The Choice is ‘Yours’

There is a scene in the season seven premier of The Walking Dead—titled The Day Will Come When You Won’t Be—in which Rick is forced by his captor, Negan, to make a choice: cut off his son Carl’s arm or Negan will kill all six of Rick’s fellow captors. Then all of his friends. Then Carl.

Logically, the choice is obvious; There’s no equivalency between a wound and multiple capital acts. If it’s not your son—and you don’t have to swing the axe—it’s easy to argue that the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few (or the one).

Emotionally, of course, the choice is untenable. Notwithstanding Rick’s implicit duty to protect the life and safety of his son, he is forced to confront a new reality—one in which one way or another he must act against his conscience. That one of his options can be said to catalyze less evil is intellectually comforting, but of little solace to the person who must live with the knowledge of his actions. Either choice is a sacrifice of self. Both diminish the chooser’s moral standing in the world.

In the scene, Rick struggles to come to terms with the hopelessness that accompanies his loss of power. We experience his agony as he desperately tries to find a third way that doesn’t make him a party to harm. Like him, though, we are aware of the inevitability of his circumstances.

In the end, of course, he is broken. Rick must capitulate to the demands of his new, grotesque, reality—and in so doing become an agent of it.

The storyline feels depressingly apropos of this moment.