Sacrificing One For the Many

A Complicated Moral Dilemma From “The Walking Dead”

Brandon Tumblin
6 min readFeb 25

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Rembrandt, The Sacrifice of Isaac (excerpt), 1635

There’s a common moral dilemma brought up as a way to illustrate the complexity of situations. These dilemmas are often a version of sacrificing one for the many. If there was an army coming your way, and the leader of the army asked you to either sacrifice one of your friends or to be prepared to be destroyed, what’s the right response here? It’s perhaps easy to justify sacrificing the one to save the many… but is that the right response?

“The Walking Dead” — A Moral Dilemma

There’s a dilemma in an episode similar to the one I described in the introduction. Rick, the leader, and his group are bunkered down in a prison escaping zombies. An army comes to destroy them led by a character known as the Governor.

The governor was mutilated by a member of Rick’s group. She, Michonne, took the Governor’s eye out. But it’s not that simple. You see, Michonne is a rather new member of the group by this point. She is right at that stage where she begins to become a member of the group — similar to how there’s a stage where an acquaintance becomes a friend — but she’s still on the fence of being accepted.

Photo by K. Mitch Hodge on Unsplash

Sacrifice Michonne Or…

Rick is asked by the Governor to give up Michonne, and he will walk away. If not, they will attack the prison with their superior fighting power. The Governor is certainly more likely to win, however, it’s clear that even if he doesn’t win, the chances of him killing at least some members of the group are quite high.

So there’s Rick, looking around at the group that he considers family while also looking at someone who seems to be a good person but who hasn’t been around long enough to really know.

Is It Worth the Risk?

This is a very hard decision; do I risk my son’s life, my daughter’s life, and my friends (that are like family) lives? Or do I just give up this person that I only recently met, even though she seems, so far, to be one of us?

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Brandon Tumblin

Host of The Strong Stoic Podcast