What is The Walking Dead?

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The Walking Dead
A Sociological Perspective
By Kelly French
What is The Walking Dead?
The Walking Dead is an AMC
television show portraying the
struggles of societies if there were to
be a zombie apocalypse.
 However, there is much more to it
than just people killing zombies.
 The show starts as the main
character, Rick Grimes, wakes up
from a coma after being shot while
on duty. He wakes to find that the
world has been taken over by a
zombie apocalypse. His main priority
is to find his wife Lori and his son
Carl.

A Brief Summary
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Rick Grimes is a former Sheriff's
deputy who has been in a
coma for several months after
being shot while on duty. When
he wakes, he discovers that the
world has been taken over by
zombies.
A Brief Summary
After returning home to discover
his wife and son missing, he
heads for Atlanta to search for
his family.
 Narrowly escaping death at the
hands of the zombies on arrival
in Atlanta, he is aided by
another survivor Glenn who
takes Rick to a camp outside
the city

A Brief Summary

There Rick finds his wife Lori and
son Carl, along with his
partner/best friend Shane and a
small group of survivors who
struggle to fend off the zombie
hordes; as well as competing
with other survivor groups who
are prepared to do whatever it
takes to survive.
Conflict Theory
Struggle for Power and Resources
Resources:
 Food
 Water
 Shelter
 Weapons and ammo
those who possess more
resources have more
power; and would say
that those resources are
what keeps them alive.
 The better the resources,
the more likely they are
to survive against
walkers or other groups
competing for survival.

Conflict Theory

This concept for power
of resources would be
the driver of society and
social change.
◦ Groups learn to adapt, for
example, learn how to
approach other groups
based on experience
Rick and Daryl, another
survivor, walk the perimeter of
the prison where they were
living at one point (until
attacked by another group for
their resources).
As seen in the picture, the
prison is surrounded with
fences to keep them safe from
walkers.
Conflict Theory- An Example
Struggle for Power and Resources
In Season 2, the group is
confronted with another
group. One night the show’s
main characters, including
Rick, are scouting an
abandoned town for supplies
and encounter another
group of survivors who attack
them (note: living attacking
the living) in order to get the
supplies.
 Shots were fired, and the
other group retreated after
walkers stormed the area.

Conflict Theory
Struggle for Power and Resources
Living VS Walkers

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People are required to
make a delineation
between the living and the
walking dead, even if the
walking dead were living
just minutes ago and still
look very much like their
human versions.
In extreme cases, people
have to kill their own group
or family members.
Conflict Theory
Struggle for Power and Resources
Living VS Living

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People are required to let go of self-regulatory
values in favor of self-preservation, sometimes
at the cost of other’s lives.
survivors quickly learn that while the walkers
are lethal, it’s the living who they should really
fear.
Resources are finite, it frequently comes down
to who is willing to fight for them to ensure the
survival of their family or group.
Those willing to commit the most violence in
order to gain these resources is likely to come
out on top.
We often see deviance committed in order to
protect one’s own group, however it always
come at a cost.
Functional Theory
The Mechanical Society
Social Situation
A Zombie Apocalypse
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The Structures
Hunters
Gatherers
Teachers
Protectors
The ‘Elders’/ government
Cleaners
Doctors
Functional Theory
The Mechanical Society
Hunters
Gatherers
Try to hunt for meat and other
foods
Try to gather supplies like
medicine or weapons
The Groups work together to find things essential for survival. People need
to eat, people need to be taken care of if sick, and people need
weapons for protection
Functional Theory
The Mechanical Society
Manifest Function
Hunters

Intent to catch animals and breed for continuous food

Intent to gather things like weapons/ ammo knowing there will be a
need to use them for protection
Gatherers
Protectors

Protect the group from harm as leaders leave for supplies/ food
Teachers

Teach the children to read and protect themselves (aim & fire guns)

Serve the purpose of saving lives as a result from accidents or
attacks
Doctors
Functional Theory
The Mechanical Society
Latent Function and Dysfunctions
Hunters

The pigs caught for food turned out to have a disease which killed half of the
group members
Gatherers

Gathered more weapons then medicine not knowing the pigs were
contaminated
Protectors

More worried about the sick people instead of fending off the walkers who
were trying to tear down the fence
Teachers

None of the other adults knew that Carol (teacher) was showing children
how to use knives and how to aim guns- which later served a great purpose
Doctors

