Reflections on The Walking Dead

Today I am supposed to have a book review up, but my week got bogged down and I was sadly unable to finish the book. So in lieu of it I am posting a reflection on one of my favorite television shows and one of my favorite graphic novels: The Walking Dead

What should scare you the most in the zombie apocalypse? For some it’s the thought of being eaten alive. For others it’s the terror of watching your loved ones die. For still others it is the fear of a lawless world where the living can be just as dangerous as the dead. For me it would be the loss of coffee and wi-fi. But the storyline of The Walking Dead gives us an interesting perspective, one where the greatest fear is the loss of our own humanity. In one of the most compelling stories I have ever read/watched we find a group of survivors who must fight off the threat of flesh-eating zombies, evil men armed to the teeth, and yet must constantly battle their own haunting demons. In some ways The Walking Dead is story about the struggle to be human in a fallen.

SPOILER ALERT: We see it happening from the beginning of the show with Shane. He starts out as a hero, a commendable guy, but piece by piece we find him to be disturbed. The loss of Lori turns him not simply into a bitter and resentful man, but a dangerous one. At one point he is staring down the barrel of his gun prepared to shoot his best friend. At another point he is shooting an innocent man in the leg in order to allow himself time to escape a zombie heard. Finally his turn is complete, even before he becomes a “walker” himself, he holds Rick at gun point threatening his life and fulfilling a plan that he has mapped out for days.

But Shane isn’t alone. We see it happening in Rick too. He tells us at the end of season 2 that he wanted to kill Shane. We witness the change as he tells the group he is no longer leading them in a democracy. He does what he wants, he makes decisions and if they don’t like them then they can take off on their own. Rick is changing. He is not simply becoming more aggressive, he is regarding human life in general as less valuable. In the graphic novel he kills another man at the prison, a man named Dexter, shooting him in the head at point-blank range no less. And he feels nothing. One of the characters in the story questions him on this, saying that while initially he was doing such things to protect the group he fears Rick now enjoys doing them. He is losing his humanity. That story parallels the story of the most evil character in the whole Walking Dead universe: the govenor. His backstory informs us that initially he was like Rick, trying to defend the group. But slowly he changed and he no longer killed just to protect, he killed because he could, because he enjoyed it.

The Governor is particularly gruesome. He keeps the heads of his fallen victims in jars in his room. He organizes fights in the arena for all the people of Woodbury, with zombies included. And he tortures our main heroes for information on the whereabouts of their prison. He bears the particular marks of a man out of touch with reality, a man changed, a man who has lost his humanity in the post-apocalyptic world. Michonne too boarders on this at times. Her torture of the governor is gruesome and unnecessary. She is disturbed in more general ways too, but interestingly in her case, by joining the group she seems to come back to reality more and more.

That’s a key point in the stories, both the novel and the television show. Being part of the group helps the characters to maintain their humanity. Dale is constantly a voice of reason in the show, arguing against the hanging of a young boy, arguing against the killing of one of their own who has been bitten but not yet turned. Glenn too, early in the show, is insistent that while they burn the walkers, they bury their friends. Being part of the group provides a level of accountability that is needed.

It is perhaps cliché to raise the “who are the real monsters” question, but it is sometimes fitting. Routinely the characters in the novel say things like “I no longer fear the dead,” and “it’s the living I am afraid of.” We see that on the trailer for season 3 too. But there are times where we get a picture of just how corrupt man can be. Rick tells us in the novel, and it’s hinted at in the end of season 2, that “We are the Walking Dead.” Inside all of them is the virus that turns them into zombies when they die. It’s not the being bit by a walker that makes someone a zombie. It will happen eventually to all of them when they die, they are all already Walkers, it’s only a matter of time before they turn. The primary fight within the show is to hold onto their humanity for as long as they can.

It’s a story that rings true for us as Christians too. A story about our own fallenness, our own loss of full humanity, and our struggle to find it and restore it. But for us the solution is only found in the gospel. The man who rose from the dead not to kill us, but to save us. In Christ we can become full humans once again. Sin has distorted that reality for us, and changed us, and that sin dwells inside all of us. But in his death and resurrection Christ destroys our sin and makes us new. We once were the walking dead, those dead in their sins and trespasses. But now we are alive in Christ.

The Walking Dead is a compelling story. Not just because it’s full of thrills and adventure. It’s compelling because it’s a story about humanity and hope. It’s a story that most of us can relate to, even if we’ve never had to fight off the living-dead.


  1. Nice. I’m waiting for season 2 to come out on Netflix. Looking forward to watching it.


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