Tonight, Easter Sunday 2013, brings an interesting nexus of television trends. AMC’s “Walking Dead” Season 3 comes to an end at the same times a the History Channel’s miniseries “The Bible” comes to an end. Which one will get the most viewers? And what does that mean about our culture today?
The distinction couldn’t be more stark:
The story of the “The Bible,” of course, is the story about the presence of God among mortals, and culminates in the promise of glorious after-life in heaven, a defeat of death that is led by the resurrection of Jesus.
The story of “The Walking Dead,” on the other hand, is the story about the presence of mindless evil among mortals, the ever-present struggle against an overwhelming horde of people — including loved ones — who have become so defeated by death that they’ve been reanimated in a perversion of the resurrection so that they don’t seek people to join in a glorious after-life in heaven; rather, they hunger for living flesh and seek to make others like them: endlessly stuck in a state of living dead here on earth.
What’s interesting is that even though “The Walking Dead” consistently ranks as the top cable TV show, with about 11 million viewers, “The Bible” has been ranked No. 2, with about 500,000 fewer viewers.
A recent news report said that Clemson University professor Sarah Lauro has found that zombies become more popular at times of unhappiness, cultural dissatisfaction and economic upheaval. So that could explain the popularity of “The Walking Dead,” but does that explain the almost-equal popularity of what could be seen as a more hopeful story of “The Bible”?
I asked readers on the Albany Times Union Facebook page which they would watch, and people were equally passionate about “The Bible” and “The Walking Dead” (and some were watching both through the magic of DVRs).
Here are some people’s comments:
- Don Rittner said, “The Bible is an attempt to create a tale showing the evolution of humanity striving to find its way to salvation. The Walking Dead shows how society really reacts when presented with its own evil.”
- Rich LaPointe said, “Walking Dead. The Bible is almost as realistic, but a little more far-fetched.”
- Kelley Qua Wallace said, “Not too impressed with the Bible series. Not as good as The Book.”
- Nikki Mcdonnell said, “The Bible. Who the hell likes zombies.”
- Collin Martino said, “Tough call, they both have zombies…”
Though Martino may be joking, and despite Rittner’s astute’s comment, the shows do share a few things. One of them is the Golden Rule of loving they neighbor as thyself, which is one of Jesus’ teachings but it also how audience members judge the humanity (or inhumanity) of “Walking Dead” characters, who either trust and help strangers, or distrust them and leave them to struggle on their own. Or, sometimes, just out and out kill other living people because they are so afraid they have lost their humanity.
The two shows also show, to quote Rittner, “humanity striving to find its way to salvation.” In one, that way is found through God; in the other, through man. For audiences, though, the shared feeling is one of hope beyond the despair of death. So in the TV battle between “The Bible” and “The Walking Dead,” the clear winner is hope.
Of course, Sunday also brings the start of Season 3 of “Game of Thrones,” whose tagline is the rather gloomy, “Winter is coming,” which might through a wrench into that “hope” theory.