One thing that is bugging me with The Walking Dead is that it is implied (and often shown) that the biggest foes are not the zombies, but the other survivors. Throughout the series, we see groups of survivors meet with substantial reservation and open hostility. I can understand why this would be, given that more often than not other groups of survivors actually end up being thugs, but why is that?

Currently, I don't have the impression that most people in the world around me are just waiting for a good opportunity to kill and rob me. Have most of the regular people died in the apocalypse, and only the thugs and murderers survived?

Besides, even aside from ethics, killing other healthy survivors for a very short-term profit (like some gun rounds) or no reason at all seems like a decidedly stupid move in the zombie apocalypse. You would assume that in a world with an omni-present common foe, which you can't negotiate with, and which can creep up to you at any time, you would want to maximize the number of friendly people around you (if for no other reason than that they can keep watch while you are sleeping). Yet, we generally see Rick et al. try to minimize the size of their group if at all possible. I see that food might be an issue, but given enough people, there really shouldn't be a problem just growing your food yourself.

So why is everybody trying to fight for themselves or even kill each other, instead of forming a more stable (and much more safe) community, which would arguably be able to fend off the walking dead quite handily for an indefinite amount of time?

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    its the typical post apocalyptic human flaw. no one cares about the "human race" they just care about themselves.
    – Himarm
    Feb 4, 2015 at 20:33
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    Because people are dumb, panicky, greedy self serving assholes...
    – user16696
    Feb 4, 2015 at 20:38
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    Also, the violent, self serving ones are more likely to survive, out of strength of person, and lack of sympathy or respect for man made rules.
    – user16696
    Feb 4, 2015 at 20:39
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    "The biggest foes are not the zombies, but the other survivors." This is kinda the point of most zombie (and other post-apocalyptic) fiction: take away society and the rule of law, and people basically suck. And it is definitely true in The Walking Dead. The title doesn't necessarily refer to the zombies.
    – KSmarts
    Feb 4, 2015 at 22:29
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    I think you might like this article. cracked.com/…
    – AlMar89
    Feb 4, 2015 at 22:48

7 Answers 7


There are, I think, two answers, one in-canon and the other out-of-canon. Both can be approached by considering the question which you failed to ask.

"So why is everybody trying to fight for themselves or even kill each other, instead of forming a more stable (and much more safe) community, which would arguably be able to fend off the walking dead quite handily for an indefinite amount of time?"

And the question is:

"But who is going to be in charge?"

In-canon, the collapse of civilization gives an edge to those who are willing to use force to get their way. American society, with its emphasis on egalitarianism and the avoidance of physical conflict (except for football and MMA, of course) leaves the hard-chargers among us without much outlet for their attitudes, and they tend to wind up either in controlled environments like the military or police, or they wind up in controlled environments like prison. And the existence of these folks is hardly news - Milton has Satan claiming "Better to reign in Hell than serve in Heaven", so the principle goes way back. Some groups, like Rick's, manage to maintain an adherence to pre-Zombie values, but in others a strong man emerges whose primary feature is that he wants to be the strong man. For these groups, the existence of any other group not under his control is a threat. Again, this sort of tribal outlook is hardly new.

Out-of-canon, the answer is pretty simple - the survivors select somebody and everybody gets down to business. If the groups can't merge their differences (like religion, for instance) they recognize the need for cooperation and maintain separate but cooperative identities. Boooring. The writers want conflict. If the groups got together to form a farming community, the show would last about 3 episodes. The zombies are dumb (although persistent) and an effective defense ought to be possible. Then it's just more of the same.

The need for continued conflict shows up in other choices the writers make. The various groups are, frankly, generally remarkably stupid and ineffective in their defenses. While it's granted that the extreme opposite (intelligence and competence) would result in a sort of Swiss-Family-Robinson-with-zombies, (or even worse, McGuyver-with-zombies) the failure of the groups to take fairly simple actions to protect themselves gets pretty wearing. No noise-makers as decoys, for instance. No masonry protection (the zombies can't use tools to break down a simple cinder-block wall, for instance, and it was demonstrated early in the first season that they can't climb). And ironically, considering the fact that a lot of the filming takes place at Ft. Benning, no raids on military bases for ammunition or heavy weapons. All of these things would contribute to the security of the survivors, and that, frankly, would be boring.

