The normative stakes of what isn’t anymore.
“It’s a wonder you people have survived so long.”
— Hershel Greene
Walking Dead, “Chupacabra.”
Well, it looks like many suspicions were confirmed. There is indeed *something* going on at the Greene residence–why are they keeping these zombies in the barn? Is it because they’re friends or relatives and Hershel hopes for a cure? Is it because he himself is doing something to them? Is he planning on using them as biological weaponry in against other outsiders? Target practice? I don’t know, Katheryn–but good call! And, Natalie, nice call on the epistemology/nature of belief stuff. I took this week’s episode to center first and foremost on the stakes, survival, and evolution of norms and normative authority. Implicitly, the question is raised by Daryl–in a world where the dead walk, is it so strange to believe in a chupacabra? Explicitly, Shane raises the question explicitly, asking whether the maintenance of certain norms–from prior to the walking dead–is a sort of nostalgia. And, in this sense, the show makes a point about norms as such: they have no more traction with agents than the entire, to speak with Wittgenstein, “form of life,” that animates the actual practices of those agents. It may be possible that even though conceptually a certain norm lives on (say chivalry or knighthood or whatever), the practices that would sustain such a norm are impossible. This is what Shane suggests: that any sort of non-utilitarian approach to searching for Sofia, and indeed to life after the walking dead, is mistaken, implausible, and ultimately foreign to the reality of the present world. When Rick says, “maybe I’m holding onto a way of thinking that doesn’t exist,” he doesn’t mean that conceptually one can no longer make sense of something like “duty,” but rather that the concept of “duty” can no longer be properly carried out–it is a dead concept, incapable of animation in this world (and not just for a single reason, but for a plethora of them, as varied and complex as the possibility of carrying out any particular norm). This is what I take the show to play with, and, I think–our disgust for Shane aside–it is a plausible debate to have, not only given the circumstances, but also even beyond them. (And, to this extent, I would not want to minimize the extent to which the Glenn/Maggie and Maggie/Hershel, Daryl/Merle, and even the Lori/Lori storyline(s) just echo this theme: there is a clash of normative values, and the question arises as to whether certain norms–say, chastity or exclusion based on political party or even procreation–not only no longer hold any sway, but also whether they can be living and capable of motivational force.)
I foresee this theme being complicated by what, I suspect, will be a struggle for power between Hershel and Rick (or some permutation of these two camps), and then the issue will reach a sort of philosophical saturation, where norms will be determined not just by their conceptual scope, and not just by their vivacity, but also by the ability of agents to maintain them in the midst of challenge. (I very much see this foreshadowed by Hershel’s ominous remark that he will “control” his while Rick ought to control “his.”) Finally, I was also especially pleased by the exchange between Rick and Lori this week because I felt like it added another dimension to this theme of normativity. I took Lori to suggest that sometimes the relationship between what I have been calling “vivacity” (say, the possibility of actualizing certain norms) and what I’ve termed as the “conceptual content” (say, the semantic content of a particular norm) of norms can be problematized in the opposite direction (as not, e.g., moving from how or whether norms are instantiated or actualized, but rather how norms are culled or diluted from practices). The question in Rick’s case is not whether a particular norm can be lived, but rather what sort of norm needs to be proposed or conceptually configured in order to account for a particular form of life. (Anyways, this is at least how I took the line that she and Carl are not his “problem, but rather…[his]..excuse.”)
I hope all of this makes sense…a thrilling episode in my opinion and looking forward to hearing your thoughts!
Martin, thanks for featuring this picture. The older brother hovers over Daryl, chiding him and reminding him that he cannot trust anyone other than kin. I can’t get Merle’s voice out of my head. As TWD continues to feature the relationships building between survivors, this week brought this all to a halt for me. Will survival be ensured through protecting one’s kin or through building bonds across blood lines? Well, survival can’t be ensured, but the characters are featured in this episode at this crossroads. We have: The flashback to Carol’s husband who wants to keep the food to himself. The hallucinations of Daryl who tells him that no ties are stronger than that of kin. Hershel’s encounter with his daughter and his concerns that his family is ‘mixing’ with Rick’s people. We see Daryl rising out of the ravine. Is the power that gets him up the hill the power of blood, of kin? As we see Maggie exploring the possibility of connection with Glenn, we see this cut short by Glenn’s discovery of the barn. Can she escape the clutch of kin? Are the barn walkers her kin? And what is Hershel up to? Kathryn did raise our suspicions about the curious absence of zombies on the farm. When Glenn grabbed his pillow, Kathryn, were you just sure that something was going to happen? No rendezvous for Glenn and Maggie. Instead, we’re left to wonder what Hershel is up to with these walkers. Shane, too, is pressing the these “kin” buttons, as he tries to tell Lori that he is the real protector, the one who will protect her and Carl. Rick’s efforts to keep the group together are, Shane indicates, at the expense of his family. Carol, Daryl, and Andrea have lost their closest kin. Each of them seem to be making different choices in response. Martin’s comments about Rick revived my interest in him…..is Rick going to find an alternative way to ensure their survival?
