Pronouncing The Walking Dead Dead

The Walking Dead.


I stopped watching after this season’s second episode. I haven’t seen it since. The narrative tone, the authorial position, have all changed drastically. These story lines weren’t allegories masquerading as horror, with ultimate sympathies for the human race. Instead, the viewer became subjugated to a taunting, teasing author whose narrative, like Lucille, became a weapon. Shooting Negan’s violence with the camera standing in for the viewer spoke volumes.

It seems that characters like Rick, and Glenn, or Carol and Maggie, no longer carry the voice of a struggling humanity, but that they are now the devices upon which the new authorial voice, Negan, speaks and acts against the audience. Sure, art and fiction are supposed to be catharsis, but for us.

maxresdefaultIn season six we were teased about Glenn’s fate, to many critics’ and viewer’s chagrin, only to have him survive, almost inexplicably. Glenn was almost transformed into a Mary Sue. Then, of course, only to have him brutally murdered in the next season’s premiere exactly how he dies in the book.

Such plotting didn’t serve the story, it didn’t fit any thematic purpose. In fact, there was none. Of course, senseless randomness and tragic chaos occurs in everyday life. However, TWD set itself apart by using tragedy and violence to make sense of the chaos thematically. Meaningless death had meaning for the viewer: bravery, humility, tragedy, honor, justice. This season’s premiere of TWD, however, had degenerated into the sadistic slasher genre, more closely resembling Friday the 13th sequels and B-films like The Tourist Trap: inexplicable violence committed by an uncomplicated villain against characters who were merely stand-ins for the viewer, quite literally in some takes.

The Governor was complicated; Garth was complicated. They were horrendous villains, but villains with story and theme. The first was the tragedy of one man’s struggle to maintain an illusion of a civilized life whose time had come to an end, and the sacrifices he was willing to extract from others to keep that illusion alive. Garth, the second, was the cautionary tale of what can happen to the human soul when it has been so brutalized that all humanity is destroyed.

Negan of the season premiere is simply sadism and greed. There are people like that, and no doubt our increasingly contentious and greedy culture gives rise to more of them than in better times. TWD,  however, didn’t explore this. The writers and producers leveraged Negan’s villainy at its most superficial level for the sake of violence, gore and the cheap facsimile of suspense that wasn’t too suspenseful, once we knew who’d been killed.

But hey, Fear the Walking Dead may have just become a real story.

Easter Message: Hoping for Hope in the moment of Darkness

He QiLenten-cross

Both of these are hard to credit. The left is cited as only ‘HE QI,’ I assume the artist’s name. The right is cited only as “Lenten Cross” associated with a church’s promotion of services.

These are my thoughts this Easter, as everyone around me celebrates the holiday. My post is grounded in the Christian faith, and cites biblical passages. My aim is not to convert or preach. In fact, I express more than a little doubt.

My goal is to reach out across the cyber divide to others, like myself, who may need to join hearts and minds with others who are struggling this holiday. We may seem alone, but we are not alone.

Today is Good Friday. This weekend in Easter.

Of course, there’s some redundancy in that last sentence, but bear with me as I try to leverage a rhetorical device or two.

Last Christmas I wrote about Easter, promising those of us who were in pain that this was our moment:

If Christmas is the Red Carpet Opening Night for that life’s work of compassion, then Easter is the Grand Finale launched by Good Friday.

And now Easter is here.

For me, Easter always meant the true Message: no matter how bad it gets, you can come out renewed. Ultimately, God always wins.

I think a lot of people are out there who are still in crisis, still traumatized, still facing crippling uncertainty about their lives, their existences, their own survival, who really can’t be easily convinced that this is true. Admittedly, this is a truth more easily accepted by those whose enjoy the blessing of complacency, or who can see life’s adversities clearly in their rear view mirror.

If you don’t fall into one of those two camps, the promise of Easter is just that: a promise. Not fulfilled, not kept, and some days about as useful as the paper it’s printed on.

The good news that it will take me approximately a thousand words to get to, in spite of my own present doubt as to God’s divine assistance and intervention, my skepticism about the usefulness of God’s love for me in building a meaningful life here below, is that Easter does hold one bit of good news. We’re in good company.

