"The Walking Dead" (2010-2016) psychology and TV Series
Psychological reading of The walking Dead
In recent years, thanks also to the spread of streaming sites on the internet, more and more people have become passionate about the prolific world of TV series. The diffusion of streaming has laid the foundations, in the most extreme cases, of a phenomenon of a real behavioral addiction(Read also the article about binge watching).
The walking Dead remains one of the most viewed in the TV series catalogue. Produced by American AMC, it’s based on the homonymous Robert Kirkman’s comic book.
A New World
The story develops in a post-apocalyptic world. You do not know why, and to a certain point even how, but cities are overrun by hungry zombies. These (sub)human creatures bite whatever moves. People and animals. No one excluded.
As you easily imagine, the need to watch your back and defend yourself against the attacks of zombies (in the original language of production “walkers”) lays the foundations of a community of people.
And a leader of the group.
The series in fact clearly shows some of the most common and well-known group dynamics. The choice of the leader is one of them.
Let’s talk about Rick Grimes, a sheriff in the pre-apocalypse life, who will play the role of the leader until the end. At least until the seventh season, airing just by few time on Fox channell.
Rick represents the pillar of the group. From season to season, many characters will meet their destiny and leave the story. Obviously in a grim way. Let’s not forget that the show is inspired by a comic book.
Undisputed leader of the pack. From the movements and from the language all too full of heroic emphasis. Until the caricature level. However always convincing.
It will not have in fact “internal” rivals, except a single fight with his wife’s lover, Shane. The handsome pretender will bring till to his own death the angry feeling of defeat towards him. He will eventually die by Rick’s hands (and his son Carl, for the second time…).
Rick will sincerely suffer every loss of his struggling companions. Perhaps this great empathic ability, together with courage, determination and charisma, creates the right balance between strength and human weakness.
On the other hand, a leader inspires admiration and respect when possessing competence but also warmth.
During the ongoing of the story, the spectator realizes that he has developed the habit to the slimy noise of the heads of the walkers mangled and to splatter images. A desensitization to death, at least as far as it concerne “they”.
There is no shortage of special effects on zombie casting. Guts in sight, reduced to skin and bones or to a heap of stumps scattered on the ground, but still snarling.
But you never get used to the thrill. The thrill of seeing one poping out from behind. The suspense continues, despite the constant recurrence of killings of the undead. Chapter after chapter.
The indefinite is revealed not too far long. The cause of the “thing” is revealed. A virus that affects the nervous system. Leaving intact only the lower centers, which regulate hunger.
Without more thinking, those who once were women, men, even children, are reduced to roam, looking for human flesh to eat. In an eternal limbo.
As a neuropsychologist, I candidly asked myself how they could walk and move. But that’s another story.
Everyone is infected with the virus. But it only fully develops after being dead. And the only way to really kill a zombie is to hit the brain. which the writers make appear all too easy, through the most disparate instruments.
Accustomed to seeing them die, whenever the loss concerns the living ones, people remains always deeply affected. The characters grow within the group. It grows their importance and they show sides of their character which is easy to become affictionated.
When they die, it hurts. To the history and to us spectators. One of the greatest wounds will be the end of the old Doctor Herschel, at the hands of the odious “Governor.”
Fight for Life
Rick’s group will face different threats, all from other groups. And then by other leaders. The Governor, precisely.
In a motivational systems perspective, we know that man is the only species that preys on his conspecifics. Homo Homini Lupus.
Although these events are generally rare in the general population. We find them more often in the extreme manifestations of sadism of psychopathy, in the conduct of serial killers, sex offenders, mafia-style criminal organizations.
This show can seize the almost total activation of the agonistic system, of the struggle for the definition of the rank.
In the battles for survival between humans and zombies, and among gangs of humans for the possession of resources (shelters, food, medicines and weapons).
The clashes with other groups increase . The killing of still alive people (it is not a pun) for survival and for defense increases.
A firm point of Rick’s group is right this. Within their pack the cooperative system is always active. The roles are clearly defined. There is a leader, there are subordinates. But everyone benefits from this organization. “How many zombies did you kill?” “And how many people?” They ask any new entry in the cast. This defines the role of each one, his attitudes towards the defense of all.
His rank, in a nutshell. And residual humanity. Although surprisingly some elements will suffer rather unexpected transformations. Like Carol. Submissive and abused wife to ruthless and Machiavellian assassin.
A shift from a coping of surrender to a mistrust/abuse schema to one of overcompensation?
An escalation of violence
The new register of the story is about an escalation of violence among the groups of the living ones, which the zombies now are only aside. It’s almost possible to perceive them as harmless, so much greater seems the danger of being killed by fellows.
From the cannibalism parentheses of Terminus, quickly closed, we witness a deepening of the screenplay in the darkness of the human soul. The thrust towards survival gives way to greed, cupidity and intra-species violence.
People become tools.
People are killed for food, for shelter from the growl of the zombies. Sometimes it seems killing for fun, because “so much now.”
But this is more difficult to get used to. Even the town of Alexandria, where Deanna and her husband even restored the electricity, is contaminated by the blood wave.
The last episode of last season, the sixth, anticipated the arrival of a new challenger to Rick’s leadership. He’s a man called Negan, for several episodes present only as a name.
Subjugated by his blackmail to obtain half the stocks, the various groups respond to his command.
In the last episode Negan will finally make its appearance as a physical person, announcing rather strong developments in the affair. Armed with a baseball bat covered with metal wire, which he calls Lucille, it’ll thunder vengeance for the attempted rebellion.
A vengeance, the elimination of one of the seven hostages, including Rick himself, which we will be shown only after six months of waiting for the release of the seventh season.
The sound of the bat that hitting the skull of an unknown or unlucky character, closes the episode.
The role of the public
The transposition of the comic in a series recited by actors gives a vividness that is not always attainable through the pencil of a illustrator. This however has positive and negative sides.
After the controversy of the public, apparently bored, the screenwriters made the choice to film the most rough scenes of the comic book.
Bored by monologues on the lives of minor characters and by perhaps more introspective writing, I suppose now they have been satisfied.
New beginning, with trauma
The first episode of the new season contains many elements of psychic trauma.
An event that exceeds the defensive and psychic resources of the human mind by definition.
We see some of the historical characters assist in a powerless condition to the violent and atrocious death of two loved ones. The element of surprise.
Two, no longer one, as if it were not enough the first.
After being threatened with their own death, they are forced to testify to the hideous end of Abraham, and of Glenn.
Rick, as a leader, is brought to the breking point. His spirit is broken, when he is on the verge of cutting off an arm to his son Carl. His pleading voice enters with arrogance in the mind of the ones who are assisting, including home viewers.
Helplessness and despair, threat to one’s or other’s integrity, violent death of a loved one, psychic trauma then.
We can also define watching this episode as traumatic. We trust in the sense of the warrantor to protect weaker and more emotional subjects when the episode will be transmitted in clear.
The whole happens almost in total silence. In full freezing response, many do not even cry for what is happening in front of them.
The coldness and cynical sarcasm of Negan are excessively annoying.
Luckily, someone responds with anger, coming out of impotence.
A reaction that can make a difference in post-traumatic stress disorders.