his conversion at the hands of Eastman, Morgan swung 180 degrees and now views “all life” as “precious.” He won’t kill anyone, not even the boldly threatening Wolf he is secretly keeping prisoner – a huge risk and bone of contention. Is this view enlightened or stupid? It’s not looking good for Morgan’s view as the Wolf takes advantage of the conflict between Morgan and Carol and escapes with Dr. Denise as hostage.
Rick and his clan have learned the hard way, the hardest of ways, through life and death struggle, though manipulation and betrayal, to give trust, to give inclusion very sparingly. As former congresswoman and Alexandria leader Deanna lies dying from a zombie bite, she informs Rick that she tried to help him fight off the swarming zombie horde because he is “one of us,” that as new leader of Alexandria he must now see all the citizens there as “one of us.” While the citizens must change, pull their heads out of the sand and gain the skills required to survive in the wild new world, Rick must also change and be willing to share his knowledge and experience and have patience while Alexandria does this remedial work.
This all may be moot with a breach in the wall, walkers streaming in, many Alexandrians already dead, and vicious Wolves prowling about. We will find out come February.