Good Friday
Credited as medieval Abingdon Missal manuscript,Bodleain Library, Oxford, U.K.


Christ went through this shit too. To be even more blunt: Christ, whom many see as God’s own Son on Earth, the Word made Flesh, got royally screwed down here too. He got turned in to the authorities by one of his students, his friends acted like assholes, and he got killed. Killed in one of the most slow, painful, humiliating, public ways imaginable.

No matter how sweet and compliant the mainstream makes Christ out to be, according to the book of Matthew, he wasn’t entirely happy about it either.



And so we come to last night, Holy Thursday.

Last night I went to Maundy Thursday service. It was sad; it’s supposed to be.

Maundy thursday

For Maundy Thursday, our service’s theme could be summarized as this: Christ knows the trouble is headed his way,  his closest friends are starting to crumble and he sees it.

And he’s completely helpless.


This is the scene: Christ and his followers are in Gethsemane. He now knows the shit is about to hit the fan: he takes two friends off a few yards or so and asks them to stay awake while he prays.

“Praying” here means begging God not to let this happen. I suspect it also means trying to wrap his head around this, all the while knowing that if it’s going to happen, it’s going to happen and there ain’t a whole lot he can do about it.

“My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will.” ( Matthew 26:39)

When I was younger, I was confused – and awed – by Christ’s compliance with such a dire fate: Yet not as I will, but as you will.

Now older, wiser, sadder, more beaten by life, I imagine maybe Christ was not being compliant, but recognizing his own powerlessness in the situation: what was going to happen was going to happen whether he liked it or not. The Gospel According to Matthew makes it sound like perhaps he didn’t.

I can’t blame him. Everything was going to be very ugly from there on out. He begged God to make it stop. The God he loved. The God he served. The God he praised with every cell in His body.

God didn’t do a thing about it.

Then of course, people do what people do in a crisis: they run, they hide, they deny. They let you down.

His friends fell asleep while he prayed:

Then he returned to his disciples and found them sleeping. “Couldn’t you men keep watch with me for one hour?” he asked Peter. “Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.” (Matthew 26:40-41)

They pulled this crap three times.

Of course, we know about all the betrayals that follow: Judas, Peter’s denial.

I tend to be a little lenient on Judas; he’s just a guy. I know how wrong he was, but I also know how commonplace that kind of wrong is. I’ve known many people who succumb to Larger Than Life authorities who threaten people with the power to squash them like a bug. I’ve seen it with my own eyes. If Judas was any worse than most people, then it was only by a hair.

Honestly, this is how people act when faced with standing up for what’s right or complying with authority. How many people are willing to throw an innocent coworker under the bus, or hide evidence of wrongdoing if a boss demands it, just to keep a job? How many school administrators, daycare workers, etc., face regular threats from social services to support false accusations to maintain their licenses? How many people have felt coerced into cooperation or silence by corrupt police or lawmakers?

I’m not here to argue the historical accuracy, or factual basis of these accounts. That said, I don’t doubt for a nanosecond that this part of the story aligns with human nature. Ask anyone who’s watched half  of their friends shrink away during a long, drawn-out bit of ugly crisis. It’s what a friend of mine calls “empathy fatigue.” When the adversary is a big, huge entity (government, commerce), I call it abject fear.

Slander, false accusations (and people do run during that one), victimization. Why would anyone expect a rallying, working, devoted team of supporters and activists if Christ’s own disciples crumbled at the one moment of crisis?

The Erstwhile Easter Message:

For me, Easter always meant the true Message: no matter how bad it gets, you can come out renewed. Ultimately, God always wins. Christ rises from the tomb, faces his disciples, gives them their message (which, if you asked me, we totally messed up).

It was a sign of hope: hope for victory, hope for survival, hope for transformation. So Easter for me always overshadowed Christmas in terms of spiritual significance.

Once upon a time.

I was accused of things I didn’t do when I was trying with every cell of my being to do the right thing, to bring love and hope into the dark world for a few people. Friends crumbled and ran and hid once it looked like the people in power had won and I had lost.

Some people might compare the one person with the power to truly help me to Pontius Pilate, a weak figure who, caught in the middle a formidable force and a lone, innocent figure, chose the path of power. I’m okay with that comparison. Truly okay with it.

