The sixth season finale of The Walking Dead aired last night and sets up an anxious off-season of waiting and deliberation about what will happen next. I may have some more to say about the larger dynamics of the show as the survivors in this most recent season have really transitioned from concerns about mere survival to actually building community with longer-term plans.
But for now I want to focus briefly on the path Carol has walked over the last few episodes culminating in her difficult encounter with a group of Saviors. Carol and Morgan continue to disagree, but what was striking to me is that as Carol left the group this time, unlike last time, she did so voluntarily. And as became clear in the course of last night’s episode, her departure is due to a complex of realities: her concern for her friends, her recognition that her love for them imposes obligations, and her further recognition that these duties are taking a huge toll on her.
Carol essentially goes into exile and forswears community with other human beings because she recognizes that to love is to risk, to risk perhaps even killing other human beings, and she can no longer bring herself to do so. The zombie apocalypse won’t leave Carol alone, however, and so she is placed in situations where she either has to kill others or be killed. Even after everything she has been through, Carol remains a human being, and she is beginning to come to greater realization about what that means for love and community with others.
Carol’s interactions with Morgan reveal something true about love, a reality captured well by CS Lewis:
To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact you must give it to no one, not even an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements. Lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket, safe, dark, motionless, airless, it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. To love is to be vulnerable.
Aristotle said that a person who doesn’t need the community of other human beings is either a god or a beast. The Walking Dead has lots of behavior on either extreme, but as Carol’s ongoing conflicts indicate, the struggle to remain human is real. And as Lewis concludes, “The only place outside Heaven where you can be perfectly safe from all dangers and perturbations of love is Hell.”