Monday, November 11, 2013

Checking in on The Walking Dead

[Content note: mentions of the sexual assault of a character, spoilers for AMC's The Walking Dead, up through the episode on 11/10/13.]

As I've said before, I'm not impressed with the depiction of women in The Walking Dead. But since I wrote that piece two years ago, and I'm still watching the damn thing, I thought I'd check in on what has happened more recently.

Good lord, I hope the fan boys don't come at me for this one like they did my piece about Breaking Bad this past summer...because as I tried to explain then (in vain) you can like something and still critique it/demand better. So don't jump down my throat for thinking critically about something just because you love it.

As I wrote last, the writers of The Walking Dead have a woman problem. They made most of the most spectacularly poor decisions and mistakes come from women, and, with few exceptions, that theme has remained. For example, a few episodes ago when Carol is working out in the yard trying to clear out the water way, she stays far too long as walkers are coming after her, and she has to be rescued. Just a small piece of the general theme.

We also have the entire relationship with Andrea and the Governor (of Woodbury) which spanned most of season 3. Andrea seemed to be the only one from the original crew who couldn't see the Governor's underlying evil, to the point where she still believed he was an ally long after it's remotely logical to do so. She finds herself entangled in a romantic relationship with him, at least for a while, which clouds her judgment. (You know womern and their kooky emotions!) By the time that Andrea realizes that the Governor is a danger to everyone and needs to be stopped, she fails to actually rise to the occasion to kill him, despite having a uniquely intimate position in his life to do so when he is most vulnerable (sleeping.) Because of Andrea's mistake, the Governor later wreaks havoc on everyone, killing people from his own Woodbury community and from the original group alike. In fact, he is still a looming menace for the group now. All that could have been ended in one quick moment by Andrea, who failed to deliver.

And let's also not forget that the gender divide of tasks at Woodbury during it's hay day, was pretty stereotypical.    

One of the worst choices I think the writers have made to this point is what has now happened to Carol. The original group with some Woodbury converts, are now living in a prison. An extremely virulent disease has struck and people are dying left and right. At the start of the outbreak, someone dragged out two sick people and burned their bodies. We soon learn that it was Carol and while Rick is out on a run with her for medicine, her sends her packing, essentially saying she's no longer welcome with the only people she knows anymore.

What bothered me about this specifically, is that Carol was kinda right in what she did. I mean, it might not have been the best thing to unilaterally decide to secretly burn the two sick people, but as we learn with the progression of the's a huge threat to them all. Eventually Hershel and other survivors are having to kill the sick that are dropping like flies, coming back, and threatening all the well people. So Carol made a decision that was ultimately in everyone's best interest of survival. A ruthless decision, but a logical one, given the circumstances. When Rick did the same with Shane or when any number of the men have preemptively killed to ensure their own safety, they were not scorned from the group.

I mean, seriously, this whole "kill or be killed" thing was a huge theme for a while--to the point that Rick had to reign his son Carl back in and help him learn that "shoot first and ask questions later" isn't actually always the best policy.

But I guess when Carol makes a decision like this, she's booted out. Sigh. It just seems like she's the only one who's punished for aggressively ensuring the group's survival.

I will say, however, that I feel like she's going to come back and something really interesting could go down with that, so I'll keep my fingers cross.

The depictions of women, while largely on my nerves, aren't all bad. There is, for example, Michonne, who is a bad ass (there's no other way to put it.) She is extremely intelligent, athletic, and deadly with her sword. She is quick to assess situations and has excellent judgment when it comes to people (like never trusting the Governor but warming up to Rick and Daryl.) She is decisive and will do what it takes to survive, but she also is ethical and she does have a heart (as we see when she meets baby Judith.) Michonne frequently comes to others' rescue and is critical to the success of the group at current. She is, however, still positioned as an outsider with trust issues, so we also don't know that much about her character yet, despite being present for quite a while now. I'm hoping that we learn and see much more of her, but right now her story is on hold. I have hope, however, because the more I see of her, the more I like her.

There's also Maggie, who I wrote about before as the least awfully depicted woman before. Her relationship with Glenn has developed further and they are extremely close. (If I'm recalling correctly, Glenn recently proposed.) Maggie is a fairly strong person. She makes good decisions and is always there fighting beside Rick, Daryl, and Glenn. Overall, I don't have an issue with her characterization, but damn, was I sad when the writers had the Governor sexually assault her. I've had this discussion several times but basically, I think that sexual assault plot lines like this are rarely handled well. The defense that is always put out to me is that sexual assault is used as a way to show just how bad the bad guy is. (This was said to me when I wrote about Killer Joe.) But do we really need an assault to tell this? The Governor had already done a lot of awful shit at that point, so how insulting, to us as the audience, to say that.

Basically, I'm sick of women's bodies being used as plot devices to convey intensity. Obviously rape is all to common in real life, but that doesn't justify this voyeuristic take on it. When the male victims of the Governor are tortured or killed, the female ones are assaulted, tortured, and killed. It's sickening.

Ok, so all in all, I'm still disappointed in the female characters of The Walking Dead. I like Michonne and I have hope for her. I'm also interested to see what happens if Carol comes back, but otherwise, I have to sorta turn off the feminist analyzing part of my brain to enjoy this show. That's a sad fact I've come to accept.

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  1. I just thought I'd add that there's also Sasha. She's a newer character, but so far appears to be strong, level-headed, and an asset to the group, even when she became sick.
    Another interesting character is Lizzie (also new). In the most recent episode, she saves Glenn's life by luring a walker away from him. Then she trips and has to be recued by Hershel. But still! She's pretty clever!

    1. I thought about working in Sasha, but she's so woefully underdeveloped that I wasn't sure what to say. You're right though, and I do have hope for her should she survive the illness.

      I'm not sure what to make of Lizzie. Was she the one feeding walkers rats? She has weird feelings about them, naming them, etc. She kinds creeps me out.


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