Nothing really prepares you for experiencing loss, like actually experiencing loss.
Perhaps that’s why the Alexandrians were so unprepared for what hit them this week. So was I just a couple years ago (more on that in a minute).
Okay, I know that this is only my second time writing for this column, but I have to say that this episode tonight was one of my favorite episodes of the entire series. Yes, we’ve already seen countless amazing episodes in the six seasons of this show, but I really do think this one is among the best. It might even be as good as one of the Frank Darabont episodes from the first season… and that is saying a lot. I might even like this one as much as my previously favorite episode, Pretty Much Dead Already (the one in season 2 where zombie Sophia walks out of the barn).
There are just so many memorable things about this episode. I guarantee you that you will still remember the scene with Enid and the turtle a year from now. Turtle lovers now have another show to put on their hate list right next to Breaking Bad. Even Daryl, at least, takes the time to cook his roadkill.
This episode was almost perfectly executed by director Jennifer Lynch (David Lynch’s daughter). We get to see the mysterious wolves attack Alexandria in full force, and even explain a little bit about their motivation – “We’re freeing you. You’re trapped. You need to know, people don’t belong here anymore.” We are shown a little more about Enid’s past and how she survived in the woods by herself. And we are finally given a generous portion of awesomeness when Carol finally goes into full Ninja mode and reminds us why we love her so much.
The episode title, J.S.S., is an acronym that Enid writes down when she is in trouble, but director Lynch chooses to weave it through the episode mysteriously until it is revealed at the end to mean “Just Survive Somehow”. This is Enid’s way of helping her to focus during dangerous situations. The episode has almost everything that that we look for in a The Walking Dead episode, even without Rick, Daryl, Abraham, Glenn and Michonne (hear that Fear the Walking Dead?).
Probably the most talked about part of the show is going to be Carol’s awesome Ninja skills put on full display for us. When I say Ninja, I don’t mean the 80’s action icons dressed in all black played by Chuck Norris or Michael Dudikoff. I mean the Ninjas of Japanese legend who would dress up as farmers and kill unsuspecting samurai with gardening tools. Carol has been hiding out as Betty Crocker for quite a while now, but the second that the wolves kill poor unsuspecting Mrs. Neudermeyer, Carol springs into action. She immediately disguises herself as a Wolf named Aphid (by killing him and taking his wolf burka) and just starts taking out wolves mercilessly. In the middle of the action, she even mercy kills one of her neighbors whom she probably had borrowed a cup of sugar from the day before. One of the more intriguing moments is when she sees a zombie attacking Father Gabriel and she doesn’t even hesitate to just ignore the situation and keep stalking wolves.
But one of the most noteworthy parts of this whole thing is the fact that most of the witnesses of her rampage are dead now (or they were already in on the secret). None of us will be surprised if she turns back into Martha Stewart next week.
There are so many themes explored in this week’s episode that it is hard to focus on just one. We observed the fear and cowardice of the Alexandrians in contrast to the bravery and outright competence of Rick’s crew. There is also the struggle to retain their sense of humanity, best demonstrated by Morgan who tries to not kill the wolves with his trusty shaolin warrior staff.
But probably the most interesting theme to me in this episode is about the question of loss and the various ways that people are dealing with it. Let’s face it, Rick and his crew have all experienced a ton of loss. Think of all of the beloved characters who are no longer with us (Dale, Lori, Sophia, T-Dog, Andrea, Hershel, Tyreese, Noah, etc.) This is in stark contrast to those from Alexandria who have experienced very little loss until literally the week that the wolves attack. Remember that Deanna’s husband was only killed several days before this episode in our timeline. Before that, Alexandrians lived a relatively peaceful existence with only the sporadic accident resulting in a death (usually caused by a very stupid mistake). Loss is something that the Alexandrians are not all that used to up to this point. The beanie-headed punk Ron has no idea how to deal with the fact that his abusive father was put down by Rick. His reaction right now just seems to be anger at Rick – a very dangerous emotion in this universe.
Alexandria’s days were numbered and everyone knew it except for the Alexandrians. Even Enid, who watched the loss of her parents first hand, knows well enough to keep all of the keys in Alexandria on her person when everything goes bad.
And everything does go bad. There is no question that after this wolf attack, the people of this facade of a town are going to experience an abundance of loss. Rick and the crew have tried to prepare them, but nothing really prepares you for loss like actually experiencing losses.
