In The Walking Dead Season 5, Rick’s group moves on from the destruction of Terminus and the defeat of its cannibals. They find St Sarah’s church and enigmatic and troubled Father Gabriel Stokes. After dealing with the dregs of the cannibals and mourning Bob’s death, there is a protracted encounter with a group in Atlanta involving the kidnapping and death of Beth. Subsequently, they head north in search of a potential sanctuary.
Episode 9 is a self-contained funerary episode, framing the death of one of the lead characters as they seek a new home for the group in Virginia. However, rather than a fresh start, there is a fresh death. As Tyrees tragically dies from his zombie-bite, he is haunted by apparitions of those whom he loved and has lost during his travels, and those whom he fought: the Governor among them. This is the most spiritual episode yet of The Walking Dead.
Once dead, the funerary tradition of Rick’s group is perpetuated: Tyrees is inhumed, contrasting with the open-air petrol-igniting cremations afforded to ‘walkers’. Tyrees’s funeral and grave frames the episode and only snippets are shown. It first appearing at the opening of Episode 9 where it isn’t clear whose funeral it is we are seeing, it might have been Beth’s from the previous episode. His demise unfolds during the episode’s story, and his funeral then concludes the proceedings.
The grave is beneath willow trees, next to farmland. This is the near-exact spatial positioning to the cairn raised for Otis and the graves dug at Hershel’s farm. Father Gabriel presides over the funeral, but takes a passive role, seemingly letting the group direct their own mourning.
As portrayed in Season 2, the group share in the completion of the grave. Rather than stones augmenting the grave, here we see the shared rite of adding soil to the grave with a short-handled shovel.
And again, those closest are afforded the final goodbye: a standard trope of television funerals. So Sasha, Tyrees’s brother, picks up the shovel and adds her final contribution to the grave. Again, the practical act of participation in the final stages of the grave’s composition is portrayed as a key moment of saying a final farewell to the deceased.
Put this story together, inhumation is stylised as an ideal: integrating the dead with the landscape: a foil to the horrors of the shambling cadavers of the walking dead who are afforded cremation and the counter-funerals afforded to the dead at Woodbury and Terminus. Moreover, the grave contains the cadaver but also frames the identity of the dead person: Tyrees’s wollen hat is placed upon the cross just as glasses and other personal items were added to graves in Season 4.
So in Season 5 we see the perpetuation and translation of the funerary practices conducted at Hershel’s farm (Season 2) and the Correctional Facility (Seasons 3 and 4) to the group’s subsequent destinations.
The group travel on, and the dead walk with them through their tradition of inhumation…