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    +1 "But who is going to be in charge?" Well, somebody. Probably somebody strong (in body, in leadership, in whatever). And just like in any other primitive culture, others would actively want to be part of the strong's group, to trade whatever they can do (hunt, cook, build up some effing walls) for the protection of a group.
    – xLeitix
    Feb 4, 2015 at 23:10
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    Also, Milton has Satan claiming "Better to reign in Hell than serve in Heaven" - I would claim that your average apocalypse survivor would much rather "serve" in some sort of organized and safe group than to be on his own somewhere in the wild, where he is his own boss.
    – xLeitix
    Feb 4, 2015 at 23:13
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    I would actually LOVE to watch a show about the actual logistics of rebuilding the world, rather than just continual, random violence. That's what (the book) World War Z was about in part. The problems are interesting and very human. But it's easier to just write gore and death and misery... Feb 10, 2015 at 18:39
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    "Nobody ever went broke underestimating the taste of the American public." - H.L. Mencken Feb 10, 2015 at 18:43
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    Good answer. I think you summed up the exact reasons I don't watch this show.
    – NotMe
    Jun 24, 2015 at 20:35

Have you ever seen what happens in a major disaster, or even a relatively minor one in some cases? Sometimes everything is okay, but sometimes it seems like people can't wait to act like monsters to one another. A blackout in the Northeastern U.S. 10 years ago- a minor disaster- led to some decent people taking it upon themselves to do the right thing: random people started directing traffic, restaurants handed out all their food before it went bad, etc. Others tried to scam everyone else. The pizza place near my parents' apartment in Manhattan went out of business shortly after the blackout because during the crisis, they started charging people $30 for a pie.

When Hurricane Sandy hit my old house on Long Island, in a very rough neighborhood, the gun shop down the street boarded up its windows and painted "YOU LOOT, WE SHOOT" all over the place in huge letters. The reporting during Hurricane Katrina was reckless and full of nonsense, but it shows what people expect will happen during a crisis - a total breakdown of law and order.

Now imagine that the disaster isn't a storm or a relatively brief blackout. Instead, corpses are walking around devouring the living. The military can't cope. Everyone is panicking. And soon, everything has fallen apart completely, and it doesn't get better- it just keeps getting worse.

Humanity would fall back into the old patterns of fighting for survival. Most people don't know how to farm crops. Everyone is scavenging for whatever food and supplies are left laying around. The good people will try to help others, but this makes them vulnerable: at best, they will run out of food and resources pretty soon; at worst, they will be robbed and killed by bandits, or attacked by zombies before the bandits find them.

Your experience in a nice happy world don't apply here. This world is a living hell. The people at Terminus were right:

You're either the butcher or the cattle.

Sooner or later, even the good people turn bad. They have been attacked and taken advantage of too many times. They have learned that trusting people gets you killed. They don't want you to die, but they know better than to waste their time and resources on strangers who may mean to do them harm.

This didn't happen overnight, obviously, at least not in most cases, but even from the very beginning, so,e people were exploiting the crisis to their own advantage. We learned in Season 3 that Merle and Daryl initially joined the group with the intention of robbing them blind.

The sad fact is that the Merles of the world would prosper in the inevitable zombie apocalypse, and the Dales of the world would be cast by the wayside. Being good is now a bad thing. The people whose lives before the world fell apart were so awful that they were forced to fend for themselves and distrust everyone else? Those are the people who will thrive after the end. If you were already robbing and stealing and hurting others to get by before the outbreak began, you are better off than the people who still have to learn how to do those things.

The BBC made a documentary about WWII, and one episode was about the death camps. A Jewish man who had been an inmate and a guard (the Nazis selected some inmates to serve as guards, called "Sonderkommandos", and these men received extra rations and even some weapons to use on the inmates under their command) was interviewed. He told horrible stories about inmates killing one another to get an extra crust of bread or bowl of gruel. He said something that stuck with me.

