The Walking Dead: So much for Morgan saving the day.
The Mid-season finale of the Walking Dead fails to deliver expected Black redemption, just more epic failure.
Don’t read this: It has limited spoilers and is liable to piss you off. However, if you liked what I had to say about the Walking Dead’s disrespect of Black Male characters, then welcome aboard.
When this season started, I remember the hue and cry: Morgan is going to be a game-changer. He was going to change the story we had seen for men of color on this show from the beginning. Here was a strong character, who might be the equal of Tyrese from the comics.
The Mid-Season finale has disabused me of that notion. Completely.
The televised version of the Walking Dead died to me a few weeks ago. I wrote several essays about how I felt the show marginalized, limited and treated the Black male characters on the show in less than an ideal fashion. I likened the characters to lacking narrative agency, being little more than straw men moved about the story, supporting more heroic characters and even dying to save them.
Yes, I know there are very few Latino/Hispanics and only one Asian who have regularly been on the show since its beginning, and the racial demographics have been abysmal. But for some reason, the televised version of the show did not feel empowered to create more potent Black characters such as Tyrese from the comic version.
But even if I had never experienced the comic, the televised men of color left much to be desired. And so I bid farewell to a show that did little to show Black men as heroic and as capable as sixty year old commando-house-frau Carol, as gung-ho as their valiant former sheriff/leader Rick Grimes, as effective in battle (while on screen) as the beautiful and deadly Michonne.
So I was not surprised to hear the shouts of outrage by my wife in the other room during the Walking Dead last night. She stopped the recording and tried to explain. I knew she would not be able to vocalize what I needed to know, so she backed it up and I watched it with her.
When it was done, I was not surprised.
Acts of Agency:
Carl manages to detect treachery on the part of another teen on the show whose name escapes me. I know he had an issue because Rick had killed his father at the end of the last season. To be fair, as Carl points out: he was a bit of a dick. Yes, Rick did kill him, but he deserved what he got. Carl made the choice to not only cover for the attempted assassination, but disarm the young man and talk him down.
Carol and Morgan escape the impending herd and take refuge. Carol had tracked Morgan to his hideaway where he was keeping the Wolf prisoner. Carol fakes unconsciousness or injury to escape Morgan in order to put the errant Wolf Morgan has been protecting, down.
While Morgan may be shown to have a degree of agency in his role, it is a false one because his choice is being made for someone who has repeatedly (many times in fact) that he would kill them all to escape. Why do the writers insist Morgan be the only person taking this stand, protecting someone who is clearly a dangerous enemy. How dangerous? Let’s just say Carol may be seriously injured and at least one person is surely going to die because of his actions.
Dianna Monroe, the leader of the town, saves Rick, makes the choice to put herself at risk and pays the price. A couple of tense moments as they wait for her to die, but she dispenses a bit of wisdom to Michonne. When things go totally pear-shaped and Team Grimes has to make a run for it, we see them break out an old chestnut, one we haven’t seen for many a season: Hide in Plain Sight.
Their only chance to get to the armory, is to “go zombie” (ala disguising themselves in the delicious entrails.) The scene where they are gathering the guts is awesome as everyone is working to keep their stomachs from spewing everywhere.
Dianna is going to be left behind, but she lets Michonne know she has a gun and she will take her own life, thank you very much. And when her turn to die comes, she goes out on her terms, fighting. Agency, like a mother. Six head shots. I’m going to miss her.
Hell, even the Wolf shows more agency than Morgan. He not only waits for his moment, secures his release, disarms three people and walks away with a hostage and a smile. He doesn’t kill anyone. He exercised agency, the power of choice, and choose to leave with one, and not kill six. Damn, even the villain has more agency than Morgan has appeared to show.
When you say to me, he is doing what the story demands, I say bullshit. Heroes may not kill when the circumstances don’t require it, but leaving an enemy at your back who harms you again and again is just stupidity, plain and simple.
Glenn should have left Little Miss Anti-social out in the wilderness. But he didn’t. He convinced her to return to where people are because it was the right thing to do. She complains, but she went with him because he was right.
Agency looks like that. It looks like people making decisions and convincing other people they are the right decisions (and they should look like the right decisions to you as the viewer as well.) When they don’t, look like the right decisions, that is where the story revolves, where your expectations and the characters are different. Sometimes this looks like “Plot-Induced Stupidity,” a condition where a character does something completely unbelievable considering the circumstances. Other times, you have to wonder, if the writers were being lazy, stupid or just plainly racist.
There is a boy, Sam, who is terrified of the monsters and refuses to come downstairs. If I remember correctly he was traumatized by Commando-House-Frau, Carol early in last season. Since then, the boy’s psyche seems destabilized and rightly so. His world is no longer even remotely normal. He lacks agency. He isn’t in his right mind. He isn’t going to make good decisions. We have already seen him speaking when he should be completely silent.
He will likely die, or force someone to save his life. That person will be exercising agency when they make a decision to silence him, help him psychologically, or save him physically. That person may die as a result of their efforts. Is it heroic to do this thing? Is it heroic to put your life on the line for someone less capable of defending themselves?
Absolutely. We can expect it will happen in the first few minutes of next season.
Speaking of unimpressive black characters, Gabriel, the annoying priest who did nothing this entire episode, and who was until just recently a complete waste of flesh, who barely contributed anything useful to the war effort; he refused to go on outings, refused to kill zombies, some days wouldn’t even carry a weapon. He has on more than one taken the opportunity to backstab the group for his own personal gain.
Today, we hear him say he won’t let Rick down out there while they are dancing among the sea of dead. It’s a safe bet, we know whose next on the list of Black men, who without apparent agency, will continue to sacrifice themselves for the greater, Whiter, good.
No, it’s not about color, they say. The writers of the Walking Dead don’t see color, they tell us. It’s about the story and what needs to be told.
What this episode and many like it before tell me is: We just see all Black men as tools, expendable, interchangeable, ignorant, and highly principled fools who will keep making stupid mistakes (that we write) sacrificing themselves again and again for us. Just like we forced you to do throughout history.
But schools don’t teach history anymore so we are doomed to watch it repeat itself on television. Enjoying the show?
Father Gabriel Stokes: Next up in our cavalcade of sacrificial black lambs on the Walking Dead. 2:1 while surrounded by the Walking Dead, he won’t make it across the street in the next episode of the season. 5:2 he gets bit and has to be put down by Michonne.
Thaddeus Howze is a California-based speculative fiction author and technology consultant who has worked with computers since the 1980’s as a graphic designer, teaching computer science, managing developers, building sophisticated computer networks and as an IT executive. He has published two speculative fiction books, Hayward’s Reach and Broken Glass.
His non-fiction work has appeared in numerous magazines: Huffington Post, Gizmodo, Black Enterprise, the Good Men Project, Examiner.com, Panel and Frame, Science X and Astronaut.com. He maintains a diverse collection of non-fiction at his blog, A Matter of Scale. He is a contributor at The Enemy, a nonfiction literary publication out of Los Angeles.
Thaddeus is a popular and well-read writer on the Q&A site Quora.com in over fifty subjects. He is also a moderator and contributor to the Science Fiction and Fantasy Stack Exchange with over a thirteen hundred articles in a four year period.
He is an author and contributor at Scifiideas.com. His speculative fiction has appeared online at Medium.com, the Magill Review, ScifiIdeas.com, and the Au Courant Press Journal. He has a wide collection of his work on his website, Hub City Blues. His recently published works can be found here. He also maintains a wide collection of his writing and editing work on Medium.com.