Exploring the representation of death in fictional worlds is, in my view, a useful exercise to shed light on attitudes and practices surrounding mortality, including burial and commemorative practices. In this regard, cenotaphic memorialisation in The Walking Dead is just as interesting from an archaeological perspective as the show’s portrayal of the burning and burial of the dead. We live in a cenotaphic culture with memorials widely occurring in, but also far removed from, burial grounds. Hence, it is appropriate that TWD attempt to portray dimensions of this in the fictional post-apocalyptic environment where being ‘dead’ might mean you burned or buried, or simply just taking a walk…
In Seasons 4 and 5 at Terminus, we encounter a post-apocalyptic community mobilised by mourning for lost loved ones. They are afforded a candle-lit room as a shrine, their names painted on walls and floors, providing the structure and legitimation for the group’s brutal acts of violence and cannibalism.
Elsewhere, on the road, the group encounter the names of lost loved ones, as occurs after a disaster when family members are lost. Yet the group themselves retain a focus on corporeal remembrance – burning and burying bodies.
This changes when the group get to Alexandria in Season 6. When the group have lost members outside the walls of Alexandria, we see their cemetery complemented by a cenotaphic memorial wall. At least 3 individuals are portrayed as actively involved in its painting. They daub it on the inside of the very structure – the metal corrugated wall of the community – that keeps them safe from the outside, that defines their community’s borders.
Underlined, the words ‘in our memory’ are painted high on the surface for all inside to see. Beneath, the names of those lost, presumed dead, or simply lost.
It is the focus of attention as a test of Maggie’s faith in Glen’s survival. She sees his name go up, but she rubs it clean, asserting her strongest wish for his survival outside the walls.
Subsequently we see the wall gain new names, but the question remains, with so much wall remaining unpainted, who will get their name added. Who will join the wall of memory? The open-ended nature of the memorial is its power and its curse…