I can tell you that, when humans are made to live like animals and fight every day for survival, every person on the earth, without exception, is capable of the most breathtaking cruelty and viciousness.

This is what we see happening on The Walking Dead. When being humane becomes a handicap to surviving, people cease to be humane. When being inhumane allows you to live another day, you will be inhumane. If behaving like a monster keeps Carl and Judith alive to see tomorrow, then Rick will behave like a monster.

Throughout the TWD comics, at least since the prison, Rick's group has acted only as decently as their circumstances have allowed. At the Alexandria Safe Zone, they can afford to be nice, to some extent - they have space, large numbers of people, plenty of food and water and supplies and weapons. On the road, they could not afford to be nice at all - they didn't have enough to keep themselves going for more than a day or two at any given time.

We can see examples of this dynamic in history. Men who were lost at sea in little life boats drawing straws to determine who should be killed and eaten by the others. It happens. Desperate times call for desperate measures.

But as for your observation that the real threat is other people, you are absolutely right. Everyone involved with the show and comic books says this again and again. Zombies are basically the backdrop, and are usually manageable. The far more serious problem is other living people.


The survivors had many different types of personalities in the beginning, but by and large they were law abiding citizens. These people were not killers, thieves, and they certainly were not cannibals.

Over time the survivors dealt with many life threatening conflicts. They needed to make some hard decisions in order to survive. In most cases, the people who could not defend their selves perished. It wasn't until around the third season where most of the group had any kind of tactical training. In the prison, they took the time to train the majority of the group, and this also included the children.

Unfortunately not all of the survivors were not good people such as The Governor. People like him made life very difficult and they brought death. If it wasn't for him, the main group could have possibly lived at the prison for many years and they might have had a chance of having a peaceful existence as farmers.

Of course, a show that takes place inside of a prison where everyone is happy doesn't make good television. The writers of the show needed to have characters such as The Governor to upset things a bit and keep the story moving.

The same is true with Terminus. There was a chance that everyone could possibly meet up there and be reunited. Instead the people there were cannibals and they barely escaped with their lives.


Let's approach this from a different perspective.

We're on a lonely rock hurtling through space with nobody at the helm, blasted constantly by deadly rays, dragging a swarm of extinction-level asteroids with us through space, dependent on the conditions of a few mere inches of the top-most surface of this deep, fluidly dynamic planet to survive as continents crash into one another, volcanoes explode like planetary zits releasing billions of tons of mass as noxious fumes that dwarf any man-made mechanical activity we have yet experience, and tsunamis are kicked up like puddle ripples around a child's boots.

Is this view hellish? Apocalyptic?

Of course it is. A video of the Earth (or anything else in the solar system) viewed at a compressed scale makes any human concept of "apocalypse" seem rather quaint. In a very real sense we are already living in an apocalyptic nightmare.

We are an extinction event. Let that sink in. Our own demise is likely only a matter of time as well. An event that is improbable on the scale of 100 years may be inevitable on the scale of a million.

...And yet there you sit, pinned by mere gravity to this unstable aggregate blob we call a planet as it floats through the nightmare, staring at a screen asking questions about a fictional series while over a hundred small-scale human wars rage on our world. Most of those wars are occurring in locales with bad water, deadly disease, no sanitation, sometimes even a lack of food -- conditions even worse than your own. Couldn't those people think of something better to do than kill each other? Aren't there a thousand other problems to knock out before we start attacking each other!?!

I believe our views about conflict and cooperation have a lot to do with the timescale of concerns we believe to be reasonable. If you are very likely to be killed by an animal in the next hour if you don't wrest control of some protective terrain from someone else fighting over that terrain and risking death in the process may seem like a reasonable option -- people in those circumstances don't have college aspirations for their children and a 401k. If, on the other hand, you live in a situation where your reasonable horizon of expectations extends beyond a few days fighting to the death over almost anything seems not just like an unreasonable risk/reward tradeoff, but is likely to strike you as downright immoral.

