Is there still hope for sanity and humanity at a time when zombies stalk the earth? That’s what lawman Rick Grimes (Andrew Lincoln) needs to believe. It’s the one idea that sustains him throughout the death and chaos that define AMC’s The Walking Dead. But the series offers little hope for Rick or for viewers watching at home. Instead, as peace and prosperity recede further and further into the past, the characters on the show rely increasingly on violence to settle their differences. That is the depressing reality highlighted by a sobering and thought-provoking new video from YouTuber Ryan Hollinger. As Hollinger sees it, a show like The Walking Dead merely chronicles the last gasps of civilization and society before the world devolves into an utter wasteland, like the one depicted in Cormac McCarthy’s post-apocalyptic The Road. The characters in the McCarthy novel might even look at something like The Walking Dead as being “the good old days.”
The linchpin of Hollinger’s argument is the 2013 episode “Too Far Gone,” in which Rick makes a well-intentioned but ultimately futile speech about how it’s not too late for peace. But just look, Hollinger says, at what happens next. An act of violence by the Governor (David Morrissey) leads to an act of violence by Rick, and the endless cycle of brutality continues. The characters on The Walking Dead resolve their problems by killing each other. Time and again, their efforts to talk things out or come to some kind of understanding lead only to brutality and bloodshed. But they shouldn’t blame themselves; as Hollinger argues, this is just human nature. He likens it to the “broken windows theory” developed by criminologists James Wilson and George Kelling, which holds that as the normal order of society breaks down—physically manifested in buildings’ broken windows—people are less and less likely to follow the rule of law. In the long run, this poses a much greater threat to the characters of The Walking Dead than even the zombies themselves.