The Walking Dead: Rick vs Deanna
“When I was a kid, I asked my grandpa once if he ever killed any Germans in the war. He wouldn’t answer. He said that was grown up stuff, so…. So I asked if the Germans ever tried to kill him, but he got real quiet. He said he was dead the minute he stepped into enemy territory. Every day he woke up he told himself, ‘rest in peace—now get up and go to war.’ And then after a few years of pretending he was dead, he made it out alive. And that’s the trick of it, I think. We do what we need to do, and then we get to live. But no matter what we find in D.C. I know we’ll be okay, because this is how we survive. We tell ourselves that we are the walking dead.”
(Rick Grimes, Season 5 Episode 5)
Zombies have become something of pop culture phenomenon, and are arguably the most distinguished cultural icon to represent a product of the ruling class’ hegemony and cultural reign during the 1960s: Communism- or more precisely, the fear of it. Adam Lowenstein describes Night of the Living Dead, the very first critically acclaimed zombie movie, released in 1968 (IMDb) as “an allegorical commentary on America eating itself alive through the contemporary trauma of Vietnam” (Lowenstein, 2010). But, after the end of the war, Communism no longer presented a threat to American society, and zombies took a back seat in popular culture. Yet, the connection is still understood, as Bryce Peake writes in Anthology Now Magaine, “the connection between zombies and warfare is by no means a stretch of the imagination.”
Peake continues, saying, “The zombie motif remains, yet the monsters have been transformed in ways that more closely resemble terrorist sects and sleeper cells than the masses we feared we might become” (Peake); indicating the hegemony and ideologies from the 1960s that birthed the zombie as a pop culture icon are not lost on the new generation. This same kind of ruling hegemony and reign over ideologies is presented in the mediums through which zombies, and even the humans that must restructure themselves around the zombies, are portrayed – usually some kind of post-apocalyptic struggle for dominance, as seen in one of the world’s most successful television series of this decade, The Walking Dead. This article will take a look into the role of hegemonies as they pertain to this “struggle for dominance”; particularly involving the humans and how they must re-evaluate their living conditions in order to govern themselves, as well as the varying types of leadership styles and how each affects the other, through the theories of various popular social and political theorists – focusing specifically on the most recent season, season 5.
The Walking Dead
The Walking Dead portrays yet another post-apocalyptic scenario in which you see people trying to regain a sense of civility and govern themselves in a world lacking any form of government. The main character, Rick Grimes, becomes the leader of his group through his display of strength, loyalty, and leadership. He was accepted as the leader of his companions without too much disagreement from the very beginning. However, after realizing the intense side effects of having to kill-or-be-killed, Rick decides to step down from his leadership. Unfortunately, he is forced to perform the role once again, after their makeshift home in a Georgia prison is destroyed by the ruthless leader of a neighboring community, known as the Governor. Rick decides to lead his people up to Virginia, with the hope that the rumor of a safe settlement is still true enough for them to find a place to live. When they reach their destination, Rick decides to scope out the place before entering, for the safety of his group and in fear of an all too familiar bait-and-lure scenario.
Coincidentally, before they can spy, one of the community’s scavengers approaches them and, under much duress, Rick agrees to be lead to the settlement. Once there, it is revealed that the leader of the community, Deanna – a keenly intelligent former Ohio congresswoman – sought out Rick and his group with a purpose. Deanna acknowledged that Rick and his group have lived through this apocalypse differently than she and her people had – from behind the walls of the Alexandrian Safe-Zone – and believes that Rick has the experience to teach her people how to not only live, but to survive.
However, because of Rick’s gruff attitude and – albeit, justly instilled – trust-issues, the people of Alexandria find it difficult to trust him as a leader. The struggle between the Alexandrians fighting for their pre-established way of life and Rick integrating himself as their new co-leader mirrors the cultural struggle Stuart Hall discusses.
Hall writes, “The capacity to constitute classes and individuals as a popular force – that is the nature of political and cultural struggle: to make the divided classes and the separated peoples – divided and separated by culture as much as by other factors – into a popular democratic force” (Hall). Rick and the Alexandrians are separated by a difference in their cultures, a difference that Deanna wants to resolve, for the sake of her people’s survival. Here, we will explore the relationship between Rick and Deanna, analyzing how their distinct leadership styles conflict, and on what levels they will have to meet in order to successfully lead their people into a better future.
Rick Leading in Alexandria
Unfortunately, Rick will have to cross a few barriers in order to be accepted as a leader in Alexandria. To resolve the struggle for dominance between the Alexandrians way of life and his, Rick will have to take in to consideration how the instilled hegemony works and calculate how to his role as a leader will affect them as a whole in order to integrate himself into their society as peacefully as possible. Antonio Gramsci writes “the supremacy of a social group manifests itself in two ways, as ‘dominance’ and as ‘intellectual and moral leadership’” (Gramsci), two characteristics that Rick frequently displays through his leadership.
Gramsci continues, saying “A social group dominates antagonistic groups, which it tends to ‘liquidate’, or to subjugate perhaps even by armed force; it leads kindred and allied groups (Gramsci). Again, Rick also portrays these aspects; whether it be taking down an enemy community that threatened his own or putting the rebellious of the Alexandrians in their place when they question his leadership.
