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 Carl Jung's classic character archetypes reflected in some of the main characters on the show. But who is Carl Jung and what are his 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.
The Governor – 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.
The Governor built the town of Woodbury and ruled it with an iron fist. He also was unable to let go of his daughter Penny, keeping her with him even though she had been killed and was now a Walker. Whenever the Governor felt his power was at risk he would destroy anyone he thought endangered it – including Andrea and Milton.
After the destruction of Woodbury, the Governor found a new group of survivors and was soon in charge of them. The Governor couldn't stand the idea of Rick and his group having autonomy at the prison. Wanting it for his own, the Governor convinced his group to attack the prison to disastrous result.
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.
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 is one of the characters on The Walking Dead who manages to grab as much enjoyment as he can 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 turns to the riskier side of the Jester too. He allowed himself to be lowered into a well with a giant walker to please the others in the group and he has gone on numerous useful – but dangerous – supply runs.
It's interesting to note that, in recent times, Glenn has displayed many aspects of the Lover. This is 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.
Beth Greene – The Innocent:
The Innocent wants to be happy. She wants to live in an idyllic world where she won't be punished and things won't go wrong. The Innocent has a strong sense of faith and optimism about the world.
Although Beth almost killed herself in season two it was due to the loss of her mother and the rest of the pre-apocalypse world. Since then Beth has shown an almost naïve brand of optimism. Beth kept a diary where she professed hope that she and the rest of the group will be able to start a new life in the prison. Even when the prison falls and she is fleeing with Daryl, Beth maintains her sense of hope. She tells Daryl that, despite everything, the people left in the world of the Walkers still have good in them.
Tyreese – 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.
Tyreese shows us that he wants to work together with others from the moment he appears on the TV series. He helps his friends and sister survive and when Rick's group does not at first accept them Tyreese urges his friends not to lash out and attack. He wants the two groups to get along.
Later, when Tyreese and Sasha are at Woodbury, he again strives to be part of a community. Even when he is confronted by the pit full of Walkers the Governor has ready to attack enemies with, Tyreese allows himself to be convinced the Governor only uses them to scare people.
When the prison falls Tyreese is the one who takes the children – Lizzie, Mika, and baby Judith – and flees with them into the wilderness. After Carol joins him she confesses to killing his love, Karen, but Tyreese decides to maintain his bond with Carol rather than killing or shunning her.
Dale Horvath – The Caregiver:
The Caregiver is a compassionate and generous soul. He believes you should love thy neighbor and he wants to protect and take care of others. Because of his nature, the Caregiver can be easily exploited.
For the first two seasons of the show Dale was the group's moral compass and caretaker. From the start, Dale acted protectively towards Andrea and her sister, Amy. After Amy's death, Dale became even more protective of Andrea. He was even willing to die himself rather than allow her to commit suicide in the CDC explosion.
After T-Dog rips his arm open on a car, Dale is the one who notices his growing fever and takes the lead in trying to get him antibiotics. When the group captures Randall and decide to execute him rather than risk Randall bringing his group to the farm, Dale argues vehemently against this action.
Sasha – The Sage:
The Sage is an intellectual person. She believes that knowledge is power and that understanding the world is the best way to exist in it. The Sage seeks out information, but she can sometimes become bogged down in the details.
Sasha is Tyreese's younger sister. After she and Tyreese join the group Sasha is accepted as a member of the prison council. She is also the first person to figure out that someone is feeding rats to Walkers. Even when Sasha comes down with the sickness in the prison she helps Herschel take care of others and keeps a level head. When she meets Abraham and his group Sasha agrees to go to D.C. With them in order to get Eugene to a place where he has a chance to stop the Walker plague.
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.