Jungian Character Archetypes in The Walking Dead
The World of The Walking Dead
Based on the comic book series of the same name, The Walking Dead is an AMC television series set in a dark version of our own world. In this series officer Rick Grimes wakes up from a coma to find that the dead have risen up and become flesh-eating zombies. The characters on the show call the zombies “Walkers,” but the title of the series also refers to the survivors who struggle to make lives for themselves in this dangerous new world.
In The Walking Dead each character deals with the horrors they face in his or her own way. The zombie infestation and the trauma surrounding it reduces people to who they are at their core. They have little time for social niceties as they struggle to survive. In this atmosphere we, as viewers, can see psychologist reflected in some of the main characters on the show. But who is Carl Jung and what are his archetypes? Carl Jung's classic character archetypes
Carl Jung and Primary Archetypes
Swiss psychologist Carl Jung (1875-1961) was one of the founding fathers of modern psychiatry. As part of his analytic psychology, Jung conceived of something called the collective unconscious. This theory says that there are archaic, universal images and concepts that all humans instinctively recognize. Since these concepts are in our unconscious minds we can only witness and recognize them through our myths, religions, and dreams.
The collective unconscious includes archetypes. Archetypes are human images or specific concepts that humans instinctively respond to and understand. One example of a classic archetype is the image of the Mother. The Mother is a nurturing figure who cares for others in both good and bad times. She is understanding and compassionate and will tend to those in her care.
Carl Jung discussed 12 primary character archetypes that can define a person's inner motivations and outer behaviors. The same person can manifest aspects of several different personality archetypes, but they have one predominant type. This is true for the characters on The Walking Dead too.
Each of Jung's 12 primary character archetypes finds expression in one of the main characters from The Walking Dead series.
Rick Grimes – The Hero:
The Hero always tries to find a way through any situation, no matter how dire. He believes where there's a will there's a way. Heroes seek to grow in skill so they can go out and improve the world. The Hero archetype fears his own weakness and vulnerability. Weakness could lead to defeat and failure at tasks that really matter to him. The Hero is skilled and extremely courageous however he can falter because he insists his way is best.
Rick Grimes has a strong desire to protect his family and the rest of the people he cares about. Despite facing incredible odds, Rick went out and searched for Lori and Carl when he awoke from his coma and found the world changed. Time and time again Rick has sought to keep the group safe and whole – often giving little thought to his own safety.
But Rick's weaknesses as a Hero also emerge during the series. He often insists on doing what he sees as right, regardless of how other people feel. Rick went back into Atlanta to try to find Merle even though this was a perhaps foolhardy risk. Rick also pushed the group into journeying to the CDC in Atlanta even though they knew the city was overrun by Walkers.
Rick went through a period when he retreated from being the Hero and attempted to be the Caregiver. Ater the group found the prison he turned away from leadership and towards farming. But after the Governor's attack on the prison Rick turned back to his Hero archetype. As he proved when he ripped the Claimer's throat out, he will now do anything to protect his own people.
Michonne, another of the main characters in The Walking Dead, is also a Hero archetype.
Carl Grimes – The Rebel:
The Rebel is a revolutionary. He believes rules are made to be broken. Rebels see what is happening and want to change what isn't working. A Rebel fears being ineffective and weak. Rebels can be a great force for change, but they can also turn to crime or other evil behaviors.
Carl Grimes has grown up during the zombie apocalypse. Over time he has grown into the Rebel. Carl doesn't want to be treated like a kid. While the group is at Herschel's farm, Carl pushes to be given a gun. Carl also argues with his father when they are at the prison, saying that all the children need to be taught how to use weapons.
But Carl often succumbs to the darker aspects of the Rebel. While patrolling outside the prison he kills a boy who has just surrendered. After the prison's collapse Carl also puts himself in needless danger. He ventures out to attack Walkers and go exploring while Rick lies unconscious.
Daryl Dixon – The Explorer:
The Explorer searches the world, but he also wants to find out more about himself. The Explorer fears getting trapped either externally or internally. He is skilled at being on his own. The Explorer risks becoming a social outcast or misfit.
Daryl Dixon is a strong man who is extremely skilled at being on his own. Daryl can survive. He's a skilled tracker and no one beats him with a crossbow. But Daryl also wants to understand himself and find a way to belong. He is extremely loyal to Rick and his group. Daryl even joins up with the Claimers when he finds himself alone after the Governor's attack on the prison.
