Burning bases: Rumination on The Walking Dead S6 E2, “JSS”

TV STILL -- Norman Reedus as Daryl Dixon, Seth Gilliam as Father Gabriel, Andrew Lincoln as Rick Grimes, Chad Coleman as Tyreese, Lauren Cohan as Maggie Greene, Chandler Riggs as Carl Grimes, Danai Gurira as Michonne, Alanna Masterson as Tara Chambler, Melissa McBride as Carol Peletier, Sonequa Martin-Green as Sasha, Steven Yeun as Glenn Rhee,  Michael Cudlitz as Abraham, Josh McDermitt as Dr. Eugene Porter and Lawrence Gilliard Jr. as Bob Stookey - The Walking Dead _ Season 5, Episode 2 - Photo Credit: Photo Credit: Gene Page/AMC
TV STILL — Norman Reedus as Daryl Dixon, Seth Gilliam as Father Gabriel, Andrew Lincoln as Rick Grimes, Chad Coleman as Tyreese, Lauren Cohan as Maggie Greene, Chandler Riggs as Carl Grimes, Danai Gurira as Michonne, Alanna Masterson as Tara Chambler, Melissa McBride as Carol Peletier, Sonequa Martin-Green as Sasha, Steven Yeun as Glenn Rhee, Michael Cudlitz as Abraham, Josh McDermitt as Dr. Eugene Porter and Lawrence Gilliard Jr. as Bob Stookey – The Walking Dead _ Season 5, Episode 2 – Photo Credit: Photo Credit: Gene Page/AMC

It really bothers me when nameless random people are cut down on The Walking Dead.

This isn’t about the plight of the faceless innocents, or anything like that.  I am worried about the greater implications for the world of TWD.  Whether the showrunners have considered this fridge horror or not, I have no idea, but it always occurs to me and the characters definitely haven’t shown any indications of thinking about it.

What happens to all the things that people know?

Not everyone is a zombie-splattering warrior; this has been explored quite enough.  But what hasn’t been is the implicit value in pretty much every adult, even the ones who can’t fight.  TWD has made much of the “you must fight to survive” aesthetic of the world, and that’s grand, but it seems to only occasionally remember that the people who lack offensive capability often have a lot of value that may not be immediately obvious:  everything inside their heads.

I have been noticing who we’re losing along the way.  TWD keeps killing off its moral centers—Dale, Herschel, Beth, Bob, and so on.  (Sometimes this happens to the sound of cheers from the more bloodthirsty audience members who are happy to be losing another “deadweight” character)  That’s been an issue on and off.  But more recently, we’ve also lost Reg, an architect, and Pete, a friggin’ doctor.

Think about that.  There are a lot of trades and occupations that require a lot of training, and that’s not happening any more.  With a great deal of the world’s population rapidly succumbing to walkers and psychotics, the knowledge base is shrinking rapidly.  It surprises me that they haven’t added a fourth question to Rick’s clever “three questions” vetting system:  “What do you do?”  Because if someone can’t fight, but is a dental hygienist?  A civil engineer?  An herbalist?  You might want to keep those folks around!  Skilled trades of all kinds are going to be in rapidly dwindling supply, and what good is a world full of modern machines and technology just laying about for the taking if there’s no one who knows how to use or repair it any more?  Even performers and (ahem) storytellers have important places when it comes to keeping the group collectively sane.

Not only is the emphasis on only the physically strong surviving going to quickly cripple civilization, but it’ll mean the death of culture as well.  Maybe for some apocalypse fans that’s just fine, and a return to roaming barbarian civilizations sounds like fun.  But to me, that’s pretty scary.  Not because I’m afraid of succumbing (I think I’d do okay in TWD’s world) but because of everything that would be lost.

So, as a result, every time one of the soft Alexandrians or some faceless mook who isn’t a howling, machete-flailing madman dies, a little voice in the back of my head wonders, “What if that was the last guy who knew how to tune a piano?  What if she was the last experienced knitter?  What if that was the last person who knew how to make bread from scratch?  Who could sing the national anthem, or speak Klingon, or explain the rules of basketball, or tune an Edelbrock carburetor?  So many little bits of knowledge are potentially being lost with every death.  That’s pretty scary, innit?