The Walking Dead is back from its hiatus. The returning episode, Suicide King, was a solid return to form for the show. It featured zombies, the Governor, some shooting, a brotherly reunion, and some "father-son" time for Glenn and Hershel. In keeping with its earlier trajectory, the midseason premiere also featured the same tired treatment of black characters that has typified the show to date--a pattern against which I have repeatedly intervened.
The Walking Dead is a TV show prefaced on anxieties about white male authority. To that end, people of color are rendered either literally or symbolically mute (see T-Dog), limited by an informal quota to no more than one black male character on the show at a time (see the prisoner who was killed to make room for Tyreese), or typecast according to long-standing tropes: T-Dog was the black manservant butler and aide to the white characters; Michonne is a magical negress and near savage huntress who was introduced as a caretaker for Andrea; Tyreese appears to be the "reasonable" Morgan Freeman-like black man who is righteous and measured).
As compared to the rich source material wherein people of color are treated with respect, and have central roles in the narrative, The Walking Dead TV series is an exercise in racial and gender "heliocentrism"--this world is Rick's, and the show revolves about how white men and those in their orbit negotiate this fact.
I am likely not alone on this point: I will continue watching The Walking Dead in order to see what happens next. However, I am increasingly disappointed by the rushed plot, questionable decisions by characters, and the show's unapologetic wallowing in the white racial frame (as well as the White Gaze) in terms of how black folks are developed in the narrative. As such, I have some questions about the show that, if so inclined, you can help me work through.
1. Suicide King was notable because it was one of the few moments where race was spoken to explicitly by The Walking Dead. This episode featured Merle's stereotypical white nationalist screeds against T-Dog. A previous episode introduced the "Latino gang bangers" who were actually helping their community. Later, Dale and T-Dog talked about race while hiding from a herd of zombies in a moment where the black character, in keeping with the rules of post-civil rights colorblind racism, was depicted as paranoid and irrational for suspecting that race may actually continue to matter in a world overrun by the undead.
In Suicide King, Merle--entertaining and witty as always--made a great allusion to the irony that is Michonne keeping two "walkers" in chains as "slaves." Tyreese joked about being the only brother who wanted to break into jail. Axel cosigned by observing how he is the only white boy who does not want to leave prison.
Race is coded for in The Walking Dead TV series in a number of ways. Where are the writers going next with these explicit mentions of race and racial difference in the text? Is this an acknowledgment that there are now two black characters on the show in (ostensibly) important roles? Consequently, the "race stuff" is going to have to be dealt with at some point?
2. What do the writers have against Michonne? She is a fan favorite and an iconic character. Why treat her with such disrespect? The response by Rick is also problematic: she brings food to the prison, points out the Governor's compound, helps with the rescue, fights off zombies, etc. and is still a subject of suspicion and mistrust? I am befuddled.
Is this a case of white writers not knowing how to--by choice and willfulness--"do" black characters, more generally, and "strong black women" who are not caricatures, in particular? Or is there something more basic and existential here. Could it be that there is quite literally no place for an independent and self-reliant black woman in Rick's community? Thus, she is depicted as a troublesome, dangerous negress who is not to be trusted? The dead can walk the Earth; but Michonne is out of place in The Walking Dead TV show.
3. Does Rick's behavior make any logical sense at all? Is his hostility to Michonne and Tyrese a reflection of his disassociative disorder and paranoia? Something else?
4. Do we really need to see Rick go all Baltar on Battlestar Galactica and now have his own "head Lori" that only he can see? On a related point, do you think that Rick's talking to a disconnected phone (an allusion to the comic) should have been saved for later--as opposed to a public breakdown in front of the group?
5. AMC spent a good amount of money on the Woodbury and prison sets. But, are the writers and producers lingering there too long as a result? Am I the only person who felt that the Woodbury arc should peak in the next few episodes as the community's reaction to the Governor's failings feels contrived and overwrought-and this could be a sign of even larger problems with the resolution to that storyline?
6. For fans of the original graphic novel: am I alone in my belief that The Hunters should have come before the prison storyline in the TV series? Moreover, that the main party could have met up with Tyrese and his group in route to the prison? Or alternatively, Rick finds Tyrese's party already present upon their arrival at the prison and has to find a way to coexist? Subsequently, the two groups form an alliance when the Governor attacks?
7. Tyreese is a well-developed and fully fleshed out character in the graphic novel. The viewers of the TV show are still being introduced to him. But given the very problematic racial stereotypes that the previous black male characters have been forced to fulfill, are any of you worried that Tyrese will be the "good," "accommodating" "reasonable" black man who exists only to soothe Rick and to be his loyal buddy and conscience?
8. Second point. I couldn't resist laughing when Tyreese and company bugged out during Rick's "crazy white guy moment," the former's running away had a certain Mantan Moreland "we's be gettings out ah here boss" quality to it. Am I a bad person for expecting/hoping for Tyreese's eyes to pop out of his head in the best race minstrel tradition as he ran away from Rick's group?
9. Who is the audience for The Walking Dead TV show? Who are the creators and producers writing for?