Female Troubles: The Walking Dead

You'll often hear me criticizing shows for not having good female characters. Let's be clear, I don't mean "good" in that I want to see female characters who are good in that they volunteer their time to homeless shelters and are well-behaved. It means I want to see female characters that are interesting, multidimensional, and independent. They have flaws and make mistakes, and deal with the consequences, because that is the full range of human experiences. I can count on one hand the shows currently on television with “good” female characters.

Often, this is also described as "kick-ass" female characters, especially in the sci-fi, horror, and fantasy genre. This is often translated almost literally as female characters who slaughter, kill, and fight the enemy/ghost/dragon/vampire bad guys. Their "violent fighting skills" make them kick-ass. It seems as if one of these females exists, it fills some sort of quota of female "bad-assery." This alone does not make good female character. It doesn't leave you off the hook, writers.

The character of Michonne is the perfect illustration of this token "kick-ass" woman. In a show where the female characters have either been killed off, are dealing with a love triangle, taking care of babies, sleeping with evil dictators, or doing laundry, I guess it is a relief that Michonne is out there fighting to survive among the walkers. Sure, she saved Andrea and helped her survive for several months out in the world. She can wield that sword like no one's business. But her perpetual scowl is really goddamn annoying. Sure, she joins the group of men in clearing out a prison yard of Walkers. She killed a bunch of people in order to rescue Glen and Maggie from Woodbury. But that's about it. She shows barely any emotion except anger and resentment, with no reason. In the past season, she has shown a hint of compassion and and desire for community when she helped Carl rescue the picture of his parents, and tried to help out at the prison, but you know what? Too little, too late. The supposed "strong" woman is portrayed as nothing but a one-dimensional killing machine. And thus, boring.

Unfortunately, the other women of the show have been relegated to the background or objects for plot devices among the men. Season Three turned into a big cock-swinging contest among the men with constant threats to kill each other and who can shoot a gun better in order to murder lots of extras in the name of being a hero. This is in contrast to the first two seasons, which were more about the relationships among the survivors and their decisions about survival. In Season Two, Maggie took charge of her family and was a strong advocate of unification among the groups, but this season she's there mostly for Glen to have an internal struggle about fighting. She was sexually assaulted by the Governor, yet the focus is on Glen's struggle about it and need for revenge. She actually apologized to Glen for not talking about it. Carol was the hysterical wife in Season One, hysterical mother in Season Two, and now she seems there to do the group's laundry. Beth, Hershel's daughter and a minor character from Season Two, doesn't seem to have any other purpose then to soothe the group with her Taylor Swift singing sessions around the campfire and to take care of the baby. I'm reluctantly grateful for Lori's death, only to stop the incessant drama about her love triangle with Rick and Shane.

And then there's Andrea. Sigh. Andrea, who came out strong in the beginning, serving as surrogate family for Dale (RIP), a voice of reason as well as a strategist for the group. It seems the writers wanted us to hate her. She falls under the Governor's spell because he sleeps with her. Stupid Andrea! He's just not that into you! She tries to solve the Woodbury v. Prison Group saga by using non-violent means, and is laughed out of the room and essentially told "let the real men handle this." Stupid Andrea! Running a community is for men!

I am fully aware that this show is based on a long series of graphic novels, and "this is how it happened in the books" is no excuse. This show is an adaptation, giving the creative right to develop the characters independently. The good news is that there is the ability for the group to encounter new survivors at any time, thus introducing new characters at any point. I sincerely hope that Season Four introduces new people, both men and women, that bring the show back to a show about characters managing in this environment, instead of the mainstream guys-with-guns-shooting-at-each-other action movie it has become.

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