I begged God not to let the worst happen, not to let evil destroy my life that was my family. I begged God to spare little helpless people the suffering they would go through at the hands of corruption and blind hatred. Deep down I knew how helpless I was.

from Wikipedia. Listed as Stained glass from S.C., USA, Lutheran Church

I’d love to offer you some conviction that I, like Christ, rose out of the darkness triumphant and unrecognizable, renewed to be reunited with God.

If I did, I’d be a liar.

Maybe I’m still in the tomb, in the darkness, waiting for my transformation to be complete. Maybe it’s a metaphor of hope, of the miracle that happens to some people, but not all of us.

I don’t know. I wish I did.

I wish this Easter could mean victory and hope this year. But it doesn’t.

But it means something.

It means that in all the millennia of mankind’s existence, there is at least some frame of reference for my experiences – some narrative the truth of which aims straight at my struggles: they aren’t my imagination. And if some two-thousand-year old scripture can point its narrative finger at this experience, then it’s a struggle that’s inherent to mankind, maybe even to Christ himself.

And when friends and acquaintances run, deny, fall asleep on the watch, even rat my little innocent ass out, I’m still not alone. Somebody knows. Somebody went through it. He got out okay. Maybe I will too.


It doesn’t offer me much comfort, but it does offer me some.


The House that Rick built: “Four Walls and a Roof”

This is this week’s post on the most recent episode of The Walking Dead.

One thing I want to say about my reviews, present, past a future:
I don’t want any reader to think that I propose violence or savagery to right wrongs or address evil or social problems. Any interpretation along that lines is absurd, and a complete falsification of my essays.

I see TWD as a fable, an allegory, and the essays I write about it are in that vein. For me Scott Gimple is a modern-day, albeit somewhat tortured, Aesop.

Am I psychic? Or a master of stating the obvious?

As I had hoped for in my last TWD posting, so it became and Bob had a little surprise for Gareth and his group. The ironies here abound.

Before diving in, the topic of cannibalism took on an interesting dimension for me in watching last Sunday’s episode that I wanted to explore.

The last two episodes, actually two parts of one story arc, take place in and around a church. Religion, confession, forgiveness, damnation, redemption, justice and even communion are explored.

There’s a lot of confession at the altar: Gabriel confesses to Rick, Gabriel later confesses to Rick. Rick here is the confessor, the priest. He dispenses forgiveness (earlier with Tara), cautious mercy (Rick’s warning to Gabriel about protecting his “family”), or excommunication for Gareth.

Then there’s communion.

Communion. At one point Rick thanks Father Gabriel for sharing the “communion wine” with the group. Gabriel reminds Rick “it ain’t holy until it’s blessed.”

Communion. According to the doctrine of transubstantiation, communion is:

the consecration of the bread and wine there takes place a change of the whole substance of the bread into the substance of the body of Christ our Lord and of the whole substance of the wine into the substance of his blood.[i]

Father Gabriel’s church is an Episcopal church. A literal look at the episode leads to the question: does the Episcopal church follow this doctrine? Well, as a former Episcopalian, I’ll tell it to you straight: I don’t know. I looked it up, and I still don’t know.  What I did find, interesting enough, is the idea that:

for those who receive the form or sign without faith, or for those who are wicked, Christ is not present spiritually, and they consume only the physical signs of this holy presence, which further adds to their wickedness[ii]

This is where we find Gareth.  Just as Father Gabriel’s church is a perversion of the idea of Christianity where people are to be saved from an eternal death, Gareth’s practice is a depraved perversion of communion.

Because Gareth can’t engage in holy communion, so what he consumes only adds to his wickedness. When he hears a baby crying in a church, he is so committed to evil that the sound doesn’t call to his humanity, it’s a siren call to his brutality.

In “Four Walls and a Roof,” we find Bob filling an almost Christ-like position. He is tied to a stake, persecuted. On his deathbed, he reiterates his optimistic faith to Rick who holds Judith. It is in the baby’s existence Bob urges Rick to believe in change for the world. He lays dying, saying his good-byes to his friends, under a carving of The Last Supper, when Christ says good-bye to his.

I could write from now until The Walking Dead is something we tell our grandkids about and still not get to the bottom of all the theology and religion that gets presented, examined and turned inside out – as does the idea of communion – and still not get to the bottom of it.

