They are hardy, wholesome folk. Hershel and Maggie Greene can keep a farm running, ride any steed in true cowboy style and wrangle zombies when the need calls for it. Their faith in God sustains them, but their isolation leaves them susceptible to grand—and potentially deadly—illusions about the realities of the world they live in.
Who are Hershel and Maggie Greene? They are characters from The Walking Dead—a series of graphic novels by Robert Kirkman turned into one of the world’s hottest cable television shows by AMC and an insanely talented production crew. They have created cast of characters I have expressed a great deal of love for:
- the tormented former lawman Shane Walsh,
- a squirrel-tossing badass Daryl Dixon,
- the honorable Glenn,
- an elder statesman, Dale,
- a woman on the hunt, Andrea,
- the man with a mission, former lawman Rick Grimes,
- the odd couple, Merle Dixon and Theodore “T-Dog” Douglas, and
- a nurturing mother with a survivor’s heart, Carol Peletier.
Faith in the Almighty is rule # 1 on the Greene farm. Rule # 2 is that Hershel’s word is law, only below that of God. He runs his family with a firm hand and there’s little doubt that even before the walkers started appearing on their property, he possessed full and total control over every aspect of their lives. Maggie has been content to follow her father’s righteous lead but has a more worldly strength to her than her father possesses. When the main survivor group finds the Greene farm, Hershel and Maggie are easily cast as saviors—but the zombie-infested world in which they live may ultimately rip both the group, and the family, apart.
[***WARNING: Spoilers ahead***]
The Greene family provides a nice little twist to the environments most commonly associated with the zombie genre—large cities run down, blown halfway to hell, and overrun by the walking dead. Hershel and Maggie have managed, despite all odds, to not only survive but to do it in their own home with their own resources (for the most part) and create a sanctuary for others in need.
Hershel is a man of principle, a spiritual rock guided by his faith in God and a firm belief in right vs. wrong. There is little grey in Hershel’s world, something is one or the other, and cannot be both. It is upon this basis that Hershel views the zombiepocalypse. He is a giving man, in his own way, but will draw the line when generosity poses a danger to his beliefs or his family. And the rigidity of the faith he presents poses dangers—both physical and spiritual—for himself and those around him.
Hershel – played by Scott Wilson – believes that worldwide zombification is akin to the evolution of HIV/AIDS. Everyone goes into hysterics. A lot of people die. And then one day a miracle cure comes along, sent by God’s own hand to save the faithful who managed to survive. In Hershel’s mind, this is a cleansing.
But on the few occasions where Hershel does speak of such things it feels more as though he is a man desperate to fit the unthinkable into an existing belief system. He has lost family members. The world has, largely, ended. He knows this, yet Hershel really isn’t prepared to meet the challenge head on. He is clinging to his faith as a way to continue the ‘old way’ of doing things, rationalizing away the realities of the zombie world.
Maggie, despite the ‘grief’ she causes Hershel because of her budding relationship with the “Asian boy,” is a source or pride for Hershel—a younger, more worldly version of himself. Maggie’s belief system is not so rigid, so much a part of her being, that she is unable to consider alternatives without shaking her own core. Maggie – played by Lauren Cohan – quickly finds herself questioning events around her after the main survivor group arrives: Maybe her father is wrong. But if he is, then is she equally wrong for following him? Where does that leave God in the new world order? And most importantly, how do they survive?
At this point it is Maggie, not Hershel, who appears most likely to survive the zombiepocalypse longest of the Greene clan. It’s not unlikely that Maggie may soon find herself in the not-unusual situation of having to manage role reversal—where the child becomes the parent and the aging parent becomes the child—in order to save what is left of her family.
And then there was the barn.
When Glenn stumbled across the barn and its’ unfortunate occupants, I nearly broke my roommates fingers I grabbed his hand so hard (an action I would repeat when Shane ripped open the barn doors shortly thereafter). This was going to be it. The place where faith and realism collide, where right and wrong are so hopelessly intertwined that even the most the righteous man would struggle…where we discover what humanity really means in a zombified world.
Anyone with a heart, felt bad for Hershel. And yet, even though in some rose-colored way we wanted him to be right, viewers knew he was wrong. The tragedy was that it took a rather inhumane approach by a very unstable man, Shane Walsh, to rip off the blinders and force Hershel, and Maggie, to finally confront the reality of the world they now live in.
Weeks after the mid-season finale aired, viewers are still struggling with that last sequence and what it means for a very brave, very soul-weary group of survivors: Can Hershel move beyond the shock and accept the new reality? Can he become the spiritual ground-zero that the main survivor group needs so badly? Or will he retreat, cloak himself in cracked-faith and leave the others to fend for themselves? And what future will Maggie choose? Will she evolve into the zombie-slayin’ farm girl I see within? Or will she be unable to forgive Shane and the others for the ‘damage’ they have wrought on the Greene home?
Whatever choices Hershel and Maggie make are sure to be right—and heartbreaking.
With special thanks to R.C. Murphy