Can a fictional TV show cause lose of hope in real viewers? Who are the real walking dead? Why does the sun rise everyday?
Other GFTM articles on The Walking Dead:
***SPOILER ALERT: This article speaks about The Walking Dead series in general, but focuses mostly on Season 5, Episode 10.***
Can a Fictional TV Show Cause Real Lose of Real Hope in Real Viewers?
In an on-going story about a zombie apocalypse, where the characters are surrounded by the bleak reality that much of the world is dead, much of the remaining living have embraced evil and brutality, and much of the personal bonds our heroes form with others are snuffed out by death faster than you can shout, “Carl!” in a southern accent, hopelessness is inevitable.
In fact, I image one of the hardest parts of writing a series like The Walking Dead is keeping the tension going without the audience, not just the characters, loosing all hope.
I know of at least one friend whose wife refuses to watch the show anymore because she said it was simply too depressing. With a story concept like The Walking Dead, writing conflict into the script isn’t the challenge; the challenge is keeping the audience from being overcome by the bleakness.
Because, let’s face it, if there will ever be a TV show in history that loses viewers because they’ve grown too hopeless to continue watching, it’s The Walking Dead.
The only way to keep the audience (and characters) from plunging into an abyss of depression is to occasionally have an episode where some hope – no matter how small – breaks into an otherwise desolate desert of despair. When thinking about this, I can’t help but think about Episode 10 of Season 5, titled “Them.”
Religious Undertones on Secular TV
The episode begins – like so many episodes – with the characters reeling from more deaths in their group. This time it’s the death of Tyreese and Beth, and understandably the two characters most affected by those deaths are the sisters of the deceased, Sasha and Maggie. What makes this episode unusual are the religious undertones.
Maggie’s father Hershel was open about his Christian faith, but the living – not the undead – needlessly killed him, like his youngest daughter Beth. Whatever amount of faith Maggie had she clearly renounces it in this episode. She tells Father Gabriel, “My daddy used to be religious. I used to be.”
Father Gabriel tries to reach out to Maggie, offering to be a sympathetic ear, but Maggie rips into him for failing miserably in doing one of the main things a shepherd is to do: protect his flock. (Could Maggie be taking her anger at God out on the one character left that represents God in some way?)
Later, Father Gabriel, utterly defeated, throws his priest’s collar into a fire. Does this action mean he is denouncing his work as a man of God or is he denouncing his faith all together, like Maggie?
But if Father Gabriel did, in fact, denounce his faith at that moment, it’s not long before he embraces it again. As the group is struggling desperately with thirst, it begins to rain. Based on the expressions on some of their faces, you can almost hear thoughts asking: Is some higher power looking out for us?
There is no doubt this is what Father Gabriel is thinking, because he says, looking up into the falling rain, “I’m sorry, my Lord.” He recognizes that all good things come from God (James 1:17). But not so fast — what could be life-giving rainfall abruptly changes into a dangerous thunderstorm!
The group seeks shelter in an old barn. As soon as they enter the barn, Maggie spots a much too conveniently-placed Holy Bible. They also find a woman who has become a zombie. Maggie and Carol note that the woman had a gun and could’ve shot herself before dying and becoming a zombie. Carol says, “Some people can’t give up.”
So, the lady in the barn with a Bible didn’t give up hope like so many others they have encountered; is this what the writers of a secular, horror-based TV show were really trying to say? (Or am I over-thinking things as us English teachers are trained to do?)
Are We the Walking Dead or Not?
The overarching question of the episode appears to be: Will the characters lose hope and give up or continue on?
Later, Rick says something interesting; he says, “…we are the walking dead.” But Daryl vehemently refuses this idea. “We ain’t them. We are not them,” he says. Now, Rick explains what he means by this, but it appears they’re both thinking in different ways about the comment. (More thoughts about this in the next article.)
But it’s not long before the internal conflicts within the characters are played out: Daryl discovers walkers – a lot of them! – trying to stroll right into the barn. He slams the doors shut and pushes up against the door to hold them back. But our heroes don’t despair; they don’t huddle into balls and mourn, waiting for death. They, instead, rush to help Daryl brace the doors. United, they all push against the onslaught of the dead as lightning fills the sky. The symbolism is clear: They will continue to rage against the dying of the light. They will not join the dead.
