I have to admit that when I first decided to stream AMC’s The Walking Dead I was skeptical. I did not expect to like it. I’m not a big horror fan and gore’s not really my thing. But I dove in and from the moment Rick Grimes rode down I-85 into Atlanta on horseback, I was hooked.
If you’ve watched the show for any length of time, you quickly realize that the “walkers”, or zombies, are just the wallpaper of the show. Sure, they feature prominently in certain episodes because you need to understand the magnitude of what the characters are dealing with. But over time their noises become almost soothing and the sight of them ceases to shock as they fade into the background of the drama. What shines through for me in every episode is the indomitable force of the human spirit and the power that we harness when we put aside petty differences and work together for the common good. In a world that is so polarized by gender and identity politics, The Walking Dead is a beacon of hope.
Season 7 of The Walking Dead returned on Sunday, and by now Rick’s crew includes people from all walks of life. Black, white, straight, gay, you name it…all ethnicities, ages, and points of view are represented in the show. Within this post-apocalyptic world, superficial things like that cease to be important. After all, everyone’s just trying to survive, and to do so they must rely on each other and on the strength they find within themselves.
It is often when we hit rock bottom, lose everything, and must start over from scratch that we see what we are truly made of. And if the zombie apocalypse doesn’t qualify as a low point, I don’t know what does. The characters in the show have lost everything – their homes, their professions, their loved ones, and their way of life. All modern conveniences are gone and things that we take for granted, like running water, become coveted luxuries. For them family is all-to-often no longer spouse, children, or parents, but the loyal friends with whom they face a common enemy. They must learn how to live in a pre-industrial world without their support systems, developing survival skills and testing their mettle along the way.
Everyone has had struggles, trials, and triumphs. So it is no surprise that characters like Carol, who evolves from mousy victim of domestic violence to fierce warrior, or Daryl, who discovers his self-worth and becomes the man he was meant to be, are so popular and have survived so long. The main character, Rick, loses his wife to the chaos along with countless friends and must battle his demons to find the strength to lead. We love to see people overcome adversity, and time and again Rick’s motley crew face seemingly insurmountable obstacles and rise from the ashes stronger than before. Hence the season motto, “Rise Up”.
This show may be based on a series of popular comic books, but it’s wild and enduring popularity stems from the relatability of the characters and the timeless storylines. In Season 7, the people of Alexandria face an enemy unlike any other. As bullies with a penchant for cruelty and bloodshed, Negan and his “Saviors” pose an existential threat that must be stamped out. In their plea for commitment from the Hilltop, Tara states that when faced with the opportunity to do the right thing, most people stand up and take advantage of it.
That is the beauty of The Walking Dead. In a world where it would be so easy to give in to the baser human instincts, it is inspiring to see characters choose to do the RIGHT thing even when it comes at great personal cost. While the zombie apocalypse may be a bit far-fetched, the choices that characters must make are real: do what’s right even though it’s hard or scary, defend someone even when they haven’t treated you well, let your circumstances define you or choose to overcome them. These are all decisions we must make during the course of our lives. As Christians, we know that God trades beauty for ashes, peace for despair, and gladness for mourning (Isaiah 61:3). Faith may not feature prominently in The Walking Dead, but its message rings loud and clear: it is possible to rise up from the ashes and find peace and joy again despite your circumstances. You just need to find the strength within yourself to do so.