A quick post about The Walking Dead

2010 November 1
by Courtney Stoker
The makeup for this show: phenomenal.
Cross posted at From Austin to A&M.

 Like any good geek, I love me some zombies. So of course I tuned in last night to AMC’s new zombie show, The Walking Dead. And I found myself disappointed. Spoilers ahoy! (NB: I haven’t read the graphic novel. This is just a review of the pilot that aired last night.

The show starts with our hero, Rick, and his misogynistic partner, Shane, talking about how women and men are different. This conversations seems to function solely to tell us that Shane is a bit of a prick, Rick is a genuinely good guy (which I didn’t really buy), and Lori, Rick’s wife, is a bitch. Basically, it took about ten minutes for me to realize I was probably going to blog about this show, and not in a good way.

The dudes, who are police officers, get into a shootout, Rick is shot, and then we see Shane bringing him flowers in the hospital. (He assures us that he didn’t pick them out himself, however. That’s for sissy ladies. And he’s not gay or anything gross.) Rick wakes up, the flowers are dead, and the hospital is full of corpses and ruin. I did like the set up here; Rick has no fucking clue what it going on, and he’s still injured, so he basically cowers home, where he discovers his empty house and runs into Morgan and his young son, Duane. Their family was heading to the refugee camp in Atlanta when Morgan’s wife became infected and got all zombified. She still hangs about, and they can’t leave with her haunting them. Morgan wants to “put her down” and even attempts to in this episode, but he can’t. 

Anyway, Rick and Morgan arm themselves, keep open a line of communication, and Rick sets off for Atlanta, where he thinks his wife Lori and son Carl have headed. We find out that Lori and Carl are with Shane (and Lori is with Shane) outside of the city, because it’s been overrun with zombies. Rick runs into the city on a horse (looking straight out of a zombie videogame), gets his horse eaten by zombies, and takes an incredible amount of time to seal himself up in a tank. (Seriously, this guy must have the lowest amount of adrenaline ever present in a human being. He moves like molasses.)
In case you missed it, he’s a goddamn cowboy.

So far, I liked the story okay, and it seems promising for the character development of the people the show seems to care about. Unfortunately, none of those characters are ladies, who existed in this pilot for the sole purpose of helping to advance dude characters’ development. Morgan’s wife is in the refrigerator, gets absolutely no characterization (not even after the fact), and the only reason we even care about her is that Morgan and Duane are all traumatized by this. She gets a lot of face time in this episode solely because she’s been stuffed in the fridge, and we’re supposed to see her (rather pretty for a zombie) face through Morgan’s eyes. And the only other lady character with a name is Lori, who gets very little screen time, and most of that is devoted to kissing Shane, presumably so we can see how whorey she is, since she got over her husband faster than it took for him to heal from a gunshot wound. And perhaps I’m being too harsh on the writers here; they may not want us to judge her so quickly. But it’s difficult to tell, since that is basically the only thing she does onscreen, and the conversation in the beginning of the episode is intended to make us think she’s a bitch. She doesn’t ever get a side in that conversation, and we don’t get to hear about what happened from another party, because she doesn’t actually matter. She exists solely to develop Rick and Shane for us, and doesn’t exist outside of those relationships.

Get me out of the refrigerator!

This episode failed the Bechdel test hard, despite being an hour and a half long, and a fucking zombie movie, not a rom com. It could easily have included two women talking about practically anything, including zombies and survival, if they were feeling uncreative. But it didn’t, because it would have had to have two women talking on screen at the same time. And that, apparently, was too fucking difficult.

I think this show could get better. According to their cast of characters, there are at least some women playing a part in the show later. Significantly less than men, but they’re there. Possibly, then, they will get some personalities and perhaps even plot lines not connected to their dudes and romantic relationships. But I was really disappointed by the premiere, and am not feeling particularly optimistic.

Attention The Walking Dead  writers: women are not plot devices. And we don’t like watching shows that don’t think women matter as characters. Fix it.

