That scene where Daryl finds his brother, turned, a zombie forever dead, tearing away at another corpse in the aftermath of a bloody shootout is quite interesting to say the least. Daryl breaks down in tears, and pushes away the zombified Merle until finally finishing him off.
What was most interesting, however, was what my brother in-law mentioned to me after viewing this episode: “I felt more compassion for Merle when he was a zombie than when he was human. He looked nicer, and like he wanted to give Daryl a hug.”
While this might be a bit of an exaggeration, there is a point to be pondered here. Before he dies, Merle is given an opportunity to do what he does best, do his current leader’s dirty work, which in this case is to deliver Michonne to the governor, a sacrifice made in an attempt at avoiding the governor’s wrath. A primitive agreement, but a deal worth contemplating nonetheless, especially when your main goal is to survive, as we have established, is Rick’s main goal at this point in the narrative. Rick, and Merle both know that Rick can’t do something so inhumane and Merle agrees to be Rick’s bagman. Similar to his job under the governor, Merle’s main M.O., his purpose, is to do the things that the other’s can’t do so easily, or rather to be the person some just can’t be: The executioner. Merle, willing to fulfill his given role, accepts the job and takes Michonne to the governor. En route, however, an interesting conversation strikes up between the two, in which Michonne asks and Merle reveals that it was only after meeting the Governor that he has become what he is, the guy who does the dirty work, the executioner, the monster, manifested in his weaponized metal arm and cruel grimace. One could argue that Merle is the monster to the Governor’s Frankenstein.
In a decision that surprises most of us, Merle decides to free Michonne telling her to warn the group of what’s coming (the governor’s attack, assuming Merle fails). Knowing full well of the risk and the practically certain death he is stepping into, Merle attempts to kill off as many of the governor’s men as possible and more importantly, kill his master and creator. In other words, in an arguably noble deed, Merle tries to help the group, kill his creator and thus regain his humanity, once again (Keep in mind that the last thing Daryl tells Merle before he leaves is “I just want my brother back”). Which brings me back to my previous point about Merle’s zombification. When Daryl eventually finds him, we see Merle appears to look more human in his zombified form, than the other zombies, and we feel saddened, yet proud of Merle’s humanity and redemption (even if only for a brief moment). That said, one can easily argue that despite regaining his humanity before his death, he does not escape the inevitable consequence of death: Zombication, which I have argued is a metaphor for hell.
In fact, all the characters that don’t survive, and die without being shot in the head, become zombies and suffer the eternal consequences of death. No matter how noble a character might be, no matter what redeeming acts they do, no matter how humane or compassionate a character is, they turn into zombies after death. Thus, humanity it seems is in dire need of a permanent type of redemption. Though they might redeem themselves the way Milton attempts to by turning on his former friend, the evil Governor, when Milton dies, just as when anyone dies, he is zombified, as everyone is in infected and cannot escape this consequence.
The case was similar for humanity in the Old Testament. Because of original sin, man’s relationship with God is severed, and thus death is inevitable. Though the chosen people followed rules and rituals, offered sacrifices and obeyed their God, some even succeeding in living good lives to the end, when they died, they died, with no resurrection to new life, but rather, resurrection to new death. Yes, God sent judges and prophets to warn his people, to help them out of their captivity and sin, to redeem them, and redeemed and freed they were, but only temporarily, for the consequences of sin is death. As Catholic theology teaches, people who died before the redemptive actions of Jesus Christ were in hell, or more euphemistically known as limbo, a separation from God and true life. That is until a savior came to ransom his life once and for all.
In the television series, even after characters regain their humanity through redemptive type actions as Milton, Merle, and others have shown (and as Part one of this two part post explains), they too, unfortunately, still suffer the pain of death (zombification) and are in need of a permanent redemption that only a savior can possibly provide. But in this series, who will this Savior be? No, the show has not implied any need of a Savior, nor has it made any suggestion that a Savior exists or is coming, which contrasts heavily with the idea of Israelites who were waiting desperately but patiently for their Messiah to arrive.
In the world of “The Walking Dead”, without any notion of a Savior, similar to the secular non-religious world that we live in today, what can humanity do knowing that life, no matter how well it is lived, no matter how redeeming and noble their acts can be, will still end up rising to new death? Why be good? Why be human? Why even try to rise above our animalistic nature, our survival instinct, and our selfish desire to thrive over others? Well, perhaps that is what faith is all about. Perhaps, it is the hope that your life can mean something more than just survival… Perhaps Rick, Daryl, Michonne, Glenn, Hershel, Andrea, Laurie, Dale, T dog, Milton, etc sacrifice their lives, and not their humanity, in hopes that their humanity is worth more. For Christians, we fortunately believe without doubt that this is true. It is what our faith is about. Rising to new life…to something more than the here and now… to something more than the destructive and volatile world we find ourselves in. We believe in a resurrection to new life. In other words, and quite fittingly during Easter, perhaps the connection between the resurrection and the Walking Dead is not the notion of people rising from the dead to new death, but rather, to new life. Because as humans, though it is what we do while we are alive–as these characters have shown–that helps regain our humanity, it is through Christ’s death that we gain our divinity. And perhaps, that is what the resurrection is all about.