In the sanctuary of the church, five bible verses are listed. For non-church goers, this is unusual. The board is usually used to display maybe a reading or two, then the hymn numbers from the hymnal. So, seeing this unusual use, I found the following passages based on the board:

Romans 6:4
For we know that since Christ was raised from the dead, he cannot die again; death no longer has mastery over him.

Luke 24:5
In their fright the women bowed down with their faces to the ground, but the men said to them, “Why do you look for the living among the dead?

(This is interesting. In the previous episode, Abraham says in his invitation to DC that “the dead shall die and the world shall return to the living.”)

Ezekial 37:7
So I prophesied as I was commanded. And as I was prophesying, there was a noise, a rattling sound, and the bones came together, bone to bone.

Matthew 27:52
and the tombs broke open. The bodies of many holy people who had died were raised to life.

Revelations 9:6
During those days people will seek death but will not find it; they will long to die, but death will elude them.

So, this is where it becomes tricky as to whether the writer was simply having a bit of Biblical fun for readers with too much time on a Sunday night, or if he was pointing to a deeper theme or meaning. A good debate could take decades. I will say that I when I read the Ezekiel and Matthew passages, I imagined Gabriel huddled behind his desk, reading those very texts as he couldn’t help but hear outside:

“the dead came for them. … entire families calling my name as they were torn apart begging me for mercy.” Well, dude, you could have done something about that.

I try to look for a nice, neat moral at the end of the fable when watching TWD, but in this episode I don’t think there is one. I think there is just a lot of exploration and smaller messages of hope, be it Glenn’s peace-making, Tyrese’s urging Sasha to always chose the path of love over anger, our realization that his prevailing characteristic is not an aversion to violence, but a commitment to compassion, as he violently saves Bob from “turning,” and sends Bob to a final peace.

A lot has been said about the slaughter of Gareth’s crumbs of a gang in the sanctuary of the church. Without a doubt it’s a bloodbath. However, both The Talking Dead panel and reviewer Hughes omit one important moral point Rick briefly makes.  If he lets Gareth go, it’s mercy on Gareth, but what innocent stranger is Rick dooming? There are no police, no laws, no prisons, no jails. How is one to balance the need to protect the world from Gareth and the desire to provide mercy? The safety and welfare of anyone unfortunate enough to “cross paths” with Gareth in the future rests squarely in Rick’s hands.

Rick listened to the group’s call to mercy in the previous episode: he just walked away and Bob paid a brutal, however ironic, price. Clearly, Gareth doesn’t know what to do with mercy when he gets it. Suggestions: walk away and do good to your fellow man. Pay it forward. Stay out of trouble. But sweetie, don’t hunt down and piss off your enemy with the red-handled machete who promised to kill you. He’s probably a big believer in “fool me once, shame on me,” etc.

Rick, however, learns and adapts:  sometimes, evil just needs to be eradicated or else it will come back to get you or someone else. Remember, he tried to reason with the Governor. That destroyed their very community and sent them back wandering through the wilderness again. Michonne, who spoke of her time before Andrea earlier, is reminding of this recurring theme in her life when she finds the children’s drawings at the church of a baby Moses with the caption “40 years of wandering.” Ultimately, though, they all are wandering through the wilderness.

When Rick’s gory solution to his moral dilemma is all over, Rick isn’t angry or triumphant or arrogant or despondent. He’s humbled: “Coulda been us.” There but for the grace of God go I.

Gabriel’s learned nothing on the other hand. “This is the Lord’s House,” he says facing the carnage with a sanctimonious sense of indignation. Really? So carnage of innocents outside the church is merely regrettable when the execution of depraved villains inside is blasphemous? Gabriel pretends to be guilt-ridden, but it’s a masochistic pretense, like Monks who flog themselves in the Abbey while ignoring the starving multitude outside.

“It’s just four walls and a roof,” Maggie explains.

After all, it’s what we do there and how we use that makes it God’s house or not.

A lot could be said about the savagery Rick resorts to. Would a good old-fashioned, Lonesome Dove style hanging with a sign that said “Cannibals” be more human? As the reviewer Jason Hughes of The Wrap[iii] points out, Maggie and Glenn are pretty awestruck at the violence – but are they appalled at the brutal killing, or the fact it was even necessary?