Further reading (will be updated): 
“Everything You Ever Wanted to Know about Zombies, Answered.” From Science, Not Fiction.
“Why The Walking Dead Is Even Better Than We Thought.” From the Nerdist.
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This post was written by courtney stoker.

Courtney is a loud bitchy feminist, geek, gamer, and atheist. She is currently an English graduate student, specializing in Victorian science fiction (and fantasy, when she's feeling in the mood). You can find her on Twitter and at From Austin to A&M.

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28 Responses
  1. John permalink
    November 1, 2010

    OTOH, if I’m reading the hair drawing protocol correctly, I think the last panel of today’s XKCD passes the Bechdel test.

  2. softestbullet permalink
    November 1, 2010

    Dang, I was hoping they’d fix the comic’s sexism, but it sounds like they’re following it exactly. If they continue that way… yeah, it gets worse, not better.

    • siveambrai permalink
      November 1, 2010

      Well the show is written by the same guy so it would basically end up the same. I felt that the comic did improve a lot around issue 25 in terms of how they handled women but yea… expect a lot of them to be fridged.

  3. Patrick permalink
    November 1, 2010

    Well, they do seem to follow the comics so far, and yes, especially the beginning is quite problematic. Let me just tell you, if they *do* follow the comic, then Rick is clearly the main character, but also clearly not a “nice guy”. That’s part of the whole story: can you retain some semblance of humanity and still survive this?

    So I think it would get better, but never become good or even a revolutionary text regarding gender or race, and it would remain a white man’s story at its heart – but not exclusively.

    Ultimately, TWD (the comic) is something I enjoy despite its problems because the cost of survival, the strain on relationships and personalities is simply outstanding. And as I said, there are better moments at least: we also get women who are talented shooters /fighters whose men get refridgerated, for example.

  4. Kaonashi permalink
    November 1, 2010

    Considering that a lot of people IRL, both men and women, throw away long relationships for a night of fun, falling into the arms of your presumably dead husband’s partner after a few weeks of world-ending disaster isn’t that extreme. But yeah, two men fighting over a woman like this is stereotypical.

    I hope the series picks up, because I also have a thing for zombies and for the first time in quite a while I’m a bit excited over a new tv series.

    • Patrick permalink
      November 1, 2010


      If they follow the comic storyline, there will be *no* love triangle, but as soon as Rick’s back, the wife goes back to him; her fling with the other cop is more a comfort thing. And while there is jealousy from his friend, I don’t even recall how long it took before she told Rick that she slept with the guy.


      • November 1, 2010

        That kind of behavior makes her seem even more weak. Bleh.

    • Courtney Stoker permalink
      November 1, 2010

      Well, that falling into his arms isn’t particularly extreme is precisely the problem. Doing so is perfectly human, but we don’t get humanization of Lori. Because her motivations for finding comfort in Shane are not important to the writers, since all they seem to care about in this pilot is how the dudes feel. If her falling for Shane is about comfort and other easily-understandable things, why do we not see that? Why does the pilot focus entirely on the emotional fallout sure to be felt by Rick and the fierce protectiveness Shane feels for Lori? The characterization of her as a heartless and cruel bitch is a strategy that allows the writers to justify not giving her real motivations or a “side” of the story.

      • Patrick permalink
        November 1, 2010

        I totally and emphatically disagree. I did not get the feeling at all that she was portrayed as a heartless cold woman. The kiss, to me, is just a storytelling device to induce tension here; just like we get no motivation of the other survivors. Maybe Shane told her Rick was dead?

        So far, I would argue there has been so little about the whole group of survivors that you cannot even judge her actions either way. Maybe she will be portrayed as a cold bitca, maybe not. But you need to give the show the space to at least portray it in any kind of way.

