Death in the AMC series The Walking Dead reveals much about the social dimensions to the materialities and spatialities of mortuary practices, past and present. I’m trying to work towards an ‘mortuary archaeology’ of the show through my commentaries. Check out my previous posts about Seasons 1-5 here.
Picking up where Season 5 left off, Rick and his group are in Alexandria and conflict has arisen with the occupants. Two men are killed, the innocent victim (Reg: Deanna’s husband) and his deranged killer: the latter slain in a moment of cruel judicial execution by Rick in front of the entire group. At that very moment, Morgan arrives at Alexandria.
Then we encounter Rick and Morgan talking when Rick sees movement by the fence and finds Father Gabriel and Tobin digging graves in Alexandria’s makeshift cemetery. Rick asks what they are doing. They explain they are digging graves and Rick says ‘we only need one’. Tobin replies that they have two men to bury. Rick says ‘we’re not going to bury killers inside these walls’. Tobin tells him he understands his feelings but that it is not his decision. Then Deanna – the leader of Alexandria intervenes.
“Take it away, go west down Branton Road a few miles. Just past the bridge. We don’t go out that way. Let the trees have him”.
Here we have the dead marking the spatial distinction between civilization and the wild. Killers go outside, receive oblivion in the woods, joining the infected and those outside of law and society and the walls of the community.
Meanwhile, the burial ground of the community is a microcosm of the pre-apocalypse order the community still aspires towards. Sandwiched next to the boundary, next to a house, it is carefully framed by trees – separate and yet integral to the community and within its defences. The church’s presence close by is evident, yet it is also separate from the pre-apocalypse place of worship – a building for which burials may not have ever taken place and which is presumably kept free of the dead.
When Rick and Morgan get to the place of burial, Rick suggests they leave the body without burying it. Yet Morgan says: ‘that’s not who you are’. Ron follows them, keen to found out where his father is to be buried.
Their choice to dispose of the body in a civilized fashion, albeit in the wilderness, therefore leads them to discovery the zombie horde trapped in the quarry. So the treatment of the dead defines the story and perpetuates the moral tensions over civilization. Indeed, before heading back to Alexandria, Morgan and Rick, despite the proximity of the horde, still stop to dig the grave…
The trees have him…
Again, in The Walking Dead, the dead tell their tales about society through the mode of their disposal and the materialities and locations of their consignment.
Trees – the wilderness – define the dead in the wild and those outside of society, but constitute the living as still part of society. In contrast, cemeteries are society.