What scale do you happen to care about at this moment? The shorter your expectations, the more petty your motives become. I assume the scale around which the characters' motivations in this series revolve is rather shorter than even our near-Planck-scale modern attention spans. The nature of violence being that it is faster to destroy than to create, it is perhaps entirely likely that humans would revert to general tribal warfare instead of general cooperation until an actual General emerges to wield that special combination of violence and creative energy necessary to set a group back on the path to fruitful cooperation. This isn't about how "good" or "bad" humans are, it is simply a statement about our nature -- and perhaps that need not be a moral commentary.

At the very least, its good story telling, and we seem to be able to relate to it.


Currently, I don't have the impression that most people in the world around me are just waiting for a good opportunity to kill and rob me. Have most of the regular people died in the apocalypse, and only the thugs and murderers survived?

No, but in the show the survivors are competing for limited resources. Just to survive day-to-day, everyone needs supplies that are (or will be) in short supply, such as food, water, clothing, fuel, shelter that is safe from walkers/weather/people, etc. Some groups are willing to kill to get what they need.

Also, without a government, leaders are often willing (or forced) to kill to assert their authority.

To keep things interesting the writers take it up a notch and add people like The Governor, Terminus, and the Claimers who (for various reasons) prefer using more... ruthless solutions to survive.

  • "the survivors are competing for limited resources" This has been the case for the majority of time in our world as well. Heck, this mostly is still the case, and yet most people prefer cooperation over deadly competition any day of the week. I had just hoped that there is a better theory out there than "it makes for better stories" and "well, people are just really crappy and it is just our civilization that keeps shit together" (which, I think, isn't a very plausible theory overall).
    – xLeitix
    Feb 10, 2015 at 20:16
  • @xLeitix - The resources in the WD universe are much more limited than in ours, though. In part because (almost) no one is producing new "stuff". Cooperation is the better long-term solution, but most of the events in the show have taken place over a very short period of time. Given a longer timeframe, it should get more focus (although it doesn't make for nearly as good TV entertainment). Also, whether rightly or wrongly, deadly competition has been used by many people at one time or another over the course of history... Feb 10, 2015 at 20:34
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    Of course, the people I met in the Balkan Wars sometimes would say similar things, but in reverse: "I have the impression that many of the people around me are just waiting for a good opportunity to rob and kill me." Consider how much of the violence in Libya (still), Ukraine, Syria/Iraq, Mexico, etc. is opportunistic. People are people, even those people -- and all that mess doesn't even require zombies.
    – zxq9
    Jun 25, 2015 at 14:11

There are a few reasons. You asked if thugs were the only people left. Well, heard of natural selection? If you're alive, you're probably tough. There's no law, so those people can do what they want. I think the best examples of this would be Merle, the Claimers, and the Grady Memorial cops. Then, you get crazy people. Imagine what watching all your family and friends die would do to you? The Governor, Shane, Negan, the Terminus cannibals, and the Wolves fall into this category. And most of all, the human need to survive and put you first. Let's say you and your family are starving, about to die from hunger. You see someone with food, and they say they need it for them. You would attack them, and if you say you wouldn't, you probably don't understand what this stuff does to people. Our group really show this. It's sad, it might seem illogical, but it's true. Why do we have wars? I think the walking dead is a frighteningly real example of the darkness of human psychology.


Because people are assholes! The only reason people don't kill you is because they'd go to jail or other people would kill them. People are as bad as they are allowed to be. Only a very small amount of people are legitimately good. The same applies to purely evil people, but there are still a lot of people who would murder if they could get away with it, if they are allowed to. The Walking Dead shows us a lot of human nature. Unfortunately we are a very cruel and stubborn species. I've seen first hand how bad people can be, Robert Kirkland must have seen that as well.

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    Welcome to SFFSE! This answer seems to be highly speculative; could you cite some sources to support your argument? It would greatly improve your post Aug 31, 2015 at 8:56

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