        • Courtney Stoker permalink
          November 1, 2010

          From what other commenters have said about the comic series, giving the show space won’t actually improve things. (Also, an hour and a half isn’t enough? That’s almost as long as a movie.) And I disagree that we get “no motivation” of the other survivors. The others at her camp, sure, get almost no lines in this pilot, and that’s okay. But we have an entire scene devoted to the Lori/Shane dynamic, and he gets most of the lines. It’s not okay for the show to capriciously pick three characters to focus on–Morgan, Rick, and Shane–and decide that the lady characters are only important insofar as they relate to the them, and thus get no development, backstory, or motivations of their own. The writers could easily have done an interesting flashback, for example, for Morgan’s wife on getting bitten and getting sick, but it didn’t. And it didn’t because that would maybe have had something to do with her, and not with Morgan. And lady emotions are not particularly important in this pilot, unless those emotions are in her pants.

        • Courtney Stoker permalink
          November 1, 2010

          Also, I’m willing to give this show a chance. I’m not trying to dismiss it out of hand. The pilot simply doesn’t bode well for how this show will treat its lady characters is all.

        • Patrick permalink
          November 1, 2010

          It’s not okay for the show to capriciously pick three characters to focus on–Morgan, Rick, and Shane–and decide that the lady characters are only important insofar as they relate to the them, and thus get no development, backstory, or motivations of their own.

          That, I totally agree with. I am not too big on source fidelity in adaptation, and while I think the comic series is excellent, there is no reason, for example, why Morgan couldn’t have been Morgana.

          I’m just disagreeing that Rick’s wife is portrayed negatively, since she – like the other survivors at the camp – almost isn’t portrayed at all.

        • Patrick permalink
          November 1, 2010

          Oh, and now I’m thinking that if Morgan had been Morgana, would we now argue why Rick didn’t sleep with her while his wife slept with Shane?

        • Courtney Stoker permalink
          November 1, 2010

          I get that. But she does get portrayed by Rick in the beginning as rather heartless. In fact, cruelty is, as Rick says, the difference between men and women. Whether we’re supposed to like Rick and thus trust his representation at this point is up in the air, but when that’s pretty much all we get, it’s not a positive picture we get of her.

        • Patrick permalink
          November 1, 2010

          Good point. I had interpreted that talk as a sign that Rick and Shane aren’t that likeable, but that might be my comics knowledge crossing over, and if you latch on to Rick as the Good Guy, then yes, I might react as you did.

      • Kaonashi permalink
        November 2, 2010

        Courtney Stoker:
        Good points. I’m thinking too far ahead because I’ve read the comic and know more than was revealed in the pilot, I guess.

  5. Ashley permalink
    November 1, 2010

    The writers failed to create a plot driven with more female characters so you’re just going to conclude them as being NOT CREATIVE even though it’s adapted from a graphic novel written by a dude. Really?

    • Courtney Stoker permalink
      November 1, 2010

      Um, yes. Being “written by a dude” does not justify treating female characters as just so many objects, while treating male characters like people. Which should be obvious if you are reading a feminist blog.

  6. Devin Baker permalink
    November 1, 2010

    Thank you for your article! I was very hurt to hear the sexism pouring out of a character’s mouth the first few minutes of the show. I posted a comment on the AMC chat room for the show, for which I will probably be publicly humiliated for pointing out how I feel publicly humiliated by ‘boob’ jokes.
    I bet it wasn’t ‘boobs’ flipping switches in the labs that cause the virus that destroys the world. But this main point is usually lost on those who label and demean women.
    Thanks again for providing a quick and bright response to male chauvinism.
    I pray someday to be free of it completely.
    Wish me luck!

  7. lala permalink
    November 1, 2010

    Thanks for saving me 90 minutes of my life. Next time, try watching Dead Set.

  8. November 1, 2010

    Amen sistah!! I have been writing about this on forums and am surprised by how blind many of the fans are to it. I love the zombie genre, was so looking forward to this series, and am soooo disappointed. Btw, good female characters in a good zombie book series – “As the World Dies.” The writers of TWD could learn a thing or two from it.

    • Rhiannon Frater permalink
      November 5, 2010

      SC, thank you for the compliment.

