Anytime a show is built on the concept of an apocalypse, certain Biblical references cannot be avoided. Let’s face it, even in a largely secular society, people have a tendency of turning to religion in times of crisis. A massive zombie epidemic classifies as a stage 4 crisis. The Walking Dead has seamlessly incorporated Biblical references into several episodes, perhaps most notably (and perfectly) with Hershel’s “Christ promised the resurrection of the dead. I just thought he had something a little different in mind.”
Recently, there has been an influx of such references, specifically in “I Ain’t A Judas” and “Clear.” Last week, Hershel and Merle partook in a recitation showdown centered around Matthew 5:29-30. It goes something like this:
And if thy right eye offend thee, pluck it out, and cast it from thee: for it is profitable for thee that one of thy members should perish, and not that thy whole body should be cast into hell. / And if thy right hand offend thee, cut it off, and cast it from thee: for it is profitable for thee that one of thy members should perish, and not that the whole body be cast into hell.
Merle and Hershel have both sustained amputations to avoid the certain fate of becoming walkers. Or, as Jesus put it, “not that thy whole body should be cast into hell.” Interestingly enough, the Governor’s right eye is the damaged one, but not out of an attempt to salvage himself from damnation, rather in the now infamous bar fight with Michonne. Now he wants vengeance – “an eye for an eye,” if you will, which is old school, Old Testament, Exodus-style vengeance. In fact, that Exodus passage is exactly what Jesus is addressing in Matthew 5, among other things, as he is saying that now we should turn the other cheek against our enemies instead of seeking retribution.
Matthew 5 is an interesting choice for Merle and Hershel, as it is more commonly known to Christians and Catholic School dropouts alike as the Sermon on the Mount. You probably didn’t bargain for a lesson in Christian tenets today, but here is the Sparknotes version why this is important: this sermon reveals how Christ’s followers should live in order to reach the ever-elusive Kingdom of Heaven. Specifically, it outlines seven character traits that followers should strive towards, such as “Blessed are the meek for they shall inherit the earth.”
Does that last bit sound familiar? It should. Remember Morgan’s little speech in “Clear” in which he rants to Rick that “The weak people…have inherited the earth”? The subtle revision from meek to weak is telling. In spite of today’s connotations, Biblically speaking, these two words are not interchangeable. The meek will inherit the earth because they are not weak, they instead choose to selectively channel their strength into only appropriate outlets. Their strength is in their control. Thus, Morgan’s assertion that the weak have inherited the earth is an overturning of the sermon’s claim. Morgan’s world is not the Kingdom of Heaven; just as the subtle but vital word exchange suggests, it is very much the opposite.
So is The Walking Dead calling everyone to praise Jesus and start going to church? I doubt it. Then again, it seems more than coincidence that these past two episodes exclusively draw from one vital Bible passage. It could mean a number of things, or it could mean nothing. Nevertheless, maybe this sudden religious presence represents a subtle change amidst some of the characters. While basic needs are still at the forefront of everyone’s mind, the survivors now have some time on their hands to think, and maybe following Jesus’ example wouldn’t be the worst idea in these apocalyptic times.
Special thanks are due to Tarah; as Jesus put it, you are awesome.