The Walking Dead: Enduring Till The End
The Walking Dead finally got its double tap in the medium of comics, and it's shocking ending was a powerful statement. I originally started the series with the first omnibus (issue 48) a few months before the show originally began. I was interested in the comic because Frank Darabont, who directed Shawshank Redemption, was going to be making the show, and I wanted to start with some knowledge.
The book originally was just going to be research, but then it quickly became a story I truly loved. From that point on, I continually read the books and watched the series faithfully.
Well, right up until late fall of 2018.
I had been reading the books and watching the show for so long, and I started to feel like it wasn’t going anywhere. The books felt like it was living in a repetitious cycle of, “Hey look, a new civilization!” to “Hey look, we should be the leaders!” to “Hey look, we ruined everything!” It felt like for years now, that’s all the book had been establishing, and the show (for the most part) was just a recycled reinterpreting of what the book was conveying.
When season 9 of the show premiered, I was growing tired of putting time into watching, and then when I got to issue 185 of the comics, I decided wholeheartedly that I was done. I had given, time, attention, and finances to this story for years, and it just felt like it wasn’t going to pay off. So, I quit. At the very earliest I figured they would trudge through the books for another year and a half so they could hit the milestone 200th issue and bow out, and at that point I could pick up the graphic novels on sale somewhere to catch up.
I had made it through 8 seasons and 185 episodes of a story, and quit. I wasn’t the only one to do so either. Readers of the comic were decreasing, and the show's ratings were falling as well. It’s not that it was ever terrible; I think people were just losing faith that it would be worth the journey, much like the survivors in the story itself.
Then on a Tuesday midsummer afternoon, buzz starts hitting the internet about the comic. (Being friends with people that run comic book shops made my Facebook newsfeed a little more interesting than the average geek.) A couple hours later it was confirmed – the book was over. Issue 193 was going to be the final issue. No one was prepared, and the books sold out instantly the next day.
I was honestly disappointed in myself. I had put years into reading this story, and invested $500 into it financially. (By the way, you never want to actually calculate how much money you spend on comic books; it’s frightening.) I had invested so much into it and quit just 8 issues before it was over. When I was annoyed and frustrated with the story, if someone would have told me to just hang on because there’s only 8 issues left, I would have. I had no idea the finish line was so close, and I gave up. What makes it even more disappointing is that it actually ended really well. In one section of the finale, Carl Grimes is reading the story of his father’s heroism to his daughter, and it reads:
“Nobody knew what was happening, or why...but life changed. Everyone was tested. That’s why this time came to be called ‘The Trials.’ ...It was a scary time, and many good, strong people lost themselves along the way. They started to forget who they were. They even started to forget what was good and bad. A great darkness fell across the whole world. It made everyone sad. People didn’t know if things would ever get back to normal. Most people were sure it never would, and they got sadder, and meaner.”
Me giving up on comic book about zombies really isn’t a tragedy, but sometimes we get so exhausted and overwhelmed that we give up on things that actually do matter. Sometimes hope seems like such a foreign concept and that giving up feels like the only viable option.
Let me tell you this. Don’t give up.
Don’t give up on your goals, on your hopes, on your relationships, on God, and please hear me, don’t give up on yourself. You may be in a place where you are so ready to just quit. Don’t.
I gave up too soon, I was so close to the end of the story and I couldn’t even see it. As Carl reads the story to his daughter, we find out that all Rick’s struggles and trials were worth it in the end. Everything he went through eventually paid off. Society was healed, the world restored, and peace and civilization were functioning realities once again. It was all because Rick didn’t give up, even when I wanted him to. This is what scripture teaches us as well.
“But as for you, be strong and do not give up, for your work will be rewarded.” - 2 Chronicles 15:7.
“Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.” - Galatians 6:9
The Galatians verse states that we shouldn’t grow weary in doing good. If you are doing good, don’t give up (side note: if you are doing evil, you can go ahead and give that up). One of difficulties in this is that often, we don’t feel like we are doing good. Even though we may be doing amazing things, we aren’t getting the affirmation or encouragement we need in the process. We can feel like no matter what we do it doesn’t matter, and we might as well give up.
