“It’s not all there is, but it’s part of me.” After ripping out a man’s neck with his own teeth in season four, Rick explains to Daryl that this brutality is part of him. Daryl might be tempted to explain it away – “Anybody would have done that,” “that’s not who you are” – but Rick knows better. There is a kind of brutality that is essential to survive in this world. There’s a fine line, however, between survival and unnecessary violence. Finding the balance seems to be a constant struggle for the main characters of The Walking Dead. As season five starts, we see this theme particularly developed. Episode one reveals the important role of community in helping individuals keep that balance. Responding to violence happens best within a community that can help us think critically about our responses.

Terminus is an unnerving place. Scott Gimple, writer for the episode, referred to it as a place of “institutional evil.” This is the kind of place that commits violence without any passion or thought. The “butchers” wear aprons and have protocols to follow. They’re murderers, but they’re also concerned about cleanliness and following rules. If the Governor couldn’t be reasoned with because of his emotionalism, these people can’t be reasoned with because of their apathy. Hitting people over the head and draining their blood is just another day at the office. They’ve lost touch with civilization, perhaps even with their own humanness. The meat locker of human flesh, the pile of collected stuff animals from children no longer clinging to them, and the guy who is ready to snap a baby’s neck are all evidence of how inhumane these people are. How did the Termites become such wicked people?

Throughout the episode we are given indications that these people did not start out this way. The train car in the opening scene reveals that they were once prisoners themselves. Mary, one of the Termite leaders, tells Carol the back story:

The signs, they were real. It was a sanctuary. People came and took this place. And they raped, and they killed, and they laughed, over weeks. But we got out and we fought and we got it back. And we heard the message: you’re the butcher or the cattle.

The Termites started out much like the characters in our main group. They started out like Morgan, Herschel, and Rick. They were good people who took in others, cared for them, and risked to save those in need. But that risk cost them and they were run-over by wicked people. As a result they determined you couldn’t be safe and kind. It was one or the other. You are either the butcher or the cattle, and they determined “never again, never trust.”

Over and over again throughout this series we see just how important violence is to survival. Carol tells Tyrese, that he’s got to be willing to kill. It’s the same thing she tried to teach Lizzy and Mika in season four. You can’t survive in this world without getting your hands dirty. But at what cost? What does all this violence do to those who partake in it? From season one to season five Carol has certainly changed. She had no qualms with killing David and Karen in season four, and then quietly burning their bodies. She went from fearful wife and mother to the woman who covers herself in walker guts and single-handedly takes down Terminus. Rick too has changed. By the end of this episode he is much more reluctant to help those outside the group. He wants to see every last Termite killed. “They don’t get to live,” he says. This violence is part of who he is now. It’s not all there is, but it’s part.

Sigmund Freud believed that aggression was a natural impulse – part of the id. The potential to be a violent person resided in any one of us, yet this violence happens as unconscious forces impact the mind. The first group that invaded Terminus and took it over were certainly not an unconscious force. Rather, their violence so significantly impacted the Termites that those who suffered violence, became violent. The Bible too teaches that violence resides in the human heart (Matt. 15:19). Anyone has the potential to become a violent person. Anyone has the potential to become a Termite. The question that haunts episode one of season five is just how will the ongoing encounter with wickedness impact our characters, in particular Rick. Will Rick become like those he hates?

In previous seasons we have witnessed Rick’s similarities to the Governor. We have witnessed his unravelling, his violent outbursts. How will he keep, now, from becoming like the Termites? The answer is through his community. This group keeps Rick grounded, and pointed towards compassion. Wickedness resides in all of us, the potential to be selfish, to focus on our own survival, to focus on revenge, is a possible reality for anyone. It’s our community that can help us look beyond those desires and impulses. When Rick is determined to kill every last Termite it’s the group which pulls him back. When he is on the mission to rescue his friends it is Glen who insists that they help the stranger. “That’s gotta still be who we are,” he says. It’s the group that, so far anyways, has kept Rick from becoming just like Gareth, the leader of the Termites. It’s the group that can keep him from defaulting to that natural impulse towards aggression.

Our communities have tremendous character-shaping power. Parents are wise to warn their kids, “Choose your friends wisely.” There is great risk in allowing others to speak into our lives. Yet there is also great reward if the right people speak into our lives. The book of Proverbs says it this way:

He who walks with the wise grows wise, but a companion of fools suffers harm. (13:20)

The difference between Rick and Gareth, between the Termites and our main characters, is the nature of the community as a whole. When Gareth decides for the group that they will never again trust, they will never again be cattle there is no one who pushes back. The episode suggests that the man whom Rick, Glen, and the others free may have been, at one time, that voice of push-back. When he is released he runs out screaming, “We’re just like them.” The Termites have become just like those who violated them. The abused became the abusers. The difference for Rick is the voice of caution from others. He leads a community where everyone’s voice is welcomed, where the opinions of others matter. Where no one is to be disregarded or ignored. It is their dissenting voices that keep Rick, at least for now, from becoming just like those he hates, like Terminus, like the Governor, like Shane. His community will help him respond rightly to violence.


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