Exploring the Role of Mercy in The Walking Dead

In the last decade, one of cable tv’s biggest shows has been The Walking Dead. Essentially, the show tells the story of Rick Grimes and his crew of survivors as they navigate through the obstacles of surviving zombies and overcoming humans that are trying to reshape the post-apocalyptic world in their own devilish way.

In 10 Seasons, the show has managed to build on character development, complex storylines, and still manage to unknowingly address crucial elements of Christianity like mercy and forgiveness.

Specifically, in Season 8, Rick’s crew decides to take a rival group’s members captive, but many are uncomfortable with this decision. These prisoners were part of a larger system, the Saviors, that brutally killed key characters in Season 7 Episode 1 and caused immeasurable turmoil toward Rick’s squad. Therefore many of Rick’s crew believe these prisoners are unworthy to live. Ultimately, an eye for an eye type situation is what a few of them want.

This sparks a division because Maggie Rhee, a widow who tragically lost her husband in S7E1, wants to murder the prisoners while Jesus, the pacificist, wants his acquaintances to turn the other cheek. In moments like this, Jesus appeals to the universal trait of mercy to convince a lot of his comrades that desperately want vengeance. He tries to get them to understand that the new world they can create without the Saviors doesn’t have to be rooted in immorality or murder. Jesus believes they can create a just world where the older ways of love can triumph.

Catholic Culture defines mercy as, “The disposition to be kind and forgiving….It is, therefore, the ready willingness to help anyone in need, especially in need of pardon or reconciliation.” Every culture knows what it means to be merciful. Treating someone who really deserves punishment but instead with compassion is conveyed in our own relationships with others. Especially with God. In His abundant mercy, countless times God will forgive a sinner ( Matt 18:21-22). But with mercy, comes a change in behavior. For instance, Jesus would say to a sinner ‘Go, and sin no more. (John 8:11).” To abuse, God’s free gift of mercy would be a lack of true repentance.

Between Maggie and Jesus, it’s clear he has a solid argument. Despite the brutal legacy of the Saviors and their assaults against many surviving groups during the apocalypse, Jesus desires that his fellow members strive for a higher moral code. He wants to distinguish his people’s ways, forgiveness, and mercy, from the barbarism of the prisoners. While captive, some of the Saviors recognize the kindness and respond well by cooperating when needed to.

What eventually happened to the prisoners? Well in Season 9, some of the members became assimilated into the communities affiliated with Rick which goes to show that mercy does work. While some of the prisoners broke away and continued old habits as usual.

Yep, sadly some continue to wallow in their lifestyle and forfeit generous forgiveness!

The Walking Dead is a great television experiment that explores the moral conscience of really difficult situations. Most importantly, even though the setting is post-apocalyptic, the series conveys that man is a moral creature and inevitably our actions should be geared toward love.

Photo: AMC

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