The scene cuts to morning. The sun is bright. The rain has stopped. Our heroes are alive; most are sleeping. Maggie and Sasha exit the barn to find many walkers crushed by fallen trees or ripped apart by the storm. Is there a suggestion of divine protection here? After all, the first thing they saw as they entered the barn was a Bible. Was the storm, in fact, a blessing in disguise, which saved them from the coming zombie horde? Did a divine hand protect the barn?
Sasha says, “Look at this. Should’ve torn us apart.” Maggie replies, “It didn’t” – some dialogue with clear double-meaning.
The Sun Always Rises
Maggie and Sasha proceed to watch the sunrise, a universal sign of hope. No matter how bad things are, the sun always rises. But why does it always rise? The sunrise not only reminds us of the beauty of God’s creation, but it also reminds us of God’s unchanging nature and divine care for his creation.
First, the writers of the Bible teach not only that God made all of creation, but that all know of him because of his creation:
The heavens declare the glory of God,
and the sky above proclaims his handiwork.
Day to day pours out speech,
and night to night reveals knowledge.
(Also see Romans 1:18-20, which we looked at in the previous Walking Dead GFTM article.)
Secondly, God preserves all of his creation:
You are the Lord, you alone. You have made heaven, the heaven of heavens, with all their host, the earth and all that is on it, the seas and all that is in them; and you preserve all of them; and the host of heaven worships you. (Nehemiah 9:6)
God’s promise to sustain his creation and preserve life can be traced as far back to immediately after he destroyed much of life on Earth with the Flood:
…the Lord said in his heart, “I will never again curse the ground because of man, for the intention of man’s heart is evil from his youth. Neither will I ever again strike down every living creature as I have done. While the earth remains, seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night, shall not cease.” (Genesis 8:21-22)
Theologian Wayne Grudem calls this God’s preservation, which is part of God’s providence over his creation. He explains it as “God keeps all created things existing and maintaining the properties with which he created them” with “active, purposeful control.” He writes, “God, in preserving all things he had made, also causes them to maintain the properties with which he created them,” and if God didn’t do this, then “all except the triune God would instantly cease to exist.” (Wayne Grudem’s Systematic Theology, Zondervan, 1994 P.316)
What makes Christians unique from other faiths is Christians also believe God has made himself known through his Son. Along with the Holy Spirit, this Son has existed with God eternally. In fact, this Son, who came in the flesh as Jesus of Nazareth, is God. Here, we have the unique Christian belief of the Trinitarian nature of God: three distinct, coequal, coeternal personal beings all sharing the one divine nature.
The New Testament teaches us all things were created through God the Son, and not only that, but all things are sustained through the Son and all life is preserved by him. In John 1, where John refers to the Son as “the Word,” we see the Trinitarian connection between the Father and Son, as well as the Son’s role in creation:
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men. (John 1:1-4)
God, though separate from his creation, is intimately involved in sustaining and preserving it. This attribute of God the Father is shared by God the Son:
He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. (Colossians 1:15-17)
Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world. He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power. (Hebrews 1:1-3)
Clearly, the Bible does not teach Deism; God didn’t create the universe, wind it up like an old watch, and now he just sits back and lets it tick. Even if we remove all instances recorded in both the Old and New Testaments of God breaking into history, such as during the Exodus or the incarnation of Jesus Christ, the Bible still clearly teaches that God is not a “hands off” deity.
Further, because the creation accounts in Genesis shows God is a God of order, and because of the Christian belief of a God who sustains the order of the universe, Christianity gave rise to modern science. The Christian worldview accounts for the immaterial laws of nature and the constants of the universe. The worldview of pagan and pantheistic religions do not lend themselves to the ideas of modern science. In fact, neither does naturalism; a theory based on a premise of materialism and random chance doesn’t give us the idea of consistency in nature needed to do science. The concepts taught in the Bible do.
(I realize everything I just stated in the above paragraph is extremely controversial; this article, “Why Christianity is the Worldview that Best Supports Science,” gives a good overview of the argument or watch this 10-minute video of Dr. Greg Bahnsen that touches on some of it.)
No matter how bad things get – in real life or in a fictional TV show – we can be sure the sun will rise. We can be secure in our knowledge that God will sustain us.
Blessed be the name of the Lord
from this time forth and forevermore!
From the rising of the sun to its setting,
the name of the Lord is to be praised!
Now, the questions are: Why aren’t things worse? And: Was Rick right – are we the walking dead? We’ll explore these questions NEXT…
Other GFTM articles on The Walking Dead: