The Governor (David Morrissey)
  • Gene Page/AMC
  • The Governor (David Morrissey)

We all hit an occasional rough patch, which we overcome, or at least endure. We muse about “getting back to normal,” as if our default setting is (mostly) incident or pain free. And when the worst is over, we talk about “feeling like our old selves again.”

There’s no such luck in the post-zombie-apocalypse world of The Walking Dead. Well into the fourth season, the cast and viewers have seen enough to know that humanity won’t be returning to the BC—Before Cannibalism—period.

It’s been over a year since the end of the world, or the events of season one (I’ve done some mixed-media math using Robert Kirkman’s guesstimate for the time line of the comics series). The cast have gone from scraping by on the open road to hiding out on a farm to holing up in a Georgia prison, which is where the current season opens. The protagonist, Rick Grimes, along with the other survivors of the clash with last season’s main villain, the Governor, appear to be doing more than just eking out an existence. The setting is near idyllic, with farm animals, crops, and makeshift indoor plumbing—which, of course, means it can’t last.

Six episodes in, there are new menaces: A mysterious and deadly superbug has decimated the prison “population.” The perimeter’s been compromised by swarming walkers. The infection spread quickly, thanks to close quarters and poor sanitation (I take back what I wrote about the indoor plumbing), and the walkers have been lured to the fence with nightly rat feedings, courtesy of someone inside the prison. What’s that saying about hell and other people?

The two most recent episodes present us with a dichotomy, if not a conundrum: in “Indifference,” Carol was exiled by Rick as punishment for killing two of the infected survivors. And in “Live Bait,” the Governor came slowly back to life in response to the possibility of a new family. Carol’s story arc, arguably one of the most developed, has taken her from abused wife to knife-class teacher. It’s hard not to read Rick’s unilateral decision as a death sentence, just as it’s hard not to question the Governor’s motives as he gets close to a new group of survivors, including a girl roughly the age of his deceased daughter. Carol’s actions were meant to be proactive and protective, while the Governor’s actions have been, prior to season four, mostly psychotic. We know what Rick’s judgment is of both characters, but what conclusion does the audience draw?

The Walking Dead constantly redefines what it means to survive, and, in the long run, to live. Since the onset of the zombie plague, every character has had to make tough decisions—some far more morally questionable than others. But part of living with others is being able to live with yourself, and some characters will find that more challenging than others.