For a gory, horror TV show about the zombie apocalypse, the over-arching message of “The Walking Dead” is surprisingly hopeful. And no character embodies that message more than Tyreese (Chad Coleman), who (spoiler alert!) sadly is also the most recently deceased.
In case you’ve never seen the show, the narrative follows a group of people who band together in an effort to survive—and more importantly, live—in a post-apocalyptic world filled with flesh-eating zombies (“walkers”) and dangerous people. (It may sound ridiculous, but give it a chance. It is actually a very compelling show.) There is a recurring theme throughout the five seasons of the show: just when you think the group has found a safe place to live, disaster strikes and they once more become wanderers in a harsh world. So why do I call it hopeful?
Tyreese is my favorite character in the show. He’s a physically big guy who is seen by some as weak for his gentleness and kindness. To be honest, these traits do make him weak in a certain way. For several episodes, Tyreese risked his life caring for a defenseless baby. At another point, he painfully forgave the woman who killed his girlfriend.
Why does he choose to do these things when any showing of weakness or vulnerability could lead to his death? Because he understands a few important things about life:
Never Give Up
Several episodes ago, Tyreese tells his sister Sasha, “We haven’t changed.” Living in a dangerous world where hope after hope is dashed, and friend after friend is killed, Tyreese still manages to cling to his core beliefs. The world is literally falling apart, but he doesn’t let that darkness overcome him or change him. Over and over again, he refuses to sacrifice his humanity, even in the face of death.
We fortunately do not live in a post-apocalyptic wasteland. And yet, we do find ourselves in a broken world—in a sort of exile—where our hopes are constantly dashed and real progress often seems unattainable. Tyreese teaches us that when our faithful work of restoration—of being truly human, seems to fail time and time again, we still have good reason to keep it up. Why? Because it’s simply the right thing to do. This is true in the most extreme of circumstances: if we find ourselves in the midst of a horrible war. But it is also true in everyday life: when we are raising or mentoring a teenager who seems destined for failure in life, despite our best efforts. No matter how far gone the world seems, we should never give up on truth or love.
In last Sunday’s episode, another character, Noah, discovers that the rest of his family is dead. He breaks down in tears and falls to the ground. “This isn’t the end,” Tyreese ensures him—preaching exactly what he has practiced in his life.
Are We Living or Surviving?
“This isn’t the end,” ended up being an ironic statement. Later in the episode, Tyreese is bit by a “walker” as he stares at childhood pictures of Noah and his deceased brother—a fitting, very human way for him to go. While he slowly dies, he has hallucinations of friends and enemies. He is mocked by his enemies for not being strong enough, for being too compassionate. “It was gonna be you. You’re the kind of guy who saves babies,” says one of the hallucinations. Tyreese responds, “I know who I am. I know what happened, and what’s going on… and it’s not over. I forgave [Carol] because it’s not over… I kept listening to the news, so I could do what I could do to help. I’m not giving up, you hear me? I’m not giving up. People like me—they can live. Ain’t nobody gotta die today.”
[pq]Living—truly living—is much more than surviving.[/pq]
Of course, he does die. But at the same time, he was more living in his death than some of his enemies were in their lives (if that makes sense). As I alluded to before, living—truly living—is much more than surviving. True living means being human in the fullest sense: loving, hoping, having lasting convictions… In that way, perhaps the name of the show has a double meaning: some of the “living” people are actually dead in this sense. They may be walking, surviving, but the things that truly make them human are long gone.
In what way is each of us living? Are we merely surviving, or are we thriving as the human beings that we were created to be? This is an important thing to consider from time to time.
As Tyreese is buried, the Reverend (a member of the group) recites a version of 2 Corinthians 4:18: “So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.” Our lives on earth are short, but what we do here and the principles that guide those actions are eternal.
So, follow Tyreese’s lead. Never give up. And don’t settle for surviving. May we all truly and hopefully live.