In previous posts on The Walking Dead I’ve identified the utilitarian and negative associations of cremation in the post-apocalyptic world. In seasons 1-3, it is opted as a mode for killing and disposing of the unknown living-dead.
More than mundane, however, disposal by fire is an active strategy of distinction between loved and individual deaths who are inhumed and those who are killed as ‘walkers’ or become them. This has elemental and spatial components, leading the ‘loved ones’ to graves with memorials that serve as foci for commemoration, and the burned dead as obliterated, fragmented and dispersed in anonymity.
Things shift subtly in two particular ways in Season 4 of the series, when Rick’s group are installed in the prison and fighting against both attacking zombies and a mystery flu-like virus that kills many of the community.
First, we identify the crude and partial application of fire by one unknown group member to the corpses of two individuals they have murdered. The motive is later explained as an attempt to curb the spread of the virus by killing those infected. The plan fails and Tyreese mourns and rages at Karen’s (one of the two victims) death.
Second, we have the horrific and necessarily casual mass burning of those of the group killed by the virus: despite being known individuals, their mode of death precludes their inhumation within the prison’s newly established communal cemetery. Instead, they are taken outside the prison compound by truck-and-trailer and burned collectively by Michonne and Hershel.
There is no indication that the exhausted characters conduct any ceremonies or words to accompany this process of disposal. Indeed, it is this plot device that leads to their capture by the returning Governor, bent on revenge against Rick and his group.