The third season of AMC’s The Walking Dead concluded on Sunday night with, it must be said, a damp squib of a finale. Readers of the comic know how the Prison Saga ended, and other than two cool explosions and a great use of a .50-cal machinegun, the TV show just didn’t live up to its illustrated predecessor.
That’s not what I wanted to talk about — I want to discuss one specific moment in the show, that has thrown some people into a moral panic. And it involves Carl.
(And, oh yes, SPOILERS! You’ve been warned.)
Spoil-less recap: The entire season has revolved around some bad guys, building up to an inevitable confrontation with the good guys. In Sunday’s episode, the anti-climactic showdown is depicted, in all its disappointing glory.
One bad guy (a young teen), running from the fracas encounters Carl and those he’s protecting. One of the good guys tells the kid to drop his gun. Guy says “Here, take it”, and keeps coming closer. Carl, armed with a pistol that has an elongated barrel (due to a jury-rigged silencer), waits for a split second and shoots the man.
“Aieeeeee!” “Oh noes!” “Psychopath!”
Some of this moral panic comes from characters in the show, and others from commenters. Both are stupidly wrong. And it irritates me.
When a man has a gun to your face, and tells you to drop your firearm, you either comply or accept the consequences. Period. To disobey is to dice with your life.
When you’re involved in a fsck-ing battle, and a guy with a gun comes running at you, even giving him the chance to surrender is on the nice side. If he refuses to drop the gun, and begins edging towards you… you shoot. Period. Especially when you’re protecting two others, one of whom is a baby.
Was the kid trying something? I thought so, watching it the first time. Re-watching the scene just now, that may not have been the intention. Either way, it doesn’t matter. You can’t take the risk.
And killing an aggressor, in order to save your life and the lives of an old man, a young girl, and an infant is not immoral. Rick is wrong, the old guy is wrong, and the pundits are wrong.
And frankly, the angst over justifiable self-defense is kind of annoying. Not only is it unrealistic for the world they inhabit (facts Carl points out — it would have been better to kill the prisoners and the Governor), it’s out of character for Rick.
Just last season (less than a year ago, in-world), he shot two guys in a bar, just on the suspicion they might turn on the group. (A pretty solid suspicion, but just a suspicion.) Why excoriate Carl for what Rick himself did?
This same angst is poisoning Once Upon a Time, where Mary Margaret has killed an evil witch, the second most powerful person on the show, who was intent on murdering Mary and her family. Killing to save the lives of your husband, child, and grandchild is not immoral.
(And even if it were, angst isn’t a normal response. Guilt, sorrow, self hatred, but not adolescent “emo haircut and The Cure” angst.)
Justified had a similar situation in its penultimate episode — a bad guy who refused to drop his gun. He made a move, the deputy marshall put him down. No guilt, no angst, just a straightforward recognition that the crook caused his own death. Draw on a cop, get shot down.
(EDIT: Having just seen the season finale of Justified, an even better example cropped up their. Take a cop, his wife, and their baby hostage, get shot down.)
And in a world without cops, when dealing with proven murderers and liars, protecting yourself with lethal force isn’t just the only right move, it’s the only sane move.
The guy chose to die. Carl said “do you want to survive to pass on your DNA?” The kid replied, “no, I’m okay with dying a virgin.” So he did.
Think of it as evolution in action.