Can You Ever Come Back?: Reflections on Season 4, Episode 1 of The Walking Dead

redemptionTWD“Can you ever come back from the things you’ve done?”

As season four of The Walking Dead begins questions of redemption haunt its first episode. Six months have passed between defending the prison and the new stable life that its residents now have. Six months have left them feeling more secure, more comfortable, and more at peace. We all know it won’t last, but as the episode opens Rick is enjoying playing farmer and being a dad. The episode seemingly presents us with a  living example of one who in fact did “come back.”

From the end of season two forward Rick has been a different man. He has done what he had to in order to protect his family and his people, but it’s been ugly. All that he has had to do has made him ugly too. In many ways Rick was on a path to become the Governor. He had become cold, heartless, and calloused. He killed people in cold blood without a thought. His distrust and general coldness towards Andrea when she visited the prison in season three revealed a man who was losing touch with reality. In fact for a short period that’s precisely what happened to Rick, he lost touch with reality. It was impacting Carl too. We see this in season three when Carl kills a boy who was surrendering without thought or recoil. Callousness has become the settled state for the Grimes men.

*SPOILER ALERT*

As season four opens, however, we have a different Rick – the old Rick. He is a good dad and his and Carl’s relationship appears to have been renewed and restored. we catch a glimpse of him holding Judith and loving on her. We find him far more hesitant to carry his gun around, even when he leaves the prison itself. Herschel has to insist that Rick carry his gun when he goes beyond the fence. Perhaps too, his new-found pacifism is what prompts Carol to urge Carl not to tell his dad that she’s been teaching the kids how to handle knives. Rick is not who he used to be. In fact he wants nothing to do with killing. Daryl now leads scavenging parties, and others take up the task of killing walkers on the fence. There’s even a new council of which Rick is not a part. Rick is a simple farmer, now – a sight not lost on Herschel himself who makes a joke of the whole thing. It appears Rick has come back.

But that haunting question is not asked by Rick initially in this episode. It’s asked by Clara, a tormented and wild woman living on her own in the woods – well sort of on her own, she does keep the severed head of her zombie husband around. She asks Rick as they march through the woods, “Can you ever come back from what you’ve done.” For Clara the answer is a resounding “no.” She kills herself in front of Rick and denies his hope. “You can’t come back,” she says with her dying breath. There is no redemption! It’s a safe bet that the pursuit of redemption is going to haunt Rick throughout this season.

In the post-apocalyptic world the quest for salvation is no less real than it is in our own world. Men and women want to know the answer to that same fundamental question. They want to know: Can I change, can I be rescued, can I make things right, can I be redeemed, can I redeem myself. It’s the question that rings loudly between Rick’s ears, and it’s the question that drove Clara mad. It’s the question your neighbor has too. I am so thankful that I can proclaim loud and clear: there is redemption for every lost soul! That question does not have to haunt you when you know Christ.

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