That’s the hard part of living out your own story instead of observing others. You are always in the middle. You can’t see the outcome or even the whole picture. But if you believed in what you were doing enough to start, keep going. If you believe you can stand before God with a clear heart, keep going. If you know what you are doing isn’t something that goes against who He is, and who He calls you to be, keep going.
Rick died a seemingly senseless death in the end. He survived wars and the plague of undead only to get shot over some petty domestic stuff while sitting in bed. He never saw the full outcome of his efforts, but he believed in his vision and hope enough to endure the struggle. In the end, it was worth it. Carl continues to read to his daughter about his father’s vision:
“Rick Grimes had an idea. He knew that if we stayed together and made friends instead of enemies, we could do anything. Even remake the world. He made friends and lost friends as he moved across the country. He met people he thought would be friends, but they turned out to be bad. He sometimes had to hurt the bad people to protect his friends. Sometimes he was scared that he was becoming a bad person. But he never did. He even met bad people and turned them into friends. Rick traveled far and wide, always bringing his friends with him, and they made him stronger. They made him safe. And he taught people how to make friends and use them to make them stronger and safer. The trials made people so angry that some of them just wanted to fight, but Rick knew this was wrong. He showed them how to be friends instead. The trials were dangerous times, and even Rick didn’t survive them. But he was able to show us the way.”
When you read Carl’s kid book version of the adventures of Rick Grimes, it all seems so peaceful. It seems peaceful because Carl was reading it from a place of peace. It didn’t seem peaceful to Rick, because Rick was in the midst of the struggle. The struggle was worth it, but it’s hard to see the peaceful outcome when you are knee deep in disappointment (or the undead). Whatever you are going through now, you will be able to look back on one day and see the warm fuzzy version of the hard times. Just don’t give up.
The above-mentioned Galatians 6:9 is such a powerful verse. We may oftentimes glance over it as a stitched-pillow depth verse, but there is truth and promise in it. Depending on your translation of choice it reads like this:
“Proper time.” “Just the right time.” “In due season.” “In due time.” “When the time is right.” “The time will come.”
It’s indicative that the right time is coming, but we can’t predict it or manufacture it. We can’t schedule the time when things will work out. Our only responsibility and frankly, our only option, is to keep doing the good we are called to do. Doing good doesn’t expedite or fast track the outcome, but it is the conditional statement to everything working out in the right time.
When we grow weary and give up, we effectively disqualify ourselves of the outcome of the good work we have done. It boils down to the question of do you trust God enough to believe that proper time is coming even when you can’t see it? He wouldn’t have warned us not to grow weary in doing good if He wasn’t fully aware it was a natural occurrence. He instead asks us to trust Him to bring things to fruition and to respond to our weariness with perseverance.
Rick was constantly weary, but he pressed on. He didn’t know when peace was coming, but he did the work believing for the outcome. His due season came.
I’ve felt the weariness so often, even when I believed in what I was doing. I started Faith & Fandom in 2013, and I’ve wanted to quit so often. The books had been successful, and I’d received praise and acclamation for them. It had been steadily growing, and God was doing powerful things, but on paper it wouldn’t be qualified as success. The amount of money my family invested definitely was a loss comparatively, and at the end of the day my local library still wouldn’t carry my books.
In reality, I never had an endgame or goal for Faith & Fandom other that helping geeky people draw closer to God, but like my time with reading The Walking Dead, I wasn’t seeing progression. Then, out of what felt like nowhere, San Diego happened. My friends over at Geeky Guys & Gals 4 God in California saw it fit to bring me in on the work they were already doing at San Diego Comic Con International.
