Friendship is always risky. You not only expose yourself to the influence of other people, but to their judgments too. You risk investing in others and being hurt by them. You also find that you are suddenly responsible for another. Perhaps that’s what makes building relationships in the zombie apocalypse particularly risky. When another human being entrusts themselves to you the last thing you want is for the world around you to be in chaos. True friendship, however, commits to the risks of carrying another’s burdens.

The Walking Dead is constantly exploring the push and pull of human relationships. Those relationships are constantly put to the test, and the characters are constantly forced to ask, “Is it better to just go it alone?” In Season Two Andrea considers this possibility, as does Shane. Throughout the graphic novel various characters pose the question. And in episode twelve of Season Four loneliness continues to come up. The episode opens with Bob, having been alone for a while, feeling desperate for community.

When Glen and Daryl come upon him he says it makes no difference who they are. They are offering human relationship and that’s all that matters to him. Later Sasha asks him, “Do you even know why you’re smilin’?” Bob absolutely knows why he is smiling, “I am not alone.” Having relationships is still important, but those relationships are extremely costly.

Throughout the episode Sasha wonders just how costly her relationship with Maggie is. Following Maggie on her irrational pursuit of Glen is dangerous. When Bob asks her why she wants to stop, her answer is simple: “to not die.” Their battle with the walkers in the fog was a “warning…the next time it’s on us,” she says. For her part, Maggie realizes the danger she is putting her friends in and that’s why she leaves them behind, with a note: don’t risk your lives for me. She can’t ask them to put themselves in harm’s way in order to find her husband. Her burden is not their burden. She will go it alone.

Friends don’t have the luxury of distancing themselves from the burdens of those they love. Real friendship, however, doesn’t make these kinds of distinctions. Friends don’t have the luxury of distancing themselves from the burdens of those they love. It can’t claim freedom from responsibility while also claiming genuine love. In the language of Scripture, great love lays down its life for its friends (John 15:13). For Bob, the risk doesn’t matter. The issue, he tells Sasha, is that Maggie is alone. They have to follow her. Friends can’t let friends go it alone. Perhaps more pointedly this episode reminds us that not only do true friends not let those they love carry burdens on their own, but in addition true friends also expect their friends to help them carry their burdens.

In polite society we often think that it’s inappropriate to ask others for help. Sometimes it stems from pride, but other times it’s because we believe that no one should have to bear our burdens but us. We assume it’s improper to ask another to carry our suffering. But true friendship knows better. Not only should we seek to “bear one another’s burdens” but true friendship expects others to help them too. Maggie knows she needs help, and she finally determines to call her friends out. “I am not giving up, but I can’t do it alone,” she says. “I need your help. I thought I couldn’t ask you to risk your life, but I can, cause I know what you’d be risking it for.” Maggie can ask her friends to risk their lives, because that’s what friends do for each other.

The world is chaotic, messy, and broken. Our lives too are full of strain, stress, and struggle. We can’t do it alone. We go through sickness, cancer, loss, heartbreak, divorce, financial stress, and much more. We can’t go it alone. We need help, and friends know that they can count on each other for that help. That’s what it means to be a friend. It means to be responsible for another person’s well-being, to carry some of their load for them. It means risking for their sake because what matters to one friend must inevitably be important to another. That’s the inconvenience and beauty of true friendship.