Season 4 of The Walking Dead finds the prison thriving following its battle with the Governor in Season 3. The walls contain Rick’s group, now integrated with those that survived the debacle and disaster that was the Governor’s Woodbury. Together, they begin to farm and build their community.
Sadly, a deadly virus and then the Governor’s return destroy this incipient tribe. Still, this doesn’t happen before a post-apocalyptic funerary culture focusing on the graves develops. This takes place in at least two ways, focusing on the choice to inhume the dead within the outer precinct, thus creating an incipient cemetery for those who pass. Within this emergent funerary landscape of two parallel rows of graves, we see both acts of grave-digging and the selection and furnishing of memorials as integral to the ‘respectful’ treatment of the dead.
The portrayal of grave-digging as a required chore, but also a social obligation is paramount in Season 4. Glen is seen grave-digging, following on his role as a funerary specialist in burning and burying the dead in previous seasons. He is joined first the first time by a female grave-digger in the form of Maggie.
Obligations are expressed through the act of digging, but also are emotions. Tyreese digs in a frenzy of rage at Karen’s murder and conflagration, refusing to stop until her body is lain in the ground. Bob is shown opening a new grave adjacent to that dug by Tyreese. Digging is an emotional and emotive task and necessarily precedes the aspired enactment of revenge on those responsible for the death.
Memorials and Material Culture
We also see an alternative deployment of funerary monuments in Season 4. First, aetheists are distinguished by not affording them a cross-shaped memorial. Second, guns and spectacles are suspended from posts and slender twigs used as grave-markers, thus denoting the identities of those interred.
In Episode 4, Daryl stops to pick up a piece of jasper for Mrs Richards’ old man’s memorial. Together this implies that a burgeoning and sophisticated idiosyncratic mortuary memorialisation processes are coming under increased scrutiny for the prison community. It also reveals how much Daryl knows of the sentiments and aesthetics of his group members, contrasting with Michone’s isolation and individualism as she spends her time seeking for the Governor beyond the prison walls.
This leads us to one final question: had the community persisted for more than one winter, how wouild the cemetery have been elaborated? What new rituals might have emerged, distinguishing this community from others and constituting and reproducing their identity and cohesion by mourning and commemorating together?
Certainly, there are no signs that cremation becomes anything other than expedient disposal of the ‘other’: the walking dead themselves… We’ll return to this theme once more in a future post…