Daryl searched the hardest for Sophia after she had gone missing. During the search when Daryl fell off his horse and was injured he fantasized about his older brother, Merle, mocking him as someone who would never be accepted or fit in.
Negan – The Ruler:
For the Ruler power isn't everything – its the only thing. The Ruler wants control above all else. He wishes to create and lead some sort of successful community or family unit. The Ruler fears being overthrown. He is skilled at leading people, but he can become an authoritarian if he isn't careful.
Negan put together a large force of people, one big enough to take over multiple satellite bases. As Ruler, Negan makes sure his people are fed, but he brooks nothing less than total fealty. Any disobeyment is punished, sometimes with a hot iron to the face, other times with death.
In addition to ruling his own people, Negan ruled over other groups like the Kingdom, Hilltop, and Alexandria, until they rebelled. The Ruler will not stand rebellion. Rebellion is a threat to his power and there can be no threats to his power.
Carol Peletier – The Magician:
The Magician finds ways to make things happen. She wants to understand the universe and find a way to change it to make a positive impact. The Magician fears her actions leading to unintended consequences that cause destruction.
Carol spent the first season of The Walking Dead in the archetype of Caregiver. She protected and nurtured her daughter and others in the group, but she also let herself be exploited by her husband.
After the death of Sophia, Carol evolved into the Magician. She understood the new necessities of the world and accepted them. Carol used a Walker corpse to try to learn how to do C-sections. She also took charge of teaching the children at the prison. Although Rick didn't want the kids to learn about weapons, Carol faced the harsh realities of the world and taught them anyway.
Carol has also had to face several unintended consequences of her actions – something the Magician fears. She killed and burned two of the plague victims at the prison and Rick exiled her when he found out. She taught Lizzie how to use weapons and Lizzie used this knowledge to kill her sister, Mika. After that, Carol realized there was nowhere for Lizzie to live in this new world and she took it upon herself to kill her.
Maggie Greene – The Lover:
The Lover is not just about romantic love – although that is important to her. But what the Lover truly wants is a deep sense of personal intimacy and sharing. She wants to form bonds with the people in her life, friends and family alike. The Lover is very passionate and appreciative and has a strong sense of commitment.
Maggie Greene is protective of her family. She sometimes disagreed with her father and sister, but Maggie has always valued and protected them. When her sister Beth tried to kill herself Maggie passionately argued to her that life was still worth living.
Maggie found her most passionate relationship when Glenn and the others arrived at the farm. Maggie put up a wall when she first met Glenn but since then the two fell in love and got married. When they were separated in the prison attack Maggie would stop at nothing in searching for her husband. She even fought her way through a school bus full of Walkers to find out if Glenn had died within.
Now that Glenn has died and Maggie is the leader of Hilltop, she fights on for the memory of her love and for the love of their unborn child.
Glenn Rhee – The Jester:
The Jester wants to live life moment by moment. He seizes the day and enjoys life whenever he can. The Jester wants to make others smile and enjoy themselves too. He sometimes wastes people's time or takes needless risks in trying to please others.
Glenn was one of the characters on The Walking Dead who manages to grab as much enjoyment as he could out of a world full of Walkers. In the first season we see him in a sports car flooring it and screaming for joy. He also leaps into a sexual relationship with Maggie. When Dale worries about what her father Hershel might think, Glenn tells him he's willing to risk it because, “Tomorrow I might be dead.”
Glenn sometimes turned to the riskier side of the Jester too. He allowed himself to went on numerous useful – but dangerous – supply runs.
When Glenn found out Maggie was pregnant his focus shifted even more towards caring for her and being willing to take more chances with his own life.
It's interesting to note that Glenn often displayed many aspects of the Lover. This was particularly true in his deep devotion to Maggie and his unwillingness to give up on her after the attack on the prison.
Hershel Greene – The Creator:
The Creator wants to make things or ideas of enduring value. He can imagine a future that is different from the present. The Creator wants to make what he envisions real. Sometimes the Creator can stumble due to an unwillingness to see his goals less than perfectly realized.
Before the zombie apocalypse Hershel Greene had created a world for himself and his family at his farm. After the Walkers came, Hershel had trouble letting go of what he had created there. But when the group found the prison and made it their home, Herschel found a new vision. He wanted a peaceful existence for his family and friends, one where crops could grow and people could work together to make a new society. Even when facing his own death at the hands of the Governor, Hershel wanted Rick to try to keep the prison a peaceful place.