      I think strong female characters are an asset to any zombie story and hopefully they will show up (soon!) in The Walking Dead.

  9. Emma permalink
    November 2, 2010

    I am still working my way through the comic, and I doubt I will have the chance to see the pilot anytime soon. However, I think I can agree with most comments here, but with regards to the comic. I love the comic, but I love it in such a way that I want to make it better. The world needs a feminist zombie comic.

  10. Gwen permalink
    November 2, 2010

    I agree.

    I’ve never read the comic. I only watched the first episode in its entirety because my husband and child wanted to. When it was done, there’d been nothing to dissuade me from my initial impression that I didn’t care if the (sexist) main characters lived or died.

    Now I’m ambling around the Internet, marveling at the number of young women who profess to like the comic despite its constant sexism. (“It does get a little better in Issue 23…”)

  11. cat permalink
    November 7, 2010

    If I weren’t so zombie obsessed, I would have shut this show off within the first minute. Anyone else remember the original ’68 Night of the Living Dead where Barbara spends the whole time crying and Judy runs out into the zombies like a dumbass? That movie did better on gender that this pilot episode. And, of course, the creators of the show, upon finding out that mostly only sexist boys watch their show will just take it as confirmation of their stereotypes that women and non-sexist folks don’t like action or horror.

  12. Patrick permalink
    November 8, 2010

    Yeah, so the second episode was more a step down, not up. Sorry.

  13. marykate permalink
    November 14, 2010

    late to this conversation but grateful to find others who were irritated by this premiere.
    i’m always struck by the level of emphasis placed on the idea that dead/sick/maimed women are so incredibly fascinating for TV and film. the little girl in the beginning, the half-bodied zombie, morgan’s wife. why all women? why so many women seen through the crosshairs of a rifle?
    the misogynistic joke by shane wasn’t offensive to me on its own. this is an issue of character v. creator. if shane is a misogynist, okay. the fact that the following narrative supports his anti-woman feelings, not okay. by setting up the show with that dialogue, the rest of the show smacks of white male wish fulfillment. finally, the bitchy wife and lights-leaving-on girlfriends are all dead and gone! let’s shoot em up! men reign supreme as they should.
    the zombies looked awesome, though. i’ll give this show another chance but not for long. i checked out a blog about women in the comic and it does not seem promising. even the most “kickass” woman, who is being used to defend the comic, is apparently held hostage and raped for a long period of time. that totally undermines the idea that the creators believe in a good and strong woman, or that such a person should exist without being tortured. womp womp.

  14. Tracy Gardner permalink
    November 14, 2010

    Note from Mary: Edited a misogynist slur

    First off, I’m very new to this blog and I really appreciate the material and views of the contributors. There really need to be more informed and intelligent avenues for modern feminist discourse out there for us feminist geeks. I was however extremely disappointed with this review. I have read every issue of the Walking Dead and I have been waiting for this show to premier since last year. I completely agree that there is a lack of female characters in the pilot, and there seems to be a blatant heteronormative plot structure; but in the series there is a genuine exploration of the possibilities of shifting gender roles in a collapsed society. Yes there is an established patriarchy, and the key character is a man, but the author is not writing a piece of feminist utopian fiction, he is writing a character piece based on observations of current social schemas. If the world were to be faced with a apocalyptic disaster would our patriarchal dependence really just evaporate? Wouldn’t we at least temporarily cling to familiar social structures? In the comics there really is no gratuitous violence towards women any more than there is towards men. And as for Lori, she is not the only female character in the series. Yes she is a [Mary: slur], but as if the show stays faithful to Kirman’s vision, Lori becomes a central figure and the first to challenge her husbands leadership and decisions. I consider myself a very informed and engaged feminist, and I think that the gender roles and characters Kirkman writes really defy so simple and narrow a reading. Give the show a chance, I like to think its in the right hands and we’ll have a good solid hour of zombies to geek out over every Sunday.

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