What ‘the Walking Dead’ can teach us about Human Nature

One of the most dynamic characters in AMC’s The Walking Dead is Carol Peletier. She begins the show paralyzed by her fear and incapable of taking any kind of decisive action. As her character develops she becomes a hardened killer equally prepared to kill zombies or murder humans who pose a threat to her group. In recent seasons, however, she has undergone another transformation as she seeks to avoid killing people in the future.

Carol realized that she was willing to kill because it was necessary to protect those she loves. She is not alone in this struggle as many characters on the show try to avoid taking human life but are always forced to do so to protect themselves or others. It is her reaction to this dilemma that makes her unique. While most of the other characters make peace with the need to kill for the greater good, Carol refuses to do so. This puts her in a difficult position and she is eventually forced to leave her community and live on her own. She does this in order to prevent herself from becoming attached to anyone because she would always be in danger of losing them or having to fight to protect them.

This is a strange life philosophy but it was not invented by the show’s writers. The Roman historian Plutarch tells us that people have tried to save emotional pain by avoiding attachment since ancient Greece.

Plutarch describes a man named Thales who refused to marry or father children in order to avoid sorrow should one of his loved ones die. However, Plutarch also tells us that this philosophy is ultimately impossible to maintain, saying that the human soul has “a principle of kindness in itself…[and will] incline and fix upon some stranger.”

It is natural for humans to have affection and care for their family. If a person goes to great lengths to avoid these connections, like Carol and Thales, that natural affection will still fix onto something. Plutarch observes that some men who live as Thales does can be brought to great sorrow by the death of a horse. Therefore, Thales failed in his quest to live a life free of emotional attachment.

Much of the success of the Walking Dead can be attributed to the show’s ability to explore questions about human nature. The recent development of Carol’s character is no exception. It will be interesting to see if see is able to maintain her isolation. It is hard to imagine her being content to live without care for anyone or anything else. If Plutarch is correct, fans of the show should be able to expect to see Carol return to a more active role in the community in future episodes.


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