I made a conscious decision to not make any comments about “The Walking Dead” until the season had finally wrapped. In tradition of previous seasons, the entire plot doesn’t come into full fruition until the last few episodes, therefore it would be very presumptuous of me to make comment until I’ve seen everything play out first. But now that the season has officially wrapped, I can honestly say that I just wasn’t feeling season three.
[Warning: there are plenty of spoilers below so if you have yet to see the final episode or the show period, you might want to stop reading now]
Earlier in the season, I started noticing certain racial and gender tropes, which I thought would get better towards the end of the season but nope, it got kind of worse. By the season finale, which aired Sunday night, I was still wavering on the proverbial fence about whether or not this entire series is either an allegory for the pitfalls of following a society based around white male supremacy or an actual celebration of the Anglo-Saxon patriarchy and supremacy.
There is certainly a familiar hierarchy to this apocalyptic series, which appears to place white male masculinity as the highest importance of protecting. Sure, this season brought about the death of “Merle,” the camp’s resident hillbilly racist, who turned into a zombie and was put down by his own hillbilly brother. However Merle’s death also came with redemption by martyrdom for leading a zombie-bomb against the Governor and Woodbury camp. And yes it is true that the series main character is “Rick,” a white middle class Georgia sheriff who woke up from a coma to find a zombie apocalypse going down. Therefore it would make sense that the storyline revolve around him. But there is no indication as to why even as the main character, Rick should be awarded leadership of a camp of survivors, especially when there are more qualified, yet marginalized, individuals.
Years ago, Spike Lee spoke about the “Magical Negro,” a trope (some would argue a plot device) used in both literature and in film and television, involving a black person used for the primary purpose of the white protagonist’s self-discovery. This is certainly true of characters like “T-Dog,” who it would seem never really had a real name (for all we know it could have been Kunta Kinte) and was only there to save white folks. And it is certainly true of “Tyreese,” who despite being physically stronger and capable of leading a team of his own through the zombie apocalypse, is reduced down to a non-threatening teddy bear of a man, who has capitulated to white male leadership this entire season – even at times when the dominance comes by way of a small white male boy name “Carl.” After being forced from the prison by a mentally unstable Rick (who at the time was advised by his dead wife to not let them in), Tyreese and his crew, who has now been reduced down to one black woman, are invited back into the camp of survivors only after proving that they would be no threat to Rick and Carl’s WASPy masculine authority.
Yet outside of the Magical Negro trope there are other magical representations, which makes it clear that everyone non-white and non-male is there to teach our white males a lesson or aid in his self-discovery– even at the expense of the others’ own lives. For instance, the only other able-bodied white male on the series (who hasn’t been killed off or been killed by Rick) is “Darryl,” who hails from the poor, southern backwoods, redneck part of whiteness. Despite being a white male, Darryl has the misfortune of hailing from what John Edwards used to call the second America, which also gets the bum end of the stick from WASPy America. Despite being stellar with the bow and arrow and the hunting knife, Darryl does not have the confidence and takes shelter under first Merle, the white supremacist and then under Rick’s command. The same with “Glenn,” the spunky and eager-to-please Asian American kid. Despite becoming the camp’s strongest and smarter members, Glenn happily and mysteriously takes his place under Rick’s guard and becomes the camp’s model citizen. I’ll let you read between the lines of that one.