Tag Archives: The Walking Dead

Walking Dead and International Relations Part 2: Human Edition

Rick-Grimes-Michonne-The-Governor-the-walking-dead-33819289-648-365  Continuing with the analysis of The Walking Dead and its implications for International Relations we will take a closer look at the non-Zombie communities and the choices they make that are similar to the classic Prisoners Dilemma.

The central idea to a prisoner’s dilemma is that two actors face a situation where cooperation is mutually beneficial but both sides are tempted to cheat for maximum gain, thus taking advantage of the other player.  Arguably, the best outcome is when I cheat but my partner tries to cooperate, the worst is the reverse.  The second best is when we both cooperate and of course there is the possibility that both sides try to cheat. Another school of thought is that in any Prisoner’s Dilemma or negotiation the chance for mutual gain is present hence the mutual cooperation is the best possible outcome. The logic being that once Player 1 has exploited Player 2, the relationship is ripe for conflict, leading neither party to cooperate in future talks. However this only works if neither party prefers conflict and focuses more on what is right rather than what works.  In standard math terms…..

Exploitation>(I cheat & You don’t)>Cooperation (We both cooperate)>Conflict(Neither of us cooperate)> Loss( I cooperate & you don’t)


Cooperation (We both cooperate)>Exploitation>(I cheat & You don’t)>Conflict(Neither of us cooperate)> Loss( I cooperate & you don’t)

The Walking Dead has two groups one led by Rick, a former sheriff whose people find shelter in a prison and another led by the Governor. The negotiation revolves around a land bargain that would led to peace between the groups as long as Rick hands over Michonne who the Governor hates…but is also one of Rick’s best people. Ideally, peace is worth more than Michonne so Rick should cooperate, but the Governor prefers conflict and so he is a spoiler.

Luckily Rick has a change of heart at the last second…but he has an agent problem in Merle.  Merle decides to take matters into his own hands and attack the Governor’s people.


In the absence of law and order the world of The Walking Dead is similar to that of world of international relations. Without a hierarchy to enforce behavior or agreements, the temptation to cheat, and fear that the other might cheat is very high.  As this show reminds us with the Governor, not everyone is playing the same game. Furthermore, those negotiating the agreements may not always be able to control their team, or militia as Rick couldn’t control Merle. Another reason why civil wars are often harder to end than inter-state ones is because one side may in fact prefer war, and because the elites at the table may be unable to control those they are supposed to command.


The Walking Dead and IR Theory Part 1: Zombie Edition

18870-the-walking-dead-the-walking-deadThis week ushers in the start of the fourth season of The Walking Dead and it got me thinking about the conflict between the zombie and non-zombie communities. In The Walking Dead a few survivors are struggling to survive in a world infested with flesh-eating zombies and are forced to decide which fellow humans they should help in a world of very limited resources and flesh-eating undead. Thus a dualism is established of zombie = bad, human=good, along with a healthy dose of prisoner’s dilemma between the remaining humans. This kind of binary thought is common in conflict. While sometimes one side is clearly the aggressor most of the time there are factors that lead groups to be active participants in the chaos that violent conflict generates.

The dualism can be traced back to the prophet Mani and the establishment of Manichaeism which saw the universe as a struggle between the forces of dark and light.  This dualism has been adopted by many religions  and cultures overtime and poses some problematic political questions.  Randy Borum a terrorism expert elaborates, ” When individuals identify a problem, blame another for this problem and view the other as evil, it justifies any actions taken against them.”  He goes on to suggest that this is a common pathway that an individual takes in order to justify acts of terrorism. How can you negotiate with flesh-eating zombies? Is there an appropriate policy response? Are we guilty of applying Manichaeism thinking to the zombies? Few conflicts have a clear division of good and bad. For instance who is bad in Syria? The Assad government? The opposition groups? The Russians? The U.S.? The larger takeaway is that in most cases there are interests and there is gray, not black and white…or zombie.The Walking Dead1.1 Days Gone ByBehind The ScenesAndrew Lincoln