Even if you’ve never watched an episode of The Walking Dead, you are in debt to AMC’s zombie horror epic. Along with Breaking Bad, TWD pushed the boundaries of how smart TV programming could relate to its audience.
For most of the history of the screen, TV was considered low art and movies were considered high art. The turn began around the start of the new century when HBO’s The Sopranos pushed Americans to question whether something had to be dumber just because it was on a smaller screen.
Today, even Bojack Horseman, the animated Netflix series around a beer-swilling, show biz has-been horse regularly engages in themes around depression, drug addiction and loneliness.
Rather than just retelling the same tired tropes about cops chasing another recycled bad guy or pretty doctors and their problems, modern TV has to be more, because now the audience expects more. So, odds are that your favorite show on the air today elevated its metaphorical game because The Walking Dead and Breaking Bad raised the bar for the entire medium.
Last night, The Walking Dead returned to a strong opening to its eighth season. Staying relevant, fresh and engaging through presidential administrations is something even the best shows have struggled with (here’s looking at you, 30 Rock), but TWD came out of the gate as strong as ever last night.
This is, at least, in part due to the fact that show attempts to engage in different higher level themes throughout the narrative arc of each season.
MORE THAN JUST ANOTHER JESUS-AND-POP-CULTURE MOMENT
As RELEVANT has reported on multiple times, The Walking Dead is pretty obsessed with working in imagery from the Christian faith—Bible verses in particular.
And while some TV has been essential viewing for believers because a show finds a way to show a Christian as an actual character rather than a stereotype, TWD succeeds spiritually as an overall metaphor, rather than putting just one or two believable Christ followers on screen.
Danielle Strickland is perhaps the last person you would expect to dive so deeply into TWD lore to uncover the spiritual message. While Jesus-and-pop-culture books abound, they’re rarely written by someone who has been a popular speaker at conferences like The Global Leadership Summit and Catalyst. Strickland normally speaks and writes on topics such as human trafficking and modern slavery, so it may seem odd for someone with such gravitas in the Christian faith to stop to write a book about a TV show.
After watching the show at night after her kids had gone to bed, Strickland wrote the better part of her new book The Zombie Gospel on a single seven-hour flight, compelled to share how The Walking Dead serves as a parable for several issues of our modern times.
ZOMBIES, SATAN AND CONSUMERISM
“Zombies are, by definition, beings that consume with no regard for what they’re consuming,”Strickland shares in an interview for RELEVANT. “That’s what makes them horrifying, right?”
Since consumerism literally causes someone to consume with no regard for who their choices are harming, it’s easy to see the undead antagonists as allegorical for modern-day world culture.
“I don’t really care if this coffee costs somebody their family, or their life or children, I just like that it’s a $1.99 and it tastes good to me,” Strickland says. “When you actually look at that for what it is, that’s a disease. It’s an inhumane consuming practice.”
In a particularly poignant moment in the book, Strickland points out the zombie like behavior of Americans who consume chocolate without checking out the human cost of their favorite sweet.
Strickland recalls a BBC report of a young boy who had just been rescued from life as a slave chocolate plantation. When asked what he would say to people who ate chocolate, the boy replied, “Stop it, you’re eating my blood,” bringing the Zombie allegory a bit too close for comfort for the average consumer. After seeing the clip, Strickland helped partner with Stop the Traffik, a nonprofit fighting modern-day human trafficking, to bring transparency to the cocoa supply chain. Two years later, Cadbury and other major chocolate providers have committed to change their practices.
Strickland covers several spiritual allegories found in The Walking Dead, but one of the most surprising to longtime fans is the idea that the Shane, one of the first main characters we meet, actually goes beyond just evil and actually embodies the characteristics of Satan.
“I think everything is more evil when someone is pretending they’re something they’re not,” she says. “It’s this idea that people are pretending to be something they’re not. This is everyone’s allergy to hypocrisy, until we realize we’re actually the hypocrites.”
Without diving into spoilers, Shane’s narrative arc shares plenty of common ground with Satan’s biblical fall from heaven.
Even though The Walking Dead is now 100 episodes in, it’s not too late to hop over to Netflix and start streaming season one. According to one of the most respected Christian thought leaders of our day, there are a lot of spiritual lessons to be found around those roaming zombie hordes.