The series has arguably undergone its biggest changes this season. The introduction of psychopathic villain Negan has given it a kickstart it needed. Love it or hate it, The Walking Dead is still around. Yet until now, it has not really dealt with gender roles beyond Rick coping as a single father. But this season is different. I feel there have been two critical issues this season important to men and masculinity.
The Opener’s Two Brutal Deaths
Negan, the charismatic leader of The Saviours abducted a group of our heroes ahead of the season opener. In the finale of season 6, we saw him brutally kill one of our group. We did not learn which of them that was before the season opener aired. It turned out that there were two victims – Glenn and Abraham. The death of the former was poignant bearing in mind that his wife (Maggie) is pregnant. The death of the latter was amusing for his defiant demand for Negan to “suck my nuts.”
Both victims were male and their deaths were brutal, matched only by the graphic level of violence imparted on them. We see nearly every strike of Lucille (Negan’s baseball bat wrapped in barbed wire) against the heads of both men. We even saw Glenn’s head caved in with his eye hanging out in graphic detail. I have never been so shocked, and I have a very strong stomach.
Now imagine that one of the women suffered that brutal fate. You can’t can you? You can’t see it being permitted and if it did, you can imagine the outrage of the keyboard warriors. The fact is, nobody could imagine seeing Maggie (a pregnant woman) beaten to death like that. Could you have imagined Sasha? Or Rosita? Or Tara? Or heaven forbid, Carol or Michonne? The only outrage expressed was that we lost a much-loved character in Glenn.
Nope, nor me. I can’t imagine a situation where a TV exec would permit a woman to be killed in so much detail. In fact, I would say that while male deaths in the show are brutal, graphic and detailed, female character deaths are notable for always being quick and simple. Most have died by being shot in the head or bitten. Compare the midseason finale deaths as a case in point. Spencer, the duplicitous son of the original leader of Alexandria, was gutted and died slowly, and Olivia died instantly with a bullet between the eyes.
This has been the pattern for all 6 1/2 seasons. Beth (gunshot), Laurie (childbirth), Andrea (bite) – the list goes on. Why do we find brutal deaths of male characters more acceptable? Doesn’t this go against feminist claims of an “epidemic” of violence against women on TV when the men invariably suffer more harrowing, bloody and brutal fates?
A Sign of Changing Masculinity?
On a more positive note, the first half of season 7 has also demonstrated some positive aspects of masculinity and male vulnerability. I genuinely came away from the mid-season finale feeling a warm glow and not just because Rick finally got his steel back and told Maggie “you’re right. We have to fight back.”
Firstly, the utter distress (almost depression) that Eugene enters into following the two brutal deaths. He was good friends with Abraham. Even after Abraham severely beat Eugene, their bond grew stronger through Abraham’s remorse and Eugene’s forgiveness. Eugene is a sensitive sort, and though his vow never to kill a living human being is frustrating, he is clearly a man of strong principles. His floods of tears have never been met with “grow a set” or a “man up”, even and especially from the strong female characters in TV shows who often feel a god-given right to tell men how they ought to act. Eugene is sensitive but strong in his own way(s). Plus, I love his way with words.
The second part is that manly hug between the reuniting of Darryl Dixon and Rick. I feel it shows we have come a long way in recent years. Both Eugene’s tears and this manly show of affection are now considered normal rather than something wrong, something to hide. Go on, tell me you didn’t get a lump in your throat at that man hug?
These two characters have been through a lot together and their personal relationship has come a very long way. But more than that. Few television shows that better demonstrate the positive aspects of masculinity, male bonding, comradeship and how we pull together in a crisis.
Long live The Walking Dead and long live this wonderful presentation of true masculinity.