Recently I’ve been visiting a number of fan sites for The Walking Dead, reading opinions on the ‘What really happened to Glenn’ issue. And I was saddened to see that a widespread interpretation, not only to do with Glenn and Nicholas but also about Morgan’s failure to kill Wolves, was that ‘in this world’ showing mercy to anyone, giving anyone a second chance, is an unforgivable act of weakness.
But this idea cannot be applied universally in the world of The Walking Dead. From the first episode major characters survived due to the mercy of others. Rick, helpless and uninformed, was shown mercy by Morgan in the first season. To keep himself and his son safe, Morgan could have chosen to kill Rick.
Daryl seemed like somewhat of a loose cannon at first. The other characters might have feared that he was more attached to his bad-guy brother Merle than to the group. But they decided not to kill Daryl or banish him from the group and he proved to be a good man to have around.
Carol chose to kill two sick people, one of them the girlfriend of Tyreese, to prevent them from spreading their illness. The illness spread anyway. Rick, when he learned of it, banished her from the group. But later she met up with Tyreese, and after a tragic event Tyreese forgave Carol. When she rejoined the group she proved to be a major asset— not only because she’s good at killing Walkers but because of her cookie-baking skills.
The fact is that we are all here in the world because someone showed mercy to us. As infants, when we could contribute nothing to society or to our families and we caused our families to do a lot of work just to keep us alive. But we were shown mercy— we were not killed or abandoned to our fate. We all have made mistakes, done wrong to other people, lost our tempers— but we’ve also experienced being forgiven for our mistakes and wrongdoing.
The fact is that human beings need one another— we need other people even more during the zombie apocalypse. But since no one of us is perfect— we all have flaws— we cannot become part of any survival community without being willing to do some degree of forgiving.
Of course, we cannot forgive everything. When young Lizzie stabbed her sister to death in order to prove that Walkers were not evil, just different, Carol concluded that there was no way to keep this dangerous child alive without endangering others. When the people of Terminus were revealed to be cannibals preying on those they offered sanctuary, Rick and the others killed them for their crimes.
In the zombie apocalypse as in the real world, there is a time to forgive and a time to get tough on others. And without God-like levels of knowledge we will never know 100% what a given situation really calls for. Which is why calls to always reject the idea of showing mercy are not the right way to go.