“I can’t profess to understand God’s plan. Christ promised a resurrection of the dead, I just thought he had something a little different in mind.” – Hershel
At the time of this post’s writing it is Good Friday. Soon it will be Easter Sunday, and around the world billions of Christians will celebrate the belief in a literal resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth from the dead. As it turns out, this idea of bodily resurrection is not too far separated from The Walking Dead.
As the epigraph above indicates, the topic was touched on in the finale for season 2 of the series in the episode “Beside the Dying Fire.” In the scene Rick and Hershel have just survived an overrun of the farm by a large “herd” of walkers, and they are waiting at a hopeful rendezvous point to see if any others of their group survived. Hershel urges Rick to take his son Carl to find safety, and frustrated, Rick accuses Hershel of a lack of faith as a religious man. In response, Hershel makes an interesting connection between the presence of the walking dead and the Christian idea of the resurrection of the body.
Those paying close attention to various aspects of The Walking Dead television series will note that this is not the first time that religious ideas have surfaced. In its most glaring expression, in the episode “What Lies Ahead,” Rick’s group of survivors look for a missing Sophia, and hearing the sound of a bell they enter a church building. Inside they find a large crucifix, and a group of zombie “parishioners” seated on the pews which they quickly dispatch. As this scene continues Rick asks his group to give him a few moments alone, and he spends a few moments in prayer asking for guidance in the midst of the apocalyptic scenario in which he has been thrust into leadership. (See my further commentary on this episode here.)
But it is the idea of resurrection in connection with zombies that is the most intriguing religious idea in the series. In fact, in my view Hershel’s statement above gets my vote for best line of the episode. Pop culture manifests various expressions of the connection of the zombie to resurrection, from the satirical figure of Zombie Jesus, to the framing of Easter as Zombie Jesus Day, to the increasingly popular and international zombie walk phenomenon that draws thousands of people and which can appear as a postmodern twist on Christian resurrection.
Pop culture reflects who we are as a people, including our past and present history, our hopes and fears, and even our religious and irreligious leanings. It may be that when the occasional references to walkers and religion or resurrection take place in The Walking Dead as well as in other aspects of the zombie phenomenon, that this demonstrates vestiges of Christianity and its hopes for the afterlife. It may well also reveal our continued anxieties about death, and flirtations with “resurrection,” even if it means returning as a decaying corpse with desires for fleshly consumption but little else.
It will be interesting to see if The Walking Dead continues to raise and wrestle with religious and philosophical questions when season three begins. For now, there are several things for us to reflect upon from the past two seasons. Who would have thought that walkers would make for an Easter theological meditation?