While trying to aid the contaminated members, the only legitimate doctor
got sick as well, and died from a fever, turning into a walker himself
One of the group members, Daryl,
killing walkers who were trying to break
the fence
Rick feeding the contaminated
pigs
Rick is planting crops for food, if
you look in the background you
can see a group of walkers
The first hint of people getting
sick (she dies)
As more and more people get sick, the hoard
of walkers are getting greater
One of the main characters realizes she
is sick, but survives
Hershel, left, and the main doctor, right
Hershel is left to try and help the ill after
the doctor dies
Symbolic Interaction Theory
The meanings people impose on things from social interaction
Social Situation
Zombie Apocalypse
Symbols
 Walkers and the living
 Ways of survival
Symbolic Interaction Theory
The meanings people impose on things from social interaction
Walkers- how do they
know?
In-group
 Getting bit
 Dying of natural causes
Out- group
 Red puffy eyes
 Growling noises
 Dragging legs
 Trying to attack/ eat
Symbolic Interaction Theory
The meanings people impose on things from social interaction
Living- how do they know?
In-group
 Members keep
an eye on health
of everyone else
 watch for bite
marks (members often kept
their bite marks secret
because they knew they
were going to get killed)
Out-group
• As long as the person is
breathing, talking, and
walking instead of
dragging their legs,
they are perceived as
the living
Symbolic Interaction Theory
The meanings people impose on things from social interaction
How to defend yourself
 Skills are required- knives,
guns, sticks, rocks,
anything sharp
How to survive
 If separated from the
group during attack, you
are left in the wilderness
with no help. Knowledge
of how to set up
a camp or find
food is crucial
for survival
Symbolic Interaction Theory
The meanings people impose on things from social interaction
Ways of survival
The question at the heart of the show is how Rick and his group of
survivors can stay alive while also keeping their humanity intact.
 As the original members of the group are killed off, those bonds
that once held their social structure together become frayed.
 They fight, even when outnumbered, to protect what they
believe is right.
 They fight for more than the lives of the people in their group, but
for what they believe are the remaining ideals keeping them
human.
 To betray those norms, those ideals, the beliefs they know to be
most true, would make merely being alive not worth living.
“We Bury The Ones We Love and Burn The Rest.”
Symbolic Interaction Theory
The meanings people impose on things from social interaction
Ways of survival
After the contamination situation calmed down, many people
died. The group lost more than half of their members.
During the time when things were getting better, another
group, led by an enemy of Rick, came to take over the prison
where they were staying. The enemy, known as the
“Governor”, had two of Rick’s own people held hostage.
Rick said they could all stay under the same roof, work
together, that no one would have to die, that “they weren’t
too far gone”.
In which the Governor whispered “liar”, and cut off Hershel’s
head. He was the last doctor, a father, a leader, and a
mentor.
Symbolic Interaction Theory
The meanings people impose on things from social interaction
The attack on Hershel led to a full blown war between the
two groups, and the Governor and his people were
defeated and killed but in the process, Rick and his entire
group all split up due to the massive outbreak of walkers.
This split led to everyone needing to fend for themselves,
trying to find food, hunt, gather water, set up a camp, ect.
Symbolic Interaction Theory
The meanings people impose on things from social interaction
Ways of survival are
perceived differently
 Rick and his group
believe in accepting
more and more people
to ensure survival
 more help the better
Ways of survival are
perceived differently
• The governor believes
in taking and building
what is taken from
other groups.
• He has no heart
for those he
does not know
Symbolic Interaction Theory
The meanings people impose on things from social interaction
Ways of survival are
perceived differently
Rick’s Group:
Ways of survival are
perceived differently
The governor:
Try to keep as much civil and
moral values in a world
where there is no
mechanical/ segmental
solidarity
 try to maintain social control,
social regulation
•
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•
More concerned with
social cohesion in his own
group- like organic
solidarity
He kills two of his closest
friends and made it look
like an accident because
he didn’t like them
anymore
Symbolic Interaction Theory
The meanings people impose on things from social interaction
Ways of Survival
Governor
 Innovator- aware of civil ways to do something, but
doesn’t follow the acceptable ‘means’ to get there
 Previous actions towards Rick’s group results in both
primary deviance AND secondary deviance- Rick and his
group expect the Governor to go about things in ways
they don’t agree
 This causes his stigma
◦ Also results to the labeling theory
◦ Alters the Governors social identity and how he views himself. He
starts to believe there is no going back because it’s too late

Remember how Rick said, “we aren’t too far gone”
meaning he was willing to give the Governor another
chance, but he replied “liar”.
Example- The Governor’s Timeline of
Deviance
Andea, left, Michonne, right.
During a walker attack, Rick and his The Governor finds the two
group run, leaving Andrea behind by hiding, and takes them in to
his ‘community’
mistake. Andrea finds Michone.
Michonne
doesn’t trust the
GovernorAndrea doesn’t
listen
Michonne sneaks around finding that the Governor has human heads as trophies (see
background) and he has kept his daughter (who is a walker) in hiding, Governor walks in,
Michonne officially kills the daughter, there is a huge fight, Michonne gets away by stabbing
the Governor in the eye,
Governor tells Andrea
Michonne left with no word,
while secretly ordering men to
find and kill her. (one of the
men was a former member of
Rick’s group who also got left
behind)
Merle, former group member of Rick, sets out to find
Michonne, only to find Glenn and his girlfriend Maggie
(daughter of Hershel) at an abandoned store. He takes
them captive instead
Merle didn’t know but Michonne was hiding behind a car and saw the whole
thing happen, and also overheard them talking about the prison. She walks
there to warn Rick and his group what happened and where to find them- THIS
IS WHERE THE CONFLICT STARTS.
As seen above, the Governor orders them to talk about the prison believing Michonne is
there. With no word, they both are tortured until Rick and his group storm in and save
them. It is a brutal fight with guns and much violence but eventually Rick gets to Glenn
and Maggie and they are okay. As all of this happens, Andrea finds out her previous
people were still alive, but the Governor lied and said they were brutally attacked for no
reason.
There is conflict between the two groups and the
Governor’s insanity grows
As Rick and his group get Maggie and Glenn,
Daryl finds Merle, his brother, who is the one who
took Glenn and Maggie.
The group with Merle all go back
to the prison, where Merle finds
Michonne.