San Diego is literally the big time. It’s the biggest goal I could ever shoot for, and honestly one I never thought could happen. They managed to get me on 3 panels, and I was brought into the biggest convention in the world as a professional (it even said so on the badge). That was a due season situation. That was a proper time moment. If I had tried to make that happen on my own, it wouldn’t have worked in the slightest. If you had told me in year 2 that I’d be at San Diego by year 7, I’d think you were nuts. Honestly, if you told me in year 7 that I’d be at San Diego in year 7, I’d think you were nuts. But God knew when the proper time was, and He just asked me to not grow weary in doing good and to keep going. He wants the same thing for you. You literally can’t predict or discern when God is going to do something. It’s just a matter if you can trust Him. Many Walking Dead readers blindly trusted Robert Kirkman. He earned their trust by making a consistent storyline and one of the most impactful stories of the modern comic book history. He knew he was going to end his story with issue 193, but didn’t want the world to know it.
When you announce a comic book is ending, or a special event happening, the collecting pariahs come out of the woodwork and flood local comic book shops, grabbing every viable copy of milestone issues so they can be resold at higher prices. In order to combat vulture culture and to reward the faithful readers, he hid the ending from the world. One of the only ways to do that was to straight up deceive the comic book retailers of the world.
Comic book stores and retailers have to order their books months in advance in order to have them on time with appropriate quantities. If they saw there were no more walking dead issues to order after 193, they would instantly know the book was over. So Kirkman and crew put out fake solicits and covers for issues 194, 195, and 196. Covers that depicted a new menacing sheriff, someone falling on their sword, and two morose women standing by a grave. The comic industry wasn’t ready. The faithful readers with subscriptions at their local comic shops were rewarded, while the people that didn’t regularly read or the ones who had given up (like me) were left in the lurch, paying $40 bucks for originals down the road, or settling for second printings.
If you can trust the author, you can trust the story. You can trust the process they take us on. If we truly trust God as the author of our lives, then we can navigate through the slow and painful chapters, trusting where He is leading our story.
“Jesus replied, "You do not realize now what I am doing, but later you will understand."”- John 13:7.
You may have no idea where Jesus is leading you or what He is placing in your path, but it boils down to the question of can you trust Him as the author of your life? There are writers I trust with any story, like Tom King, Joss Whedon, and Brad Meltzer. These are people that though I may not love everything they do, I know the story will be a good one when it is all together and told. God is that way. He is the author we can trust above all things. He actually knows how the story plays out.
“Your eyes saw my unformed body; all the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.” - Psalm 139:16.
He knows the outcome of your story, and His encouragement is to keep going. Trust Him.
In Rick’s last big public speech in issue 191, he cries for the people to see the truth that hope is real and that a future is possible. After all the years of suffering, struggle, and carnage, he was still calling for people to press on and move forward. This is what he says:
“This world has scarred us, mentally and physically. We carry those scars with us, each and every day period. They serve as a reminder of what we’ve lived through. What we’ve done to survive. What others have done to us to survive –sacrifices made– all to get us HERE. To this point. To have so many of us here. To be safe; period. To be close to the way things were before. I used to think we had to put our humanity on hold, embrace a savageness in order to survive because our world, the one we knew, was never coming back. I was wrong. We are on the road back. I can see our future ahead of us, and it is bright. We no longer live surrounded by the dead. We’re not among them. Not living on borrowed time. We do not live minute to minute, in minutes stolen from the dead. We can be happy. We can be content. We can have peace. We can live again. We are NOT the walking dead. At least we don’t have to be, not anymore.”
He then later tells Carl in their last conversation together:
“You just have to realize, this world needs people who are willing to stand up and do the right thing... It needs them so badly; it’ll forgive you if you’re sometimes wrong. You just need to make sure the losses don’t discourage you because the people around us – they’ll always need the wins.”
I would encourage you, challenge you, beg you: don’t give up. Things may be rough and the season you are in may be painful, but it doesn’t have to be the end. The author of your life has a story for you that is meant for good.
“The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it more abundantly (or to the full).” - John 10:10.
There are things in this world that are out to make your story and journey painful, but God isn’t one of them. Press on. Don’t give up. If an independent comic book in black and white can become a revolution in storytelling and spark global phenomenon, or if some dork of geeky pastor in NC can end up as a panelist in San Diego, or if Rick can usher in peace throughout the world, then you have no idea how good your story can be if you simply trust the author and keep pushing when things seem the most bleak.