Television dramas repeatedly show characters gazing at and curating photographs of loved ones. In The Walking Dead, the indicator to Rick Grimes that his wife and child must be still alive is testified by the fact that the family photographs are missing from their house when he emerges from the hospital to find the dead walk the earth and civilization has ‘gone south’. but our televisual contemporary worlds of fiction also reveal other material cultures invested with personalities. With the collapse of our world, personal affects endure and adapt as mnemonics of people after their death – some are placed on their graves as with Tyrees’s signature beanie hat in Season 5. Others are kept and curated as mementos and talismans, most notably Rick’s hat, which becomes his son Carl’s, and then his daughter Judith’s. The most anthropomorphised artefact in the show is a dark and dangerous one: ‘Lucille’, Negan’s barbed-wire covered baseball (‘vampire’) bat (this artefact with a personality is a fascinating phenomenon I’ve yet to discuss for the comic books, and I’m keen to see how it is handled in season 10 and 11 (if at all) of the television show).

I pick upon this theme by returning to the material cultures and mortuary archaeology of the AMC television spin-off series Fear the Walking Dead for its third season. Note: for my earliest posts on seasons 1 and 2, click here.

Unquestionably, this is the bleakest about most socially conscious series of any of The Walking Dead series to date, in which social and ethnic inequalities are centre stage in the conflicts over access to water in Tijuana and in the conflict over the Otto’s farm with native Americans. Here, we find another cherished item of material culture given special treatment following the apocalypse. However, rather than a personal portable item, the inanimate object is a seaworthy motor-powered luxury yacht. Moreover, the yacht is not only cherished in use in Season 2, but given a funeral to honour its namesake in Season 3.

Having been ejected from the hotel, Victor Strand heads north by car to the dam in Tijuana hoping to ingratiate himself with a former corrupt colleague who has taken control of the dam: Dante. However, he is imprisoned, only freed by his erstwhile rival Daniel Salazar. Victor lies, promising that Daniel’s daughter, Ofelia, is safe and waiting for him back at the seaside hotel complex when he knows she left soon after their group had arrived at the hotel. Once freed by Daniel, they both drive south to find Ofelia. However, when they reach the hotel, it is discovered overrun by the walking dead. While Victor had lied, he had hoped to find a community still extant and presumably hoped to talk his way back into their good books. However, Daniel now believes Victor knew the community was overrun and abandons him there. Victor narrowly escapes the walkers and heads on foot back up the coast.

In doing so, he comes across the luxury yacht, Abigail, wrecked on the coast: this was the boat they had escaped from LA with and, via the Cataline Islands, had reached Baja California. The boat was named after Victor’s business partner and lover, Thomas Abigail. Victor goes aboard, gathers weapons, and slays the walkers on board. These are the undead remains of Mexican border guards and prostitutes who had taken over the vessel when the Manawas, Clarks and Salazars had broken through the border blockade with Victor in Season 2 (the circumstances of their death is left unexplored). Victor finds himself temporarily back on his boat and secure in the lap of luxury but with no food and only champagne to drink. He is alone, still mourning Thomas’s death and with nowhere to go.

The turning point for Victor is via the boat’s radio. He picks up the signal of a Russian cosmonaut who is circling the Earth, aware he is trapped in his tomb awaiting a lonely death in space, unable to get home. They share a brief exchange about death and share a drink together: Victor is therefore the only mourner to the cosmonaut’s end. Yet Victor is not just a mourner, for the cosmonaut’s situation is similar to his own: aboard a wrecked boat with limited supplies. He knows he must leave and so he affords the boat a final farewell by emptying alcohol over the boat and setting it alight. There is no ceremony, but he stands to reflect on the burning boat as the flames jump higher. He then leaves with supplies onto the beach.

The scene is one of seemingly wanton destruction of property in a world where material wealth has no longer a value or significance. But unlike when Alicia and Chris smash up an abandoned property in TWD season 1, or when Daryl and Beth burn a cabinet down in TWD Season 5, this isn’t a defiance of a past from before the apocalypse. Instead, it is a second funeral for Thomas Abigail who had died in Season 2 and with whom Victor had initially agreed to die with too in order to be with him. While others performed dialogues with the spirits of the dead, Victor is a nihilist and his mourning of Thomas focuses on material possessions and his physical loss. By burning the Abigail, Victor is therefore not only burning his past and his gratuitous and amoral quest for material possessions. Via the medium of this obscene luxury, he is actually performing a final farewell via cremation-on-water to the one person he truly loved and whose grave he had dug himself at their villa.

Yet, has Victor Strand yet learned to turn his back on the quest for luxury over all else?

This cenotaphic boat-burning, specifically of a vessel named after the mourned individual, is yet another instance of a ‘Viking funeral’ in our media – part prosaic, part performative – in which the dead are exorcised by fire.