Mortuary and memorial practice is often regarded by archaeologists and anthropologists as a social good: a communal coming-to-terms with loss through a performative spatial and metaphorical journey for the soul, the body and survivors. Building shared memories and social bonds among the living, group cohesion is built for the benefit of the survivors through the mourning and honouring of those that have died.
In previous posts I’ve explored how the AMC series The Walking Dead shows how being human at the zombie apocalpyse involves negotiating funerary landscapes and creating new modes of mourning, mortuary material cultures, disposal methods and monuments. Dealing with the dead and mourning those lost is portrayed as a part of what makes people ‘human’, even when all else is lost. Those that fail to mourn, fail to survive.
Yet there is a dark flipside to this narrative, portrayed among the group at Terminus who in the past trusted strangers and paid the price in death, rape and torture. This traumatic experience was subsequently used to justify their adoption of cannibalism as they lure the living by radio messages and signposts to their doom.
There is a material component to this justification: a room dedicated to the memory of those who were slain.
We encounter this room twice. In Season 4, Rick’s group flee through their compound and encounter the large warehouse replete with candles lit fixed to walls and shelves, but also clustered in circles on the floor, both exposed and within lanterns and candelabra. Next to them are daubed the names of deceased individuals. On the walls in bold black are the words:
Never Again, Never Trust, We First Always
We meet this room again at the start of Season 5. Appropriately, this sick deployment of memorial culture is the location of Carol’s final encounter of the female ringleader of the group – Gareth’s mother – as she fights to free her friends.
It is a stark example that memories aren’t necessarily ‘good’ for us: memories can fuel evil and violence… This takes place where social cohesion and trust within the group completely overrides recognition of the humanity of others, who are reduced to a food source.