Loved the episode,
Martin, love the word choice – concepts that have died become incapable of re-animation. Tell me that was on purpose! To nuance this a little, is it that they are incapable of re-animation, or that their re-animation is something zombie-like? Duty becomes hollow because there are not practices in place to hold it up. So what does zombiefied duty look like? It looks like Shane, as you note – it limps around saying the noble things of duty with the yearning (blood)lust of a man undone holding it all together.
What really intrigued me this week, though, was the ways the different characters talked about and experienced both memory and nostalgia. First we had the playful – yet ominous, given Laurie’s pregnancy – conversation between Shane and Rick about Shane’s high school conquests, as you mention Martin. Rick is trying to use nostalgia to make a connection from the past come to life in the present. But as Shane points out, being nostalgic is a waste of time; it holds you in that past which, in their context, tends to lead to bad decisions. Of course, Shane himself is stuck in the past, unable to let go of the fact that Laurie and Carl are no longer “his responsibility” (sidenote: the patriarchal system in which women and children are the responsibility of the men continues to intrigue me! I see Andrea trying to undo this, but I think we might need to add her to that post we did on women and power and annoying female characters, Kathryn). I tend to agree with Shane’s assessment of nostalgia, though. Nostalgia isn’t the same as memory. Nostalgia is memory through rose coloured lenses. It reshapes the past into what we wish it had been, and then tricks us into believing that reshaping.
These themes culminated for me in Daryl’s visions of his brother, which like you, Shelly, captivated me also. There was no nostalgia here – no brother appearing as a loving, supportive guide. He was the same ass he always was. But the truth of that memory got Daryl up and running again. Rembmerbing rightly gave him strength in a moment when he needed it, but also reminded him to return to his new community (as you guys have pointed out). Sure, he returned in a somewhat strange and creepy, ear-necklace way. But his flinching from Carol and small acquiescence to her statement that he was every bit as good as those other boys firmly replanted him with our little crew.
What amazes me is that any of this group still see Shane as one of the “good”. Ok, another sidenote: what is the deal with the continual focus on Shane’s “22” necklace? It’s kind of driving me nuts trying to figure out what that’s all about. Is it “Catch 22”? Any ideas?
Also loved this one (even though I had to apologize to the lady sitting next to me on the bus while I was watching it – more gore than she needed on her morning commute 🙂
I think we all had pretty similar reactions to this episode – love and enjoyment, and attention to similar details about memory, nostalgia, family connections, and new conceptions of norms and the practices that make them live in this new world. To add to all these excellent points, what really struck me was that really simple, mundane practices and modes of relating were also up for grabs. It’s not just the normative claims that govern human life that are called into question – like whether or not to abandon a girl if searching for her endangers others – but also the assumptions about gender relations, sex, family, sharing meals. Glenn really highlighted this for us (and let me just say, Glenn is melting my heart with his earnestness). Baffled by Maggie’s treatment of him, he seeks advice from an older man, looking for some explanation (like maybe all the women in the camp are on their periods together!). It is a lighthearted conversation until Dale chastises Glenn for hooking up with Maggie, using a very old-fashioned standard that basically puts Maggie on parallel with the horse Daryl borrowed without asking. Defending himself, Glenn reminds Dale that he might be dead tomorrow, changing the terms of the conversation once again. Sex is both more and less than it used to be (and on a really practical point, what do women do on their periods post-apocalypse?). Same with the dinner scene. This very normal practice of preparing and sharing meals is transformed into some kind of farce. Which raises the question, what is this new form of life in search of norms to guide it? These more everyday encounters remind us the truth of what Lori says to Rick – all these choices are hard choices because so little can be taken for granted anymore. So many things we do every day – the little choices and actions we engage – just wash by us unexamined, the product of habit and assumptions upheld by everyone else around us. In this new world people still act on habit and old assumptions, but at every turn they discover the zombies hiding in the barn.
And yes, Shelly, the moment Maggie’s face blanched reading Glenn’s note and he bounded that ladder full of boyish glee at a proverbial roll in the hay, I clutched my pillow in terror. I was not disappointed. Only what does it all mean?