February 12, 2013
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At the conclusion of the February 9 2013 episode of AMC's zombie series The Walking Dead, Rick (played by Andrew Lincoln) comes face to face with an apparition of his late wife Lori (Sarah Wayne Callies), who died in childbirth during an earlier episode. Much of the analysis around this latest plot twist in the blockbuster zombie series is that it's evidence that Rick is becoming unhinged. Look at this exchange during an interview with Robert Kirkman, executive producer of the TV series, published in Entertainment Weekly:
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Last things first - tell us about the apparition which Rick saw at the end of the show.
ROBERT KIRKMAN: That's clearly his vision of Lori. He's remembering her in a different time, possibly from their wedding. A happy moment. It's a remnant of his past life and it's definitely a sign that we haven't really seen the peak of his madness just yet and things are possibly going to get much much worse.
Here's how theofficial website characterizes Rick's reaction to the vision during the episode:
"He hallucinates a vision of Lori on the catwalk in her wedding dress. "What do you want from me?" Rick screams, waving his gun. "I can't help you! Get out!"
"Madness" is a mischaracterization by Kirkman of an experience that many people have -- studies show up to 50 percent of people will admit to experiencing the presence of a deceased loved one. Sometimes they will actually report seeing the person, in many other cases they will report feeling their presence. It is not a frightening experience, in fact it is a great comfort to those who have suffered a loss. In The Third Man Factor, I call it the 'widow effect'.
Of course Rick is dealing with much more than the death of his wife. He parted with her on troubled terms, so he is carrying guilt. He is also fighting plagues of zombies and a clearly mad bad guy in the form of the Governor. So Rick's under tremendous stress. I think Lori's appearance is a classic third man experience: She is there to comfort Rick (he's the only one who sees her). And if the writers for the series were up on their research, Rick would not be disordered by her appearance, he would not be yelling and waving his pistol, he would be calmed, he would be strengthened, and he would be aided in his search for a way to survive.
There is no "madness" in such experiences, it is a way to overcome stress that might otherwise threaten to consume him. Rick's brain is helping him to survive. He just found his guardian angel.
It may be too soon to judge, though. This article suggests that the vision might imply Lori is there to help. We will have to watch the next episode to find out. Of course, it's probably too much to expect an accurate portrayal of the third man phenomenon in a work of zombie fiction, although The Walking Dead is a very good one! --- John
There is no doubt now that the vision of Lori that Rick is experiencing is a classic third man-type experience. That is, not a hallucination which is disorienting, but instead Lori is comforting and offering solace. Many of the triggers for such a sensed presence are there, he is beyond exhausted, he has suffered multiple traumas, is under grave threat. Sleep deprivation, probably hunger. On it goes. It happens to climbers on Everest, to shipwreck survivors, and apparently to survivors of a zombie apocalypse.