I’ve been watching AMC’s hit zombie show The Walking Dead since the first season. I live in suburban Atlanta so it was hard not to be charmed by scenes of my home city being overrun by gore-spattered walkers. There is in fact an undercurrent of quaint Southern charm throughout the series, with its frequent views of leaf-strewn streets and quiet neighborhoods. Despite the ugliness of the show’s subject matter, it still manages to capture the beauty and serenity of the Georgia countryside.
Sadly, that’s pretty much the only bright spot in the entire show. TWD is one of the biggest hits in TV history, which is more than a little surprising considering the graphic violent content and bleak overtones. Of course, it is also a fictional testament to the human survival spirit and camaraderie that often emerges in crisis situations. There is also one more aspect, which is really my opinion more than any notion rooted in fact, that the show provides a much-needed cathartic release for its audience, particularly on a Sunday night when the specter of the impending work week looms large. It’s basically the idea that killing zombies lets you purge your savage instincts without actually committing murder. What could be more welcome news for this sick, desperate world – “You mean I can kill people and be the good guy? Sign me up!” The audience enjoys vicarious thrills through these weekly slaughterfests and doesn’t have to feel guilty about it.
I’ve never read the comic books and I’m not a big fan of the zombie genre, but the show drew me in very quickly because it is more than just a hurricane of undead violence. The zombie apocalypse is merely the background in which everyday characters are suddenly forced into extraordinary situations with encouraging and terrifying results. Friendship and family dynamics are strained and frayed, alliances are made, betrayals abound, and the fragile human psyche is laid raw and exposed in this new nightmare world that looks a lot like where we live already, just with dead people instead of living ones. The survivors wander in desperation, looking for a safe haven to begin life anew.
As time and the seasons wore on, we the audience were forced to ingest disappointment after heartbreak after failure. Places that should have been safe collapsed for various reasons, though more often than not it was the people inside that brought about ruin and destruction, rather than the zombie hordes outside. Rick and the gang move from place to place, searching for that community or mountain or fortress where they can protect themselves and nurture what little they have in the hopes of reigniting civilization. And time after time, they are thwarted.
It’s not difficult for the believer to see this as an allegory for our own souls in our quests to find peace and salvation. Those who do not yet know the grace of God are wanderers in the wilderness of their own lives, despite their protests to the contrary. Our sinful natures drive us to seek solace in the things of this world – money, love, success, entertainment, sensations, ambition, etc. Yet they inevitably crumble, often sabotaged by the very natures that drove us to seek refuge in the first place. The lover cheats; the workaholic pushes legal limits; the hedonist ODs; the superstar burns out. Nothing offers us the sanctuary we thought it would when we first laid eyes on it. But we keep looking, and we know that we cannot stop or we will perish.
The truth is that nothing we do can save us. No matter how high the walls may be or how strong the fence is, it will eventually fail. Only surrendering to God’s limitless grace can give us rest and safety. Perhaps Rick and his friends should give prayer a try. After the recent season finale, they’re going to need all the divine help they can get…