As all of this is happening, Andrea tries to
escape the community and as she reaches the
walls of the prison, the Governor snatches her,
chains her up, and leaves her in a locked room
with a dead man. (who turns into a walker)
Eventually, Rick and the Governor meet and try
to talk things out.
The Governor states as long as he gets
Michonne, everything will be fine
Rick agrees at first, only to protect his group, but
before he realizes what he had done, Merle was
already on his way to the Governor with
Michonne.
Rick asks Daryl to get them before its too late.
Merle leaves Michonne to go back to the prison
because, as the audiences say, Merle had a
change of heart.
Merle draws attention outside the Governor’s
walls with a blasting car radio which attracts
walkers- Governor and men go out to kill them.
In the process, Merle is hiding and firing shots
killing the Governors men, and trying to kill the
Governor as well.
The Governor stops him, and kills Merle.
 Daryl shows up later, to find his brother as a
walker, and stabs him in the head. (the only
way to officially kill a walker)
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Daryl and Michonne come back with the news,
and Rick and the group realize that the Governor
must be planning an attack. They were right.
Rick and the group hide, and the Governor and his
people storm the prison blowing things up only to
find no one is there.
On the way back, the Governor is stormed with
questions by the community people in the car. He
couldn’t take it.
He stops, and kills every single person, except his
two trusted men, which he later kills too.
One exception is a woman who hid under a dead
body.
Rick and the group want to finish the fight by
catching them by surprise, so on their way, they find
the bloody scene, as well as the woman.
She informs them, and Rick and the group take in
every person left behind at the Governor’s camp.
This is where Rick and his people try to find Andrea,
only to find her barley breathing, bit on the neck by
a dead walker.
It’s a very sad moment for Michonne, she stays with
Andrea until she shoots herself in the head.
We never know what happened to the Governor until
much later. His two men abandoned him, and later he
finds them with another group.
He kills both of them, making it look like an accident on
their part.
He then kills the leader of the group, taking his position.
After scouting for supplies, the Governor sees the prison, as
well as Rick and Carl mending crops outside. He then sees
Michonne with Hershel gathering sticks, and captures
them.
He takes them back to his new camp, tells everyone they
and their group killed his people and that they were
terrible.
He convinces the group to attack, they agree.
And, well, you know how the rest goes.
The loss of trust and loved ones the Governor faced
drove him crazy. His loss of sanity as well as
leadership is a contributing factor.
As his anger grew more and more, his sense of
freedom was all traced back to Rick and the group.
His stigma- negative social label, changes how others saw
him as well as how he saw himself.
◦ Also results to the labeling theory- awareness of how
others saw him and his reaction to those labels- results in
the awareness of his self- identity.
◦ Alters the Governors social identity and how he views
himself. He starts to believe there is no going back
because of what he had done.
Application
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At times the group must choose between what some see
as right and wrong. But in a world where “right” and
“wrong” decisions, no longer hold the same contrast, a
gray area pervades.
The characters are no longer working through right and
wrong, good or bad, they are making the most of a
situation where they are forced two choose between two
bad choices.
This is where the group’s ethics are put to the test. How
does the group treat the living?
How people are perceived after conflict results in several
levels of deviance, stigma, labeling, ect.- which may alter
who a person really is.
Application
In the zombie apocalyptic world there is no
government, there is no law enforcement, money has
no value, there are no emergency responders, and
there is no clearly defined social structure.
 This is world where your neighbor may become a
walker and you will have to kill him or her.
 People abandon their cars on the highway and run for
shelter.
 This is not normal. People have no frame of reference
for how to deal with this scenario, there is no past
precedent in history to follow here.
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Application
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One of the main influences that groups exercise over
their members lies in their capacity to induce
conformity
◦ the process through which members modify their behavior to
comply with the group’s norms or decisions.

the show’s characters are under immense pressure to
conform within the group, to fill the necessary roles
(stand watch, kill walkers, gather food, treat the
wounded, etc.), or people will die.
Famous Quote from The Walking Dead
“You step outside, you risk your life… You take a drink
of water, you risk your life… And nowadays, you
breathe, and you risk your life… Every moment now,
you don’t have a choice… The only thing you can
choose is what you’re risking it for.”
-Hershel

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