Walking with the Dead: The Greatest Good
Each week in “Walking with the Dead,” David Dunham reflects on the latest episode of AMC’s The Walking Dead.
Glen is at a crossroads. Maggie is somewhere out there waiting for him to find her, but Abraham needs him now for a cause much bigger than reuniting with his wife. Glen is forced to choose: save the world or find your wife. The ethical dilemma presented in episode ten reveals the difficulty of demonstrating love in a broken world.
The reality of loving in a broken world is that sometimes our love can have serious negative consequences.Achieving the greatest good for the largest amount of people has long been one criterion by which people determine the value of a choice. Examining outcomes, looking at consequences helps them to determine an action’s ethical quality. Abraham is certainly a utilitarian when he meets up with Glen and Tara on the road. He has one task before him, and his mind is set to that task: get Eugene to Washington in order to save the world. It’s a mission with the highest potential good, nothing else can compare. That’s how he explains it to Glen too. Even more pointedly he says to Tara, “Saving the world is just more important.” Even if Glen does find his wife, Abraham explains, the two of them will eventually die and then their lives will have amounted to nothing. He tells Glen that Maggie is gone, but “There’s no need for you to die. Get back in the truck and do something with your life.”
For Glen the choice is simple, too. How could he choose to pursue any other cause than to find his wife? The “Greatest good” doesn’t mean that much if in the process of saving the world he sacrifices the person most entrusted to him. He must find Maggie. There is a heightened level of responsibility that Glen has to Maggie. There is a level of moral proximity that Glen has to Maggie that supersedes his obligations to the ambiguously defined “world.” Glen regrets not being able to help Abraham and his team, but he doesn’t hesitate. He’s leaving with or without them.
The dilemma presents a question not merely to Glen, but to viewers. What would we do? How do we determine what’s right in this scenario? Tara and Abraham unpack this conversation as they walk together. Abraham tells her she’s a good person for following Glen. She in turn wonders aloud about Abraham’s morality. “Why are you going to Washington?” Is he driving Eugene across the country because he believes he really can save the world? Is he doing it because he’s a good man? What’s his motivation?
It’s not entirely clear what kind of person Abraham is at this point. We know there’s more to his story than what we’re seeing. Fans of the graphic novel know his backstory more fully. But as viewers of the show we are left wondering the same thing Tara is: is this a good man? And in a world as broken and as damaged as this one is, what is the right thing to do? Though our tendency may be to give Glen credit and note his love for Maggie, one can’t help but wonder if he’s simply being selfish.
The reality of loving in a broken world is that sometimes our love can have serious negative consequences. It’s not merely a case of emotional pain, such as with unrequited love, there are also physical, relational, and financial consequences to my loving specific people. Our finitude limits our ability to love all people equally. When I choose to love my children that means sometimes I cannot go meet that person in need. I have made obligations to my children that I cannot continually break. I must choose, sometimes, to whom I will express my love. I cannot love my wife and save the world, sometimes I have to choose.
The ethical dilemma presented to us in this show reminds us that the world’s problems are far bigger than any one person can solve. Love has limits simply as a consequence of its relation to our humanity. The world continues to suffer because our love alone can’t save it.
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