The Pig in the Room: Walking Dead Season 5 Premiere
By Saryta Rodriguez
Last night (10/12/2014), The Walking Dead— the most-watched drama series telecast in basic cable history, with its Season 4 premiere yielding a viewership of over 16 million viewers worldwide—aired its Season 5 premiere. I have been a serious Dead devotee since Season 1 premiered in October 2010, and awaited this premiere with baited breath. While it was ultimately among the most suspenseful, most captivating season premieres I have ever seen, it was also the saddest—and the hardest to watch.
I know I am not alone in this assessment. The public was shocked, outraged by where our Good Guys end up in this episode—from the very first scene, they are subjected to horror far beyond that of an animated corpse chasing them. They are exposed to the horrific violence that lies deep within the souls of the living.
Read no further if you haven’t seen the episode; this post contains spoilers!
Violence and bloodshed are by no means new to the show. It’s tough to watch, but we get through it; we control our mounting angst, and we celebrate the Good Guys’ inevitable victory—because at the end of the day, we can rest easy knowing that it’s all just pretend. There are no actual walkers; we don’t actually have to do these things; and independent of whether or not we had to, there aren’t people out there right now doing these things to each other, or to corpses.
What was so very horrific and depressing about last night’s episode is that what happened at Terminus IS happening. It is not pretend; it is all too real. One detail, and one detail alone, was altered: the victims in this case were live humans.
Season 4 ends with the Good Guys trapped in a dark van by the newest Bad Guys—a group of survivors living in a place they call Terminus, and have advertised as a “sanctuary for all, community for all.” Maps promising safe harbor led the prison survivors to this location, where after noting that the Terminus survivors don apparel belonging to their missing comrades Rick and his now-diminished crew realize all is not as it seems. Rick pulls his gun on Garrett, the leader of the “Termites,” resulting in Rick’s group’s captivity.
Early in last night’s episode, some of our favorite Good Guys are dragged into a room and lined up in a row, on their knees. In front of them is a metal trough. The Good Guys watch as some other dudes in the row are slaughtered: they each receive one blow to the back of their heads with a baseball bat, then have their throats slit, pools of crimson blood running down the trough and into its drains.
Replace baseball bat with lead pipe; or, incorporate the use of a stun gun. There you have it: the fate of pigs. They were lined up, literally, “like pigs for the slaughter.”
"Like pigs for the slaughter."
Two underlings set about this gruesome task. Soon Garrett, the leader of the new-Bad Guy-cannibals (to whom Conan O’Brien lovingly referred as “every uptight manager of a Starbucks you’ve ever met” on last night’s Talking Dead), interrupts them to ask for a “shot count” or some other number in relation to how much ammo is left.
He asks for a statistic, clipboard in hand.
His underlings squirm and apologize for not having the info Mr. Manager wants. They did not squirm as they swung the bat. They did not squirm as they slit each man’s throat; but they squirmed when Mr. Manager entered and asked them a question they could not answer.
I don’t normally watch Talking Dead. Frankly, when I first heard of its existence, I was insulted on behalf of the American people. A TV show about a TV show? Really?! Yet I watched last night because upon viewing the episode, from that very first scene at Terminus in which men are lined up at a trough for slaughter, I wondered: Will they say it? Would anyone address the Pig in the Room? Would anyone have the guts to state the obvious, to derail the conversation from how concepts and characters were developed and scenes choreographed to how this behavior is reflective of our own society, here and now—with no Apocalypse handy to excuse us?
No. Not one person said it; though the many allusions to it were painful to hear. The host (Chris Hardwick), the producers and Conan discussed the “trough scene,” the clipboard:
Hardwick: When Garrett comes in with that clipboard and sort of admonishes his staff…The most chilling thing about that whole scene is that this is really just another day at the office, to them.
Yes. Yes, it was. The employees had been trained to turn their empathy switches off and carry out these brutal executions as a matter of course.
Sound familiar? It should.
I crossed my fingers—literally—with my eyes and ears glued to the screen in front of me, waiting for someone, anyone, to say it.
No one did.
The Walking Dead is arguably the biggest show in the world right now. Millions of people watch it religiously. If you look on any message board, any social media outlet today, you will quickly see the mortified reactions of the public from all over the globe. How cruel the Termites are! How gruesome! They should all die! Indeed, Talking Dead has a live poll component, and one of the questions posed to the public last night was: Do the Termites deserve their fate (to die)? An overwhelming 97% of viewers who responded thought that yes, they deserved to die for what they had been doing to humans.
And us? What will be our fate? Do we deserve to die, for what we do to pigs? Did any of those 97% of Talking Dead viewers who chose to respond to this question even think, for one moment, about the parallels between what they had just seen less than an hour ago and what happens on farms all over the world every day? What did those people have for dinner last night?
The episode ends on an ominous note: While the other prison survivors, having escaped the Termites thanks to Rogue Ranger Carol’s assistance from the outside, simply want to flee and forget this ever happened, Rick asserts of the Termites: “They don’t get to live.” Here we see a cycle of violence begin. Mary, a Termite, explains to Carol in an earlier scene that once upon a time, the Termites were just like Rick’s crew. Their sanctuary was captured by Bad Guys who did atrocious things, and the Termites had to fight back to reclaim what was theirs. But Mary claims that her group learned a valuable lesson from that experience: “You’re the butcher, or you’re the cattle.” Thus, she and the other former Good Guys become the human-slaughtering cannibals Rick’s group encounters.
Now, upon having reclaimed his freedom as well as that of his post-Apocalyptic family, Rick can’t let go. He can’t just leave. Something’s brewing inside of him—bloodlust, desire for vengeance; take your pick. He will not walk away peacefully; now he and his crew will, presumably, become the New Bad Guys themselves. Whether or not they will actually eat people remains to be seen; but they will commit violent atrocities such as they never imagined they would a week ago, let alone a year—let alone a decade.
What of our own vicious cycle of violence? When will that end? Ours is not rooted in vengeance; the pigs didn’t do us any harm. Neither did the cows or the chickens. Ours is not rooted in survival; this is not the Apocalypse, and there is no shortage of nonviolently attainable food. We do not need to slaughter innocent animals to survive.
What is our excuse?