And what they’re doing to fix it.
With the return of “The Walking Dead” just around the corner, fans of the zombie saga will be meet several new faces this season. Expect more Negan, of course, but also be on the lookout for the mysterious King Ezekiel.
The introduction of two new male leads might cause one to wonder: Where the ladies at? The core cast has introduced a few new women since the early days, but those who have shown up usually end up wearing toe tags before long.
To be fair, the show is beholden in many ways to its source material. And the source material is beholden to the universe in which it exists (i.e. one that prizes basic Darwinian traits like physical male strength).
But putting aside those caveats, there’s the simple truth that “Walking Dead” often gives its women the smelly end of the stick. Let’s backpedal and take a look at where “Walking Dead” went wrong (and right) with its women.
A brief look at the latecomers to TWD’s female roster.
Strong, beautiful, smart?—?ultimately dumped by Abraham for Sasha because she’s no longer “the only woman in the world.” Not very fleshed out, almost expendable.
A knack for admitting her mistakes (lookin’ at you, Governor) and inspiring others (lookin’ at you, Denise). Interesting twist: Tara is gay. It took the writers five or six seasons, but we finally have some openly gay characters on TWD. It will be interesting to see where they bring this character, should she survive Negan’s bat.
A wonderful shot, and that’s about it. Alternately nihilistic and hopeful, this character seesaws between despair and joy at the drop of a hat. Most of the time, she plays her biggest role when Rick whisper-shouts “Sasha!” and she takes down a walker using her 100% accurate infinity-ammo never-misses headshots-every-time rifle.
Oh, Deanna, we had such high, high hopes for you. A woman who built and now leads the Alexandria Safe-Zone in a post-apocalyptic zombie-ridden hellscape? Be still, my feminist heart! Turns out she’s an aging naif who surrenders her moral code as soon as it suits her personally. Ends up dying. Big surprise.
A female doctor? A gay female doctor? A gay overweight female doctor? My, my, “Walking Dead,” you’ve simply outdone yourself! Oh, wait, what’s that? An arrow through the eye…oh, well. Back to the men.
Give me a break, “Walking Dead.” A pretty, waifish housewife being abused by her big bad hubby in desperate need of Handsome Rick’s help? Who then hurls herself at Rick, like, 20 minutes after he murders her husband in the town square? I wasn’t sad to see her go, but I also wasn’t happy she showed up in the first place. (Long live Michonne!)
You know Paula. The vicious redheaded Savior who took Maggie and Carol as bargaining chips in “The Same Boat”? There’s a villain I could get behind. None of Shane’s ugly male ego, none of the Governor’s myopic male lust (both for power and sex), none of Gareth’s boyish I’ll-save-you-Mama charm. Just pure feminine wrath. But wait, there she goes?—?dead. Guess Negan will have to avenge her.
Putting aside the long-deceased women in Rick’s group (Lori, Andrea, et al.) and the newbies, there are a few old-timers worthy of cap-tipping. Let’s count ’em down.
The Good: Who’da thunk the quivering, submissive wife in Season 1 would become the ferocious take-no-prisoners powerhouse of the show’s later seasons? Carol’s transformation from Quiet Domestic to Head Badass is an amazing arc. Her survival instinct is more practical than Rick’s, her foresight more keen than Morgan’s, her emotional intelligence leagues beyond Daryl’s. If anybody should be leader instead of Rick, Carol’s a good vote.
The Bad: The show took an awfully long time to get to where it needs to be, Carol-wise. Not until Season 4 did she really come out of her shell, and then after proving herself as a capable educator, survivalist and leader she’s swiftly exiled for a crime Rick didn’t have the guts to commit himself. Her deference to men in the early seasons and her ousting by them in the later is something that should fade away as we move into more dangerous territory with Negan.
The Good: Maggie is your classic example of a quick-to-get-with-it character. Though initially naive about the zombie threat, she rapidly adapts after her father’s farm is overrun. Ever since then, she’s been a solid member of the group. (She was also the romantic aggressor in the Glenn/Maggie relationship, which was a nice change of pace when faced with the show’s typical he-man woman-saver behavior.)
The last two seasons have seen Maggie being groomed for leadership both in Alexandria and at The Hilltop Colony. Finally, we might see a woman in charge besides dumb ole Deanna!
The Bad: The showrunners have relied a little too heavily on “Maggie As.” By which I mean Maggie As Wife of Glenn or Maggie As Daughter of Hershel. It’s refreshing to see her go toe-to -toe with Gregory at the Hilltop?—?just wish we saw Maggie As Her Own Person a little more often. (This is nitpicky, though?—?I love the character and think she and Glenn are a much better power couple than Rick and Lori ever were.)
The Good: While Carol has had moments of behind-the-scenes disobedience, Michonne is the only woman who will openly defy Supreme Leader Rick. The most striking example, of course, being when Michonne literally knocks him out:
Michonne has been an independent woman from Day 1. She can care for herself and she doesn’t need men (or women) to validate her existence. She’s loyal, brave and tough. She is unafraid of men or male dominance, and judges a leader based on his merits, not his sex.
The Bad: The only major problem I’ve got with how the show handles Michonne is her dialogue. Or rather, her lack of dialogue. Yes, it might contribute to her character’s personality?—?after all, Daryl is really quiet too, right? But the few times we do get to see Michonne voice her opinions, they’re far more valuable for character-building than her sullen silences.
I don’t think “The Walking Dead” showrunners are sitting around figuring out how to keep women in the kitchen . But I do think when a character like Denise is introduced, she deserves more than a few episodes before being offed in front of Daryl’s disbelieving eyes. As the show evolves, hopefully so does its treatment of the women who until now have taken a back seat to Rick & The Boys.