This is all fable: posing the question of what to do with evil in the world. Where is the line between mercy and the greater social good? I don’t want any reader to think that I propose violence or savagery to right wrongs or address evil. Dear G-d I can’t even squash a bug.

Unlike Rick and his group, we have a justice system, attorneys, jails, judges, police and an entire infrastructure, albeit a corroded one, to address evil. One small moral to the fable may be that we just don’t use it. And by use it, I mean become a part of it, a working component of that infrastructure of justice and protection. Gareth and Gabriel failed. Rick was once an ineffective system: indecisive, then a bit irrational, then a lot of things. That said, he’s learned and adapted; he’s pretty effective at addressing evil in the midst of goodness now.  It ain’t always pretty, but it’s a safer world because Rick is in it. Abraham acknowledges this with his note to Rick as they leave.

One last unrelated thought: why do Maggie and Glenn go with Abraham? Let’s face it, this is about story development. It’s the only way to keep us invested in the journey for Abraham and the group, since we (the audience) haven’t built a real relationship with those characters yet, nor have they been given a great deal of screen time for character development. Thematically, I think the best bet is that after witnessing the ugly truth of the world they live in, where Rick’s newfound brutality is necessary, they decide to join the search for a solution, for the hope of a better world.

I’m still predicting Eugene knows squat about a cure. Is the needlepoint he say a hint? “Stupidity is also a gift of God, but one mustn’t misuse it.”










The Stealthy Feminism of Olivia Walton

I’m still enraptured by the notions of “Stealthy Freedom,” and even “Stealthy Protest.” In this country, ingrained as we are to believe that we have fundamental freedoms of thought and expression, we are not accustomed to practicing the kind of covert creativity necessary in protest in other parts of the world. I can at least say that for myself. So, maybe we – or I – are unprepared as elements of our country become increasingly intrusive, and individual citizens develop a sense of reflexive condemnation that can lead to everything from bullying to abuse of power, slander or libel that results in irreparable harm to individuals and families.  When that happens, and institutions or individuals nominate and elect themselves as the “thought police,” and government institutions may take on the baton of prosecution, how do we speak out? How do we protest, when the act of protest, or even an alternative thought or idea becomes grounds for action?

We must then look to other countries, other artists for guidance on the art of protest without confrontation, or how to say something without saying it.

I’m at a loss. Most of the time, I’m a steamroller on Red Bull – full throttle, full steam ahead and no looking back. I can’t afford that form of dissention now.

Another place we can look is other art. I got this idea from watching The Waltons. Yes, The Waltons. Stop laughing. I know you are; don’t deny it and pull yourself together now. The zombie-lover loves The Waltons. But stay with me, and I might just convert you. I managed to work zombies and parenting together, so trust me.

Believe it or not, the episode I watched last night, and a few others, made an impression on me for their bold subtlety, and their ability to say something without saying it.

For Example: the episode “The Hero,” about a memorial to the county’s soldiers lost in WWI. As what they call Plot B in screenwriting, there was the story of separated war-time lovers: the town Sherriff is reunited with his young love, a female ambulance driver. Jim Bob becomes fascinated with this woman war-time ambulance driver.  She’s a friend of Olivia Walton’s, and they discuss the woman’s wartime experiences, friends lost, the danger they experienced. It was a beautiful way to bring attention to the many women who served and sacrificed in that war, but done with subtlety and poetry – without being confrontational about the very neglect of that subject that continues even today.  Even the “good-night” conversation at the close mentioned the first woman to drive across the continental U.S.

So, I’ve thought of all the other topics The Waltons took on at a time when those topics could have been considered too hot-potato for a family show: interracial adoption when Olivia took in an African American child she adored but led him to an African American family to be adopted. The challenges of educated women of color when trying to enter the job market. The reality of adoption for Cora Beth and Ike Godsey when they adopt a young girl. Economic survival without losing your soul. Our own country’s role in the years preceding World War II, and our reluctance to recognize Nazi Germany for the evil it was. Post-war trauma. Atheism. Illiteracy. Menopause. The Waltons were clearly not The Brady Bunch.

