Killing to Survive: The Walking Dead, Police Slayings and Medieval Malice

SAGE Publications
Publication Type:
Journal Article
Law, Culture and the Humanities, 2019, pp. 1 - 24
Issue Date:
Full metadata record
Fatal police shootings in the United States have generated much media and academic comment. These shootings fit within the historical common law category of homicides under compulsion and in practice rarely result in prosecutions and even less convictions. This article considers the laws of compulsion through the prism of early common law and slayings for survival in the horror series The Walking Dead. Contemporary accounts of justifiable homicide sustain early common law attempts to balance the need for authorized force to enforce the law against the protection of citizens from arbitrary force. Contemporary law focuses on whether or not the decision to use force was reasonable, but The Walking Dead depicts the narrowness of this question of culpability. The moral difference in slayings is not only whether a law enforcement officer’s decision to use force was reasonable, but whether or not the slayer desired to kill and was acting for a public or personal purpose. The Walking Dead also raises questions about the aspirations of the contemporary justice system. It portrays the medieval conception that the slayer and the community in which they live would be tainted by a homicide – whether excused or felonious. In medieval times, the process of justice was relied upon to remove the taint of a slaying from the community. The Walking Dead represents the thinness of contemporary accounts of compulsion and acts out early common law conceptions of malice.
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