Rick picks and chooses who is worthy of his trust, and protects those who are, while destroying those who are not; which is something that the Alexandrians aren’t used to – after being governed under Deanna’s passive, diplomatic rules for so long – and something that Rick has so vigorously ingrained within himself as the only logical way to protect what he loves, as the quote featured at the beginning of the article suggests. One of Rick’s main struggles involves the exact reason Deanna sought them out in the first place – Where Deanna has simply being trying to preserve a way of life for her people, Rick knows how to survive. However, they quickly come to understand that the rules required for “surviving” are quite different and less diplomatic than the ones for simply “living.”
Gramsci goes on to say “A social group can, and indeed must, already exercise ‘leadership’ before winning governmental power” (Gramsci). Rick must prove himself a worthy leader to the Alexandrians before they will accept him, which may be a difficult task with his tendency for violence. However, Gramsci defines the event as “The ‘normal’ exercise of hegemony … is characterized by the combination of force and consent … It is always made to ensure that force will appear to be based on the consent of the majority” (Gramsci). This indicates that the course Rick must take in order to become a leader for the Alexandrians is undeniable. He must be granted their “consent” in order to lead them.
Consent in Leadership
Gramsci also hints at the relationship between hegemony and another ideology in saying that this “consent” is “expressed by the so-called organs of the public opinion – newspapers and associations … “ (Gramsci) which are also features in Ideological State Apparatuses, or ISAs. Louis Althusser defines ISAs as “a certain number of realties which present themselves to the immediate observer in the form of distinct and specialized institutions” (Althusser, 302). In other words, ISAs are “realities” or truths that are deemed as obvious to society because of the medium through which we were exposed to them; such as schools, churches, media outlets, art, and literature. The connection between the functions of hegemony and ISAs are found in ISA’s partner, the Repressive State Apparatus, or RSA. In difference to ISAs, which have many mediums, there is only one kind of RSA, and its definition is what sets it apart from the functionality of ISAs. Althusser describes the difference as “the Repressive State Apparatus functions ‘by violence’, whereas the Ideological State Apparatuses function ‘by ideology’” (Althusser, 303).
We can see this struggle take a physical form in the difference between Deanna’s leadership style, which is more ideological, and Rick’s, which is definitely more violent. Deanna notices the difference as well, and realizes that her people cannot survive in this post-apocalyptic world under the ideological rule alone. She sees the role of the RSA in Rick, and wants him to play that part in her community. But, Rick’s tendency for violence isn’t the only functionality of his leadership. As with Rick and Deanna, the ISAs and RSAs have a little bit of each other’s traits, as Althusser clarifies “the (Repressive) State Apparatus functions massively and predominantly by repression (including physical repression), while functioning secondarily by ideology”, and vice versa. The ISAs function “massively and predominantly by ideology, but they also function secondarily by repression” (Althusser, 303). Where Rick represents the RSA, and is more likely to kill you as punishment if you break a rule or cross him, Deanna is more likely to exile you from the community or have you jailed for an amount of time. These two functions work together to create leadership, which is why Deanna was so intent on having Rick lead by her side.
Rick’s struggle to integrate in to the Alexandrian community is a representation of the struggle between hegemony and leadership, as well as the functionality of the partnership between Ideological State Apparatuses and Repressive State Apparatuses. Rick must come to terms with the fact that leadership is based on “consent,” and that his role as a leader in the community must consist of both ideological functions, as well as his repressive functions. Gramsci warns “One should not count solely on the power and material force which a position gives in order to exercise political leadership” (Gramsci), which is solid advice for both Deanna and Rick, indicating that they both must get in touch with the other side of their roles – Deanna with her repressive side and Rick with his ideological side – in order to lead their people properly. It would seem that Althusser agrees with the relationship between Gramsci’s take on hegemony and his understanding of the State Apparatuses in saying, “To my knowledge, no class can hold state power over a long period without at the same time exercising its hegemony over and in the Ideological State Apparatuses” (Althusser, 304). Because of Rick and Deanna’s opposite leadership styles, they make the perfect subjects for this analysis; and their decisions – driven by their distinct leadership styles – will eventually portray the characteristics attributed to both styles.
Althusser, Louis. (2009) “Ideology and Ideological State Apparatuses.” (John Storey) Ed. Cultural Theory and Popular Culture. (4th ed.) pp.302-304.
Gramsci, Antonio. (2009) “Hegemony, Intellectuals and the State.” (John Storey) Ed. Cultural Theory and Popular Culture. (4th ed.) p. 75.
Hall, Stuart. (2009) “Notes on Deconstructing ‘the Popular’.” (John Storey) Ed. Cultural Theory and Popular Culture. (4th ed.) p. 518.
Kisantal, Tamás. “Living in the Post-Apocalyptic World | Kisantal | Groniek.” Living in the Post-Apocalyptic World | Kisantal | Groniek. Web. 27 Nov. 2015.
Lowenstein, Adam. “Living Dead: Fearful Attractions of Film”. Representations 110.1 (2010): 105–128. Web. 25 Nov. 2015.
“Night of the Living Dead.” IMDb. IMDb.com. Web. 25 Nov. 2015
Peake, Bryce. “The Zombies of Toronto”. Anthropology Now 2.3 (2010): 65–73. Web. 25 Nov. 2015
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