I think about a world to come where the books were found by the golden ones, written in pain, written in awe by a puzzled man who questioned, "What are we here for?" All the strangers came today and it looks as though they're here to stay.

-David Bowie "Oh! You Pretty Things"

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Heaven and Hell Are For the Dead

A Review of The Walking Dead #2

The story of Rick Grimes is a series of reversals, a fact that is just as true in the second issue as it is throughout all of The Walking Dead. Alone and surrounded by the dead, sometimes animate and sometimes put to rest by bullets to the brain, Rick's entry into Georgia and its "Southern Hospitality" feels like an entry into the afterlife. This is amplified by the fact that the first and last word of dialogue are both "God." At the beginning, Rick curses this life after death, saying "God Dammit! Not again!!" when he finds another gas station void of gas. By the end, Rick says "Thank God," as he embraces the family that he has been searching for. You could say that Rick experiences both heaven and hell.

Thank goodness Rick talks to himself. Since
thought bubbles are no longer in style, much
of this issue would have otherwise been as
word-free as the beginning of Kubrick's 2001.
The metaphors for heaven and hell are ample. The first panel shows Rick driving in the darkness and the last shows Rick in a community by day. He mourns for a dead family after seeing the destruction of Atlanta only to praise their life when Glenn's suggestion of hope is fulfilled. Perhaps the most telling example of heaven and hell is that of Rick's loneliness and his ascent into community. I've heard just as many people say, "Hell is being alone," as "hell is other people," but for many cultures it is alienation that breeds evil and sin and hell while community provides good and love and heaven. For many religious persons, hell is the absence of God. This hell as defined by negation is popular with some of the more philosophic Christians, people who are trying to answer some of the problems left over from the omnipresent, omnipotent, completely good nature of God running into the presence of suffering and the reality of hell. Though Rick Grimes experiences some good moments, meeting a horse and recounting his favorite moment, it is clear that this is Rick's hell, a world where the ones he loves are absent.

It is a gruesome hell. Those who have passed are eternally dead, always and only experiencing death. They are granted a second life, but it is no life worthy of the word. These "zombies," as they are named for the first time by guardian angel Glenn, bring their "bad word" of death to anyone they encounter. When Rick ventures into what he assumes to be a government protected zone in Atlanta, he is surrounded by the undead and they feast on his horse alive. Certainly, the horse would have died of starvation, dehydration or exposure if Rick hadn't freed it, but the nameless beast didn't even enjoy the dignified end that Rick gave the unnamed zombie at the end of the first issue when he shot it in the head. Rick's bullets were reserved for the shamblers closing in on him.

Since so many stories these days are based on the Odyssey, one would assume that The Walking Dead would be much like Gilligan's Island. Much like the crew of The Minnow was always coming close to rescue only to find themselves back on the island, Rick Grimes would keep getting closer and closer to his family only to miss out on them once again. Perhaps he would walk by them while they are hiding in the trunk of a car, or he would rush toward them as they are pushed into a helicopter that he is too late to get to. In reality, Robert Kirkman reunites Rick's Odysseus with his Penelope and Telemachus - Lori and Carl - immediately, tearing them apart in the first issue and putting them back together in issue two. Kirkman is setting up for a long, drawn-out drama, in which we see the metaphorical innards of the characters just as we saw the literal innards of Rick's horse. (Keep in mind that Rick got pretty deep in his conversation with the horse, almost disturbingly so, while he believed he was alone in this world, because this theme will certainly pop up again.)

Let's not forget the words of the street-savvy Glenn when he said, "Don't give up hope, man..." After all, Rick, Lori and Carl are united and part of a group of survivors, and the thing about survivors is that they are all alive. They aren't on the ground because of bullets or on the streets because of a mysterious reanimating force. Rick's reunion with the human race makes it clear that this world is for the living, while heaven and hell are for the dead.

You'd think somebody would get some spray paint and ominously write that Georgia is the home to
Southern inhospitality. I guess those rascally teens must have had something else on their minds.

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