Father Gabriel – The Orphan:
The Orphan wants to form meaningful connections with other people. He believes all people have value and he wants to become part of society. The Orphan's greatest fear is to be isolated or cut out of the group.
Father Gabriel turned from his flock at the beginning of the zombie outbreak, locking his people out of his church while he listened to them beg, cry, and curse his name before they died at the hands of the dead.
This betrayal of his own people was the worst form of torture for the Orphan as it left him alone, adrift without a community. Even worse, this was a situation of his own making.
After that trauma, Father Gabriel was saved by Rick's group and he slowly began to realize how much he wanted to belong. Although not good at it, Father Gabriel began to try to help the group in what little ways he could.
Gabriel is a man seeking belonging and morality. When he finds Alexandria, Gabriel briefly wants to be part of that culture more than he wants to remain with Rick. Although Gabriel betrays Rick's group to Deanna Monroe at Alexandria, telling her the group is dangerous, he later repents and becomes a strong member once again.
Now, Father Gabriel is fully enmeshed in his new "family," Rick's group. As the Orphan, this gives Gabriel a sense of meaning and purpose in his life. He will do anything to maintain that feeling.
Eugene – The Sage:
The Sage is an intellectual person. He believes that knowledge is power and that understanding the world is the best way to exist in it. The Sage seeks out information, but he can sometimes become bogged down in the details.
Eugene lives in the world of the mind. He is extremely uncomfortable with his physical abilities, but supremely confident in his intellectual ones. When we first met Eugene he convincingly, but falsely, claimed to have the cure for the Walker epidemic. Eugene used this claim as a shield to keep others protecting him from the dangers of the new world.
After his lies are discoverd, Eugene again uses his wits to prove useful to the group. He finds a way to make bullets, traps, and even poison. After Negan arrives in Alexandria and realizes Eugene can make bullets, Negan takes him back to the Sanctuary.
Eugene pragmatically decides to join the Saviors and uses his intellectual abilities to help Negan's group survive, just as he did to help Rick's group survive. Eugene spends almost all of his time running details through his mind. Whether that is sheerly to invent things or also to keep the fear that lurks in his mind at bay is only for Eugene to say.
Aaron – The Innocent:
The Innocent wants to be happy. He wants to live in an idyllic world where he won't be punished and things won't go wrong. The Innocent has a strong sense of faith and optimism about the world no matter how things go in the real world.
We were introduced to Aaron when he recruited Rick and the gang to join the Alexandria safe zone in Season 5. Despite receiving a lot of abuse from Rick, Aaron remained calm and hopeful that he could help the group - and he did.
Later, when Daryl went out on a mission, Aaron followed him and helped save his life when the two were captured in a trap set by the Wolves. Despite all of the suspicions and traps, Aaron maintained that going out and looking for people to join the community was a good thing and that people were generally good.
When Maggie's pregnancy took a turn for the worse in the Season 6 finale, Aaron quickly volunteered to go on the mission that ended up leading to Glenn and Abraham's gruesome deaths at Negan's hands.
Still, Aaron maintained his positive beliefs and his love for his partner, Eric. In Season 8 Aaron loses Eric in battle, which crushes him, but he still offers to go back out to Oceanside to try to recruit them to help in the battle against Negan - even though the Oceanside ladies have said they will kill anyone who approaches them.
Aaron maintains his deep core beliefs in the goodness and innocence of the human race when everything around him says otherwise.This is why he is the Innocent.
King Ezekiel – The Caregiver:
The Caregiver is a compassionate and generous soul. He believes you should love thy neighbor, or thy subjects in this case, and Ezekiel wants to protect and take care of others. Because of his nature, the Caregiver can be easily exploited at times.
This naivety proved true in Season 8, episode 4 when Ezekiel gave several rousing speeches to his comrades about how they would not die that day before almost all of them were ruthlessly gunned down by Negan's forces.
King Ezekiel wants to believe in the best of humanity. He is intent on reforging a world where all people can live peacefully. He is willing to open his heart to others, reaching out to Carol to try to help her heal and to carefully develop a relationship with her.
The characters on The Walking Dead are complex and reflect different aspects of Jung's primary archetypes. But, just as humans have primary desires and needs, so too do the characters. The show's creators effectively dip into the well of human experience and bring us brilliantly alive people in a world full of the undead.
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© 2014 Teeuwynn Woodruff