The Walking Dead comic book series is pretty gruesomely compelling. I mean, for some reason I cannot stop reading regardless of how disgusted I am with each increasingly fucked up things that happens and the tortured means by which Rick Grimes and his cohort justify it to themselves.
In the scene above, after having made a(nother) poor decision to lead a woman (Jessie) he has just started a relationship with and her son out into a zombie mob, along with his own son, Carl, he hacks her hand free from her arm to keep her from dragging Carl into the zombie pile-on. The fact that he has already killed this woman’s husband (for beating her and her son) and that Rick has made a series of bad decisions throughout the comic, just makes this act seem that much more cold-blooded and terrible. Yes, he has to save his son, but his son (and this woman) would not even be in that situation if he hadn’t led them there. Jessie was trusting Rick to protect her and her son, and he lets them both get eaten to make sure he and his progeny can get away.
The set of panels are particularly important because soon after this, upon reflection, Rick begins to realize that while it seems to be natural to do whatever you can to save your child, there comes a point where you have to ask, “What am I saving him for?” The willingness to kill, torture, abandon, bully, and deceive people to save one’s family undermines any ability for a world of social meaning. How can our own familial bonds have meaning if no one else’s does?
The zombie apocalypse genre exists in what I term “the apocalyptic open” —an unending ending, a futureless world that echoes our own relationship (sans the undead) to being. The ubiquitous horror and violence of the zombie genre just makes the violence present in our own lives hypervisible. The terrible actions of Rick Grimes, as “good guy sheriff’s deputy”, buoys the dubious moral framework of the institutions that are meant to protect and serve us, like the police and the nation. The tortured justifications of the state and the society that supports it serve to obfuscate what we are doing (or through inaction allowing to happen) in our world, but in that apocalyptic open, their nihilistic foundations are writ large on the bodies of both the living and the dead.
At the point to which I have read these comics, Rick has begun to realize that people and the productive ways they can be socially bound to help each other, however difficult they might be, are what moves him and his people to a world worth living in, not the violence that he has long felt he must be willing to perpetrate. This new way of being resists the easy and mundane violence made possible in a world where we can only see the Other as lifeless, spiritless, walking flesh that only wants to devour what is ours.