The Walking Dead is a TV show produced and planned months in advance without awareness to the shape of the political and social climate its episodes will air. And yet, “Start to Finish,” the show’s midseason finale to its current 50-50 spectacular/dreadful sixth season, accidentally remarks without declaration on the refugees seeking safety outside of ISIL-controlled territories.
Borders and identities underline “Start to Finish.” The episode begins with a tower that smashes the wall of Alexandria, allowing hordes of walkers to crookedly strut into the neighborhood. Right after a big explosion they’re here, en masse, and no one alone is powerful enough to stop it. Amidst the chaos, Deanna is struck by a buzzsaw but mistakes the wound for a walker bite. This misinterpreted injury makes her a misinformed time bomb, with everyone — including herself — believing she’ll turn, even though no one has anything to fear to begin with.
But that doesn’t stop the rest of the crew from taking ideas from the narratives that fear mongers like to drum up about immigrants. With the house and street below overrun, Rick digs into his toolbox and takes out his Season 1 masterstroke: covering oneself with zombie innards to mask one’s musk to slip past. This is a common solution to plot, seen in Star Wars to other zombie movies, but the awkward timing of current events frames Rick’s trick away from Hollywood adventures to suspected terrorist strategies, or so the loud, predominantly Conservative narrative would like to believe.
Elsewhere, Morgan and Carol fight, quite literally, over Morgan’s pro-life stance as he defends the cannibalistic Wolf kept in a basement. This can be framed in a multitude of perspectives, but the most dominant one that I can’t shake is Morgan in the position of the left, hoping to shelter the lost while Carol embodies the right’s suspicion and extreme prejudice. Of course, this is not to equate the refugees with cannibals, though I think Walking Dead is doing more to angle that by presenting a literal Wolf without sheep’s clothing; back in “Here’s Not Here,” the Wolf promised Morgan he’d kill him (and he kind of lived up to that, except Morgan is only knocked out for the moment).
Does The Walking Dead have a genuine comment on the migrant crisis? If it does, it’s vague, misshapen, and mismatched. Rick’s infiltration tactic could be a terrorist ploy, or it’s actually about being a refugee and struggling to assimilate. The Wolf kept by Morgan could be a terrorist hiding as a refugee, but why would the left-leaning Morgan be a pro-life advocate?
In the end, Walking Dead likely never intended to comment and is perhaps better off without making declarations. The most fascinating aspect of cable’s most-watched series of all time has been its agnostic political agenda, allowing the zombie apocalypse to function as a rorschach test for fans leaning left and right of the political spectrum. But after a rather well-rounded first half of the season, I’d like to believe the show about brain eaters is the one show that actually has a brain and uses it the most.