By Justin Martin
*Warning: minor spoilers for Seasons 2, 4, 5, and 9.
“Why is he up there addressing the people like that?”
This was one of my first thoughts when I saw Siddiq on stage addressing the people of the kingdom (Season 9, Episode 15), arguably the most devastating loss among The Walking Dead (TWD) community of “good guys” since the show’s inception. I found it an odd choice to immediately follow the reveal of the identities of 10 heads on the pikes with a calm public address. But as I listened to the speech it became one of my favorite TWD scenes to date, up there with Carol finding Sophia in the barn (Season 2, Episode 7), Dale being outvoted and subsequently killed (Season 2, Episode 11), Rick’s “not too far gone” speech (Season 4, Episode 8), and Tyreese sparing Sasha the pain of killing Bob (Season 5, Episode 3).
In the brief essay below, I argue that the atrocities committed by the Whisperers and Siddiq’s public address in response to those atrocities contain parallels useful for understanding the death and resurrection of Christ from the perspective of Christ-followers. First, I will discuss the potential aims of the evil acts in TWD and of the crucifixion. Next, I will discuss the alternative narratives born out of those acts as well as their significance. The essay concludes with a few features of hope that I believe to be relevant to understanding both Siddiq’s address and the meaning of the resurrection for Christ-followers. As the ideas for this essay were formed on the heels of learning about the Sri Lanka bombings on Easter, my hope and prayer are for healing and restoration to all of those affected by such an evil act.
“What happened was evil, and I think she left me alive to tell you that story….”
The insistence of the Whisperers’ leader Alpha that Siddiq survive to tell the others what happened is consistent with a key feature of other public acts of evil throughout history. A few examples include crucifixions, lynchings during the Salem Witch Trials, the Holocaust, and southern whites’ lynchings of blacks in the 19thand 20thcenturies. Some common features—or at least intended aims—of these public acts include the installation of fear and the decimation of any and all sources of hope for a better way of life or a more humane way to relate to one another. Siddiq sums up these features when he tells the public that he thinks Alpha left him alive “to scare you and to drive us all apart again”.
These features or aims were also on display during the beatings and crucifixion of Christ, as there were many reasons why the religious authorities at that time wanted to make an example out of the carpenter’s son from Nazareth. Not only was He challenging their authority and some of their practices, but His gospel and interpretation of the messages of the prophets before him called for a radical alteration of our relationship to God and to each other. One could reasonably assume that there was a common belief amongst those religious authorities that crucifying Jesus would not only eliminate the threat to their authority in the present, but—through sowing fear, hopelessness, and discord amongst His followers—eliminate any possible challengers to their authority in the future.
For both the Whisperer attack and the crucifixion, then, there appeared to be the belief that the nature of the strike would scatter the sheep. But what happens when it doesn’t?
“But I want to tell you a different story.”
Instead of focusing on the details of the massacre, Siddiq decides to tell a different story. To be clear, it is not an imagined story, but one rooted in a different set of factual
details–details Siddiq believes suggest an altered understanding of the event as a whole, and by extension the world, others, and our relationships with one another. These details include (1) those captured (Siddiq and the others) being found by Ozzy, Alek, and DJ; (2) Ozzy and company sacrificing their lives in an effort to give those captured an opportunity to fight for their survival; and (3) those captured fighting for, defending, and sacrificing for each other. For Siddiq, the nature of sacrifice and cooperation displayed amongst the captured given the variability in relationship quality amongst them could not be overstated (“…and some of them, they didn’t even know each other but they still fought like they did…like they were family…till the very end.”).
The significance of Siddiq’s narrative pivot for our understanding of the Whisperers’ attack parallels the significance of the resurrection for understanding the faith of Christ followers. When I was younger, the holiday I associated with my faith the most was Christmas, the turning point in human history when God sent His son to earth in the form of an unborn child. Christ followers believe that Mary’s pregnancy and subsequent birth confirmed many prophecies about or relating to the life of Jesus in the Old Testament (e.g., 7 Samuel 7:12-13; Isaiah 7:14; Hosea 11:1; Micah 5:2). However, as I have gotten older, I have come to realize that while His birth was indeed important, my faith hinges upon His resurrection. It’s the difference between His message being one of a socio-political movement and being the gospel and between believing that this world is all there is to offer and believing that we are but passengers occupying a temporary home.
Moreover, whereas Abraham serves as a key figure in uniting the world’s three major religions (Islam, Judaism, and Christianity), Jesus—and particularly whether or not one believes in His resurrection—serves as a point of departure amongst these religions. Similar to Siddiq’s choice to focus on a different narrative, the resurrection served as an alternative narrative (compared to the death narrative of the crucifixion) encouraging us to rethink our understanding of the world, each other, and our relationships with one another. The significance of the resurrection for these understandings is further underscored by Jesus’ countercultural teachings on how we should treat our friends (John 15:13), strangers (Hebrews 13:2),and enemies (Luke 6:32; Matthew 5:46-47). Also similar to Siddiq, Christ followers believe that the alternative narrative of the resurrection is rooted in details about actual events.
Hope: The story within the story
In sum, I argue that on a general level, there are some parallels between the narrative Siddiq tells the community following the Whisperers attack, and the narrative represented by Christ’s resurrection. In both, narratives of hope offer alternative understandings of the world, each other, and our relationships. They also invite us to engage in a different set of relations with regards to (1) the features of the events we experience as well as (2) with one another. For instance, whereas Siddiq’s narrative invites an understanding of the captives not as a collection of helpless individuals but as a courageous, other-oriented family, the resurrection similarly invites an understanding of Christ and his followers not as a collection of helpless individuals, but instead a family of change-agents for the world. Although Siddiq’s narrative focuses on fighting/survival and resurrection narrative is about—among other things—living out and spreading the gospel, they both speak to the power of identifying a hopeful story within an otherwise tragic one.
Justin Martin, Ph.D., is a professor of Psychology at Whitworth University where he teach courses in Developmental Psychology, Moral Development, Psychological Statistics, Research Methods, and Senior Thesis. His research interests are in social and moral development, specifically with regards to the ways we attempt to understand the socio-moral decisions of both other people and superheroes.