As we approach the Feb. 14 return of “The Walking Dead,” it's time to take account of the political overtones that have outlined the zombie apocalypse. For six seasons the show has blended elements of political theory, social contract theory and natural law theory through the lenses of great political thinkers such as Hobbes, Locke and Machiavelli.

Political theory

In “The Walking Dead” political theory is dealt with through property rights, liberty, justice, and law enforcement.

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A more overarching element has been authority, legitimate governments and the duties of citizens. Alexandria is a fledgling group on the brink of establishing itself as an organized society.

Deanna Monroe had immense political knowledge and ambitions for her people, but we’ll never know her full potential as a leader. Rick Grimes continues to be the embodiment of law enforcement and is the barometer for justice in the apocalypse.

Social contract theory

Social contract theory is the agreement between citizens in organized society that defines and limits their rights and duties. These agreements usually result in the formation of a society that organizes for the protection of their citizens with the requirement that some or even perhaps all of their personal liberties might be surrendered in the process. We’ve seen elements of social contracts at the prison, Terminus, within Joe’s group and at Alexandria.

Natural law theory

Natural law argues that many basic human rights are derived from human nature.

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Natural law also dictates that morality within human interactions should be deduced by logic and reason within a society. A prime example of where natural law went wrong in “The Walking Dead” would be Terminus, where everyone who entered was essentially stripped of their rights and possessions as the worst of humanity took advantage of them in every amoral manner possible. The entire world has slipped into a state of natural law on “The Walking Dead.” The disagreements on reason and morality lead to conflict and death on a regular basis.

Thomas Hobbes

Hobbes was a philosopher best known for his book, “Leviathan,” a cornerstones of Western political philosophy. Hobbes claims society needs, in order to survive, a strong central government and the state of nature is not only anarchy, it is a war of all against all. Hobbes claimed that without a social contract, man faced “continual fear and danger of violent death, and the life of man, solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.” In many ways, “The Walking Dead” is a textbook example of life without a social contract.

While small groups band together for protection, the world at large is in a war of all against all. 


John Locke

Locke, another philosopher and social contract theorist, differed from Hobbes in that he believed tolerance and reason were basic elements of human nature. Locke firmly believed that the selfishness of man was manifested in the creation of currency and unused property was not only a waste, it was an offense against nature. Something that has been interesting from the start of “The Walking Dead” has been the lack of currency. There hasn’t been a need as it no longer holds any intrinsic value. We’ve also not seen much waste occurring on the show, as supplies are low and demand is high.

Niccolò Machiavelli


Machiavelli is best known for his political philosophy book, ”The Prince,” in which he describes how to rule over a variety of princedoms. Machiavelli states that glory and survival can sometimes be justified through immoral means. In the Cruelty vs. Mercy chapter he writes about being feared or adored by your subjects, saying, “The answer is that one would like to be both the one and the other; but because it is difficult to combine them, it is far safer to be feared than loved if you cannot be both.” It’s safe to say that Gareth, Joe and, from what we’ve seen so far, Negan, all would rather be feared than loved. Only time will tell if Rick will be loved, feared or both.