By David Oliver and Josh Axelrod
“The Walking Dead” is not playing around anymore. It’s been a long midseason break since Beth died, and both the characters and audience still haven’t gotten over it yet. And the second the show returned, it hit us right in the gut again with another big character death. This one, though, was problematic for reasons bigger than the show. Let’s discuss:
JOSH: “The Walking Dead” is racist. There, I said it.
Yes, I know the cast is relatively diverse for television. But “The Walking Dead” has been exhibiting a troubling pattern that started a few seasons ago. It has a bad habit of killing off its black characters right as new ones get introduced.
Think back to Season 3 when Rick and the gang got to the prison. Three of those prisoners bit the dust pretty quickly, all of them non-white. No big deal on the surface. The remaining black one, Oscar, became a part of the group. A few episodes later, T-Dog was killed saving Lori’s life (ironic because she didn’t last much longer after that). Tyreese was introduced soon after, and it was followed by Oscar’s death at the hands of The Governor’s men.
Fast forward two seasons. The group has admittedly gotten more diverse, with the likes of Bob and Sasha joining the main cast. The second Father Gabriel was introduced, I joked to myself, “Either Bob or Sasha is about to die.” Well, it turned out I was right: Bob was bitten and didn’t last much longer. When the show introduced Noah, I thought, “They wouldn’t kill Tyreese or Sasha…they can’t…there’s no way.”
Guess what. The second Noah was officially inducted into the group, Tyreese was bitten by a walker. After spending half the episode examining Tyreese’s desire to live or not, he eventually succumbed to his wound. So basically, the show traded two black characters for two more in rapid succession. It’s not like “The Walking Dead” only kills characters of color, but the way it telegraphs the next character’s death like this is both narratively and racially naive. It was a joke at first, but now it’s a serious problem.
The sad part is, Tyreese’s death was handled pretty well. The first half of the season explored whether Tyreese had the killer instinct necessary to survive in this new world. When he let the guy who was threatening to kill Judith live, it was pretty clear he didn’t. So as he lay on the floor bleeding out, Tyreese was visited by some familiar faces: Beth, Lizzie, Mika, Bob, The Governor (!!!) and that Terminus Guy whose name I don’t care to remember. They all played devil’s advocate with him, helping him weigh the pros and cons of survival.
Michonne had to cut his arm off with her sword, just like they did to Herschel’s leg. Unfortunately, they couldn’t get him back to the rest of the group quickly enough and Tyreese passed away. It was all artfully done, and I wasn’t sure whether he would pull through or not until the very end. But unfortunately, it highlighted the show’s race problem in the worst possible way. Until further notice, “The Walking Dead” is racist.
Okay rant over. David, thoughts?
DAVID: Um, well then, that’s pretty hard to follow. It’s been awhile since I artfully binge-watched the show’s first three seasons at lightning speed, so forgive me if I can’t recall some of the more minute details.
I will say that at least Tyreese got quite the episode – I agree with you that they handled it well. It was a nice payoff for fans of the character, and the episode in general was arguably the most aesthetically pleasing.
The blood on the picture, the panning of all the photos on the wall. I was confused and intrigued at the same time, but all the more curious as to what was going on.
This show is obviously always going to be about death, but the patterns you point out are definitely evident. Conscious or not, it will be interesting to see how this all shakes out moving forward.
Noah’s breakdown really stuck with me as really painful and heart-wrenching. Though I couldn’t help but think about his “Everybody Hates Chris” counterpart. Curse you, pop culture memory.
Also, this is probably not the emotion the series wanted to convey, but when Tyreese was seeing all the dead people I couldn’t help but think of Taylor Swift’s “The Story of Us.” “Now I’m standing alone / in a crowded room / and we’re not speaking.” Like I said, pop culture memory.