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Ethical Catechism and “The Walking Dead”

Robert DEAN


 The setting, exploration, and adaptation of ethical scenarios are processes which lie at the heart of ethical debate. While they are used by philosophers as a means of illustrating key concepts, the conficts around which they are positioned are charged with a powerful dramatic currency that has been frequently explored and exploited across all forms of narrative media. When these scenarios are set against a post-apocalyptic backdrop the usual considerations that inform moral maxims are inevitably and intentionally re-orientated. This paper will focus on the American TV drama series The Walking Dead (2010) which takes place after a zombie apocalypse and follows a small band of ‘survivors’ as they navigate their way across Atlanta in search of sanctuary. The ethical dilemmas that the group fnd themselves in inform the narrative of each (and oftentimes consecutive) episodes. Kant’s Categorical and Hypothetical Imperatives, Fletcher’s Situation Ethics, and Mills’ Utilitarianism are dramatically rendered as the characters attempt to continually reconcile their ethical behaviour with their personal survival and the protection of the group. The program could be described as ‘ethics for the masses’. From this perspective, the show provides an accessible framework through which the audience engages in both internal and orated informal ethical debate as they respond to the different arguments, attitudes, and actions presented. However, while it would seem that the encouragement of such refection is a positive application of popular entertainment this paper will also consider the way in which the grammar and conventions of television are used to guide the viewer’s ethical conclusions.

Keywords: zombie, apocalypse, television, Situation Ethics, Utilitarianism, Hulme, Robinsonade