Posted in Gender

Gender and The Walking Dead

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.

source is mezlaconfusa (link).
source is mezlaconfusa (link).

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.

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Author:

I go by the name of Frank Speaking. My blog "In the Mind of Men" (former name Chin Up, Chest High) started out as a chronicle of my mental health recovery. Now it is a forum where I discuss issues related to male mental health.

4 thoughts on “Gender and The Walking Dead

  1. I just started watching The Walking Dead. Currently I am in the latter part of Season 4. I probably shouldn’t have read this post due to the *Spoiler Alerts*. That said, I was completely destroyed when Hershel died at the hands of Brian a.k.a. The Guv-nah. 😉

    What I like and hate about this show is how it shows the best and worst in humanity. The takers, who feel entitled to steal in order to survive, taking from those who are also trying to survive, killing innocents in the process. I once worked for a psychologist who said, “You take away our creature comforts and most humans turn into savages.” TWD cearly demonstrates how some people behave when there are no longer laws, other than, the laws of survival.

    One of my favorites scenes is when Carl realizes he needs his father (immediately following the prison destruction). While is father lie (lay) unconscious, Carl lures a few walkers away from the house he and his dad are holed up in and nearly misses being killed by said walkers. Then he ventures off into a house and nearly “buys it” again with another walker. It isn’t until much later, when he hears his father groaning, thinking his dad has “turned’, Carl holds a gun to him, only to collapse and cry, “I can’t. I just can’t.” Once he realizes his dad has not turned, he begins to cry realizing, he’s not so tough after all. That he needs his dad.

    1. That was so powerful. I do remember it. The more I look back on TWD, the more I see that it does exactly what you described. If you think it’s great now, just wait until you get to the end of season 6…

      1. Hi there!
        This weekend I finished Season 6 OMG!!! WHO got their head bashed in by Negan and the baseball bat with barbed wire? Was it Abraham? Carl? Glenn? Sasha, Eugene? OMG! I cannot believe I have to wait for Season 7 to air on Netflix before I can find out.

        1. Not telling and you won’t even get a clue from me 🙂 The mid-season opener for season 7 starts tonight in the UK. Sadly, we don’t have it on Netflix here but I do subscribe to the channel it is on.

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