AMC's controversial television show, The Walking Dead (based on the popular graphic novel), is a series worth discussing, especially within the Christian community. Sadly, this show has largely been ignored or dismissed by Christians, perhaps due to its graphic violence and mature content. In much the same way as Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ, many people cannot bring themselves to watch The Walking Dead. But like The Passion, The Walking Dead (TWD) has important theological ideas to share, even as those ideas are enveloped in graphic brutality.
To the outside observer, TWD is just a show about zombies. But to even the most fledgling fan, it's a show about humanity. The zombies, or "walkers," simply provide a disastrous backdrop for a more important topic: the inner soul of humanity. TWD is meant to prod deep questions about human beings, such as what it is that makes people truly 'human,' how violence affects humanity, what it means to stay united in a world without law, and more. The zombies are only a vehicle to this end ... they are the apocalyptic impetus that forces humanity to examine its inmost being. In a world of utter survival, the protagonists (and antagonists) must decide what they must do to stay alive, and how (or if) to stay human in that process.
There are many themes throughout TWD that have deep, theological implications. While this blog is not meant to be exhaustive in any way, its purpose is to point to several important theological themes that have run throughout the series.
WHAT IT MEANS TO BE HUMAN
|Rick Grimes, flawed leader and faithful protector|
TWD has, from its first episode, wrestled with the question of what it means to be human. In a world overrun by 'the walking dead,' those who have remained alive must fight for survival. Safety is never guaranteed and trust is at a premium. Finding more people to partner with means survival, but always close at hand are the issues of power and corruption. Who makes decisions for the whole? Who can be trusted? If someone is a threat, are they to be killed or sent away to survive alone? As the series continues, the main protagonists (led by police officer Rick Grimes) find that survival means letting others into their group ... allowing trust to develop ... and fighting together to stay alive.
VIOLENCE AFFECTS HUMANITY IN NEGATIVE WAYS
|Carol Peletier, moral compass and voice of reason|
The violence seen in TWD, though graphic, is also redemptive. Main characters such as Carol Peletier and Morgan Jones have displayed how killing both dead and living takes its toll, and makes a person less than human. Their hell is to live with the fact that they've had to kill to stay alive. They want a different reality, but are unable to find one. Their task now is to make the most humane choices possible in a very violent world. The violence on TWD is typically not glorified, but rather is meant to examine the harsh effects of living in a world of chaos and brokenness.
WE ARE BETTER TOGETHER
|A band of brothers and sisters along a very long, hard road|
Another vital theme running throughout TWD is that others make a group stronger. Early into the show, Rick, Glenn, Daryl, and the rest were resistant to let anyone else join their small group. They had finally found trust and didn't want to compromise it. However, as the group fled to an abandoned prison in season three, they found that they needed more people to help them in their quest for survival. Adversaries began to arise, and to remain closed off to outsiders was no longer an option. In our world, as in TWD, many live in suspicion of 'the other,' whether that other is a person of a different creed, race, or ethnicity. In TWD, those suspicions are amplified to highlight how truly fear-filled humanity can be. In the end, the group is better—and stronger—when they are united together.
PEACE IS THE WAY TO SURVIVAL
|Carl Grimes, brave and compassionate truth-teller|
(Spoiler alert) In its eight season, main character Carl Grimes dies of a zombie bite. While this kind of infection has wiped out many characters before him, Carl's death occurred because he was out in the woods attempting to help a stranger. Carl became a metaphor for the best that humanity could still be, even in an apocalyptic wasteland. Just before his death, Carl leaves notes to his father and friends, even to main antagonist Negan. These notes reveal a timeless truth: that peace is the only way forward for humanity to truly live. In essence, TWD is making the profound point that violence doesn't have to be the way humanity survives (in an apocalyptic world or in our own). It's only the chosen method, because too many have abused power and influence. As season eight closes, it's clear the deeper message is that forgiveness and peace will be the only way forward if the world is to be fair and just. Only those left alive can make the decision to choose that future.
If you haven't watched TWD before, it may or may not be your cup of tea. If you're not a fan of graphic horror films, then it's probably not for you. But just because a show can be easily dismissed doesn't mean it's void of meaningful value. For all of its violence and brutality, TWD will surely be documented as one of the great morality plays of our time, giving us much to ponder about our own broken reality.