I can look back and now see a subtle feminism, a true feminism that appreciates all women’s goals and dreams in its storylines, but also brings out the complexity of the situations the characters face.

First, one must be clear about all the Walton women: they are not shrinking violets. Olivia Walton speaks her mind clearly enough on many occasions, and Esther’s cantankerousness is a mainstay of the show. Just watch ten minutes of Olivia Walton in “The Innocents,” where she decided that a war-time factory’s new tavern will be a daytime daycare center for the women employed at the factory, and you will not confuse Ms. Walton with any subjugated female.

None of the Walton women are passive-aggressive, manipulative little trophies with a veneer of compliance and an underlying current of narcissism. They say what they think. In one episode, John Boy comes across a very manipulative, “pretty girl,” who uses her veneer of compliance to get what she wants. He sends her packing and doesn’t look back.

There are two episodes that come immediately to mind as I make my case. In “The Quilting”, Mary Ellen has come to “courting age,” where the older women of the community come together to make her a quilt. This signals to the community she is ready for wooing. She fights this, passionately speaking her resistance based on her ambitions to work, to accomplish something. The last thing she wants is to be shuffled off into a marriage and motherhood before she’s had a taste of the world. However, in the process of her own protest, she damages her relationship with her grandmother. In the end however, she learns that she can accept the loving act this quilt symbolizes, and the community of women’s ritual that welcomes her into womanhood, without accepting their vision for her future.

In the series, we find out Olivia Walton had tremendous artistic talent. Mary Ellen is puzzled that her mother chose life as a country mother rather than as a successful artist. Before children, such a decision would have baffled me too. After children, I totally get it. It’s about living the life you love and that brings you love. The show makes no judgments, except to embrace that all women should have the freedom to choose that life of love.

In “The Test”, Olivia Walton has been making dresses for a local boutique to fill an economic gap for the family. They are beautiful. She has the opportunity to go to New York with the boutique owner but declines. There are sacrifices she has made for that job that she decides she no longer wants to make. Again, after children, I totally get it.

In more than one episode, Erin Walton stands up to her employer, the owner of a war-time factory, over issues such as equal hiring for a minority, overwork and pay.[i]

As the series came to its final seasons, Mary Ellen becomes a nurse, mother and widow. She contemplates medical school, and her father cautions her on the tremendous workload that would be for a single mother. Her pre-med advisor advises her against it. I don’t remember the outcome: but her ambitions are validated, but the drawbacks are honestly presented.

With these stories, The Waltons achieves a very powerful “stealthy” feminism: all visions of success for women are embraced: professionalism, community activism, love, parenthood, family. None are patronized or diminished. All visions honor family and community and the quest for a life that brings love and fulfillment, in whatever form that may be.

The Waltons aired from 1971 to 1981, a decade not known for its wholesomeness, more affectionately known as the Me Decade. Interestingly, the show ran during the period that Wikipedia recognizes as the second wave of feminism: the 1960’s to the 1980’s. In looking at the list of American shows from 1972 on a Wikipedia list, I see no memorable night-time dramas about a family. If I’m wrong, I hope a reader will comment and correct me. Whereas my beloved M*A*S*H could be decadent and a bit in-your-face, other shows were just vapid (Love American Style), and the comedies were wonderful and intelligent (Laugh-In), The Waltons may have stood alone in its message and presentation. It tackled the equally controversial topics that a M*A*S*H episode might, but with a very different ethos. Its female characters were more traditional than a Mary Richards, but no less outspoken or independent.[ii]

In this way The Waltons succeeded at doing something I am only now beginning to hope to accomplish: stealthy protest. Positive protest without complaint. For the show’s creators and actors, the show may have been a subtle protest against a Me Generation of conflict and confrontation best demonstrated in All in the Family (the acrimony in that show always bothered me). And yet, it was never didactic or self-righteous.

I should be so lucky.

[i] “The Illusion”, “The Home Front (1)”, “The Home Front (2)”, “The Move”

[ii] If you have any doubt, watch any few episodes throughout the series’ run with Mary Ellen Walton. If you’re not willing to place all your money on Ms. Walton in a ring-match with Mary Richards of The Mary Tyler Moore Show, let me know. Don’t even begin to doubt Esther and her broom.