Early in the episode Carol sees Pete’s son Sam sitting on the porch trying to deal with his very complicated situation. Carol tells him, “Your Dad used to hit you and then he got himself killed. It happened. Now it’s done. You live with it or it eats you up.” This is Carol’s formula for dealing with loss—deal with it or die. Enid on the other hand, uses a strange focusing technique. She writes the acronym for “Just Survive Somehow” in front of her as a reminder of exactly how she needs to make it through the situation, even when walkers are eating her parents in front of her eyes. Morgan, deals with loss with his newfound zen attitude that he reveals comes from “the cheesemaker” (I couldn’t help think of Monty Python).
The problem here, as we pointed out last week, is that we don’t get to see anyone who has a sincere faith in their world. The only religious figure on the show right now, father Gabriel, is in a full existential crisis, so he is not going to be much help. Plus, he is too busy learning how to fight from the teenage warrior Carl. We also found out tonight that they are planning on fixing up the church, but Eugene wants to turn it into a killer game room (my G rated edit here). So unfortunately I don’t think that most of the strategies that the characters on the show use are going to rely on the comfort of a loving God who can offer immense consolation in the midst of chaos.
I am a pastor who often has to be with people during times of horrible loss. Usually, people employ the strategies that you see on the show: denial, anger, frustration and eventually just trying to ignore it. Spiritually, many people get angry at God. Some choose not to believe that a good God can allow these things to happen. Others, can’t accept that there is a God at all. This seems to be the predominant attitude from most of our characters on the show. Others just bottle their feelings up and try not to deal with them at all. Here the result is usually disastrous. But, with most of these people I try a different approach. I look to the scriptures.
Psalm offers some encouragement I love to turn to in times of deep sorrow. Here I turn to Psalm 46 verses 1-3. It says,
God is our refuge and strength,
an ever-present help in trouble.
2 Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way
and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea,
3 though its waters roar and foam
and the mountains quake with their surging.
We don’t know who the author of this Psalm is. We do know that the author is clearly dealing with some type of suffering and he certainly could have blamed God for his problems. ut the author takes a different approach here. He says that God is a “refuge and strength” and an “ever-present help” when there is trouble. Also, the trouble that the author describes sounds apocalyptic when he paints a picture of mountains trembling and falling into the sea. I don’t believe that apocalypse is what the author is worried about, but he is clearly stating that the size of our problems don’t matter. No matter how big our problems are, God has, and always will be there to comfort us. This is the thing that most people forget. The bible doesn’t teach us that our life will be perfect. As a matter of fact, most of the characters in the bible suffer quite a lot. David, the author of many of the Psalms would continue to suffer many times in his life even though he was anointed by God and would become Israel’s king. And let’s not even get started talking about Job’s problems. He could give any character from The Walking Dead a run for their money when it comes to suffering. Even God’s own son Jesus, died a horrible death in order to literally save the world. But the encouraging words that the scriptures give us here are that God is a critical resource to us during these times of horrible loss.
I happen to know loss first hand. My wife’s younger brother was killed violently several years ago and we went through a lot of the emotions that you see on the show. We were angry. We were confused. We were frustrated. We cried a whole lot. But one thing that we didn’t do was ignore the greatest resource that we had to help us deal with this terrible loss.
When I read the words in this Psalm, I know firsthand that what he is saying is true. Our greatest resource is a God who created us, loves us and was willing to sacrifice His son in order to save us. The greatest way to deal with loss is to rely on our greatest “refuge and strength” in the time of suffering—Jesus Christ. This is what is missing on the show, and unfortunately, this is what is missing for so many people who are suffering terrible loss. I honestly don’t know how I would be able to go through these kinds of trials without God, the author of peace and comfort.
If anyone has any stories about how God can help us during times of loss, I encourage you to share them via the comments/discussion boards below. I would love to hear your stories and discuss them with you there.
SEASON 6, EPISODE 2 DISCUSSION QUESTIONS:
1) Enid’s strategy during tough times is to focus on the statement “Just Survive Somehow.” Is this an effective strategy? Explain.
2) Is survival the primary concern for followers of Jesus? What is?
3) Morgan is desperately trying to retain his humanity in the midst of chaos and death. In what ways are his strategies good?
4) What does Morgan seem to be missing out on that the scriptures tell us to do?
5) Does God allow us to go through any type of suffering that He just doesn’t understand?
6) Does the bible teach us that we won’t have to suffer in this life?
7) Share a time in your life where God seemed to just wrap His love around you and comfort you in the midst of suffering.
8) What comfort can you cling to from the passage above during tough times in your future?
Thom McKee Jr. is a husband, father, pastor… and film geek (and brother of Jonathan McKee). Thom lives in Northern California with his wife and two kids.