Reader beware, their are spoilers in this blog…
It always feels like a bit of a confession for me as a pastor when I “admit” that I love the show, The Walking Dead. It’s full of violence, humans at their worst, and the opposite of what the Resurrection looks like (we will NOT be zombies). If that isn’t enough, it airs on Sunday night. But this season’s finale, while kind of predictable, offered a bit of a surprise. It didn’t end with the all out war most people were expecting. It didn’t end the way most good underdog/undermanned stories of struggle end. That’s not to say the “good guys” didn’t win. They did, thanks in large part to the meddling work of their biggest turncoat (TOTALLY saw that coming). But what happened AFTER they won was the surprise. You see, in Zombie Apocalypse Land, there isn’t exactly a police force and a criminal justice system. So you have to be suspicious. You have to be brutal. You have to go against your instincts of kindness and charity. You must eliminate the enemy…totally and without mercy. And that is usually what happens.
I have to pause here and say one of the things I like about the show is that it actually seems to think that goodness and mercy ARE the natural instincts of human beings; that given an apocalyptic event like the setting of this series, people will generally look out for one another and come to each other’s aid. But again and again the “good guys” seem to have to struggle against this instinctive benevolence in order to survive. Because the more they exercise trust and good will, the more they seem to get penalized or double crossed.
Yet that doesn’t happen in this year’s finale. One of the main characters, after being bitten by a zombie and facing inevitable death, spends his last hours writing a series of pie in the sky letters to all of his friends and family, AND to the most heinous villain and enemy the show has ever known. His letters call for peace. Amidst all he has seen, all the times others have taken advantage, and the general hopeless mess in which he and all others find themselves (not to mention the zombie spit coursing through his veins), he holds on to hope. Although he knows a “war” is coming, his letters echo what might be instead, or at least what might come after. “There has to be something after,” he says. Maybe it is the sobering perspective of death, the innocence of youth, or some kind of millennial optimism (this character is maybe 20), but he looks for life after the terrible now. It’s not just some afterlife dream, but – okay, here is me stretching this – some way to live a glimpse of the kingdom of God now. It isn’t easy, but it isn’t more of the same – violence, vengeance, death, scapegoating, etc. It’s a future with some sense of hope; some sense that the death of compassion may be worse than physical death.
No one at Marvel or DC would approve. If the Black Panther and Erik Killmonger just shook hands at the end and worked it out, the theater would be drenched in hurled soda and the movie would bomb (by the way, I haven’t seen it, so IF that happened…). We want our vengeance; we want our bloodthirsty conclusion as our distorted human view of justice is realized. Yet in this Walking Dead finale, with all the death and destruction the great war promised, something else happened. And while it is far from the greatest story ever told, it did remind me of the idealistic words offered by the main character of that greatest story. “Love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven.”