Major Themes and Symbols in The Walking Dead Season 1

by Maiyer Vang

This chapter is a free excerpt from Quicklet on The Walking Dead - Season 1.

The basic nature of humans appears in an environment of constant threat.

Without any sort of superficial order, human beings quickly dissolve to their instincts. Not all of these characteristics are necessarily bad, but many do unintentionally harm people in the process; time will tell who’s specifically affected the most.

Traits that have been hidden from normal society will be revealed. Constraints such as man-made laws or social standards hold back much of what people do. Of course, these constructs have been made to limit certain behaviors, but what effect does this have on a person in the long run? In these circumstances, people can’t control the façade that they hold so dearly in the presence of others. Upholding any sort of appearance becomes the least important worry, especially because most others are too busy with their own issues. Disorder overrules in a setting with dangerous factors, such as cannibalistic zombies.


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The basic nature of humans appears in an environment of constant threat.

Without any sort of superficial order, human beings quickly dissolve to their instincts. Not all of these characteristics are necessarily bad, but many do unintentionally harm people in the process; time will tell who’s specifically affected the most.

Traits that have been hidden from normal society will be revealed. Constraints such as man-made laws or social standards hold back much of what people do. Of course, these constructs have been made to limit certain behaviors, but what effect does this have on a person in the long run? In these circumstances, people can’t control the façade that they hold so dearly in the presence of others. Upholding any sort of appearance becomes the least important worry, especially because most others are too busy with their own issues. Disorder overrules in a setting with dangerous factors, such as cannibalistic zombies.

Examples:

  • As time wears on, Shane shows his jealousy and expresses his frustrations through violence. This is ironic, given that he used to work as a police officer.
  • The instinct to protect themselves and their family is what drove the staff members to leave the elderly. Even though they’re extremely vulnerable, the patients were abandoned by the staff’s need for self-preservation.

Lives become stagnant or dynamic through people’s own choices, not outside factors.

Choice will always fall upon the person at the helm. Lives are marked by accomplishments. It’s through this process that people become remarkable in the sense that their lives have achieved a worthy goal. Death marks not an end, but a means by which to measure the actions one takes.

Choice is about the person having more than one option and adhering to what he believes is best.

It becomes easy to place the entire blame on the situation, but there are always multiple options in the matter. The claim that one didn’t have any other option means that not enough thought was exerted on the matter. A person isn’t forced into taking a particular route, despite the fact that it may seem otherwise at the time. It takes thought and ingenuity to overcome the pressures of the moment.

Examples:

  • It’s important for Jim to be left alive in the woods. He has no choice about turning into a walker, but it’s ultimately up to him as to how he’ll die. Even if it’s through reanimation, the choice is Jim’s to make.
  • As the countdown to the explosion begins, Dr. Jenner refuses to open the exit. However, Rick doesn’t give up when the doctor remains unyielding. Rick makes the choice to try a different method in order to convince him to unlock the door.

Identity is a malleable social construct formed through interactions and appearances.

When meeting for the first time, people immediately adopt a new identity. Who they were in the past doesn’t necessarily matter. It may affect their present performance, but in the end, it’s never the same exact duplication. Behavior changes depending on who surrounds them. In some ways, it can be seen as a way to save face. If one isn’t satisfied with who he was, this new opportunity serves as a chance to change. For example, a person can become a leader if the circumstances allow it to be.

An identity is also placed upon others during initial meetings. First impressions often change throughout the duration of a relationship, but the perception one has holds great power. The way people treat a person has an effect on his self-perception, which in turn helps form his identity.

Examples:

  • Before the outbreak, Shane attempted to save Rick in the hospital, at his own risk. During the outbreak, he changes and is unwilling to head to Atlanta to rescue the trapped members. His unrelenting nature at this latter point is affected by the company he keeps (Lori and Carl) and his assumed role as the leader.
  • Daryl’s attitude toward violence changes from the beginning of the season. During his first appearance, he threatens Dale Horvath for making a comment. However, he’s quicker to calm down when he’s on the roof aiming his crossbow at T-Dog. This can be seen due to Rick’s calming presence and the absence of potential volatile influences, like Merle.

Symbols

Bicycle Girl: Rick encounters his first zombie near a bicycle; he later kills it. With her legs literally missing, she represents the new world that Rick now inhabits. The lack of structure leaves the humans without balance, and they must work together to find some sort of crutch to lean on. As he shoots her out of her misery, Rick makes the statement that he refuses to succumb to the disorientation presented to him. His apology to her adds compassion. Survival doesn’t have to lack kindness; it only furthers the need for it. The zombie’s wheezing captures the status of the survivors: breathless and struggling on their path to peace.

Sheriff’s Hat: Rick picks it up after leaving the station, and Glenn grabs it back for him on their return trip to Atlanta. His hat signifies the desire for restoration of order in a world of disorganization. Because the formal powers have dissolved, the present world’s in the hands of those who’re left. While some take advantage of this, others, like Rick, work to preserve a semblance of peace and order from prior to the outbreak. It’s important that Glenn takes a few extra vital seconds to retrieve it. The hat’s a reminder that even in this unruly world, order must still prevail. Their humanity depends on it.

Walkie talkies: Rick picks up a set from the police station and gives 1 to Morgan. These symbolize a chance for introspection and peace. His experience before Atlanta was marked with no need to be any sort of leader. His relationship with Morgan wass a time of friendship. The walkie talkies’ exclusive frequency guarantees that Morgan’s the only recipient. They provide a moment for Rick to think about something beyond his current responsibilities in the group. In the end, even if Morgan doesn’t receive the messages, Rick has had these rare precious moments to himself. The pressure that he faces from the group doesn’t matter in these few minutes.

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