01 November 2010

A quick post about The Walking Dead

The makeup for this show: phenomenal.
Cross posted at Geek Feminism.

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): 

6 comments:

Lance Hunter said...

Having followed the comic from the very beginning, I think you'll eventually find a lot of these problems won't be as bad over the next few episodes. Not that I'm expecting the show to be a feminist masterpiece or anything (Kirkman always did throw in a bit too much good ol' boy heroism for my tastes).

True, Morgan's wife is in the refrigerator, but this is the zombie apocalypse, pretty much everyone is in the refrigerator. People who the characters once knew end up dead and haunting them in zombie form with eerie regularity. It's spread pretty evenly between genders.

The pilot did also fail the Bechdal test, which I think would have been easier to deal with if they hadn't cut to the camp outside Atlanta, if there had just been 4 speaking roles in the whole thing. They could have saved the reveal at the camp for later and given the characters there more time to breath, rather than just provide quickie foreshadowing that didn't serve them well. Based on what's in the books, though, I don't expect future episodes to fail it again. (At least I'm hoping they won't. They will certainly be in situations where they don't need to. It really depends on just how Rick-focused the show chooses to be from this point out.)

samus jones said...

Speaking as a woman and a comics fan, I've followed TWD since the beginning and it contains some pretty blatant and consistent currents of sexism in the story.

To be sure, there are several strong and interesting female characters, but their characterizations tend to fall into the kick-ass warrior type: good with guns and various/sundry other weapons, etc.

However, there are also various noteworthy moments in the comic that come to mind. Hopefully without dropping too many potential spoilers:

In one of the early issues, a woman complains that only the men have been going hunting for food, and she is given a verbal smackdown (by Lori, if memory serves) for having the nerve to bring up equality issues during a zombie apocalypse.

At a later point, the men ask one of the women to take charge of the group. She declines, as do the other women. The men intuit that this is because the women just want to be "taken care of", etc. Despite the quotes, that is probably a paraphrase. I'm going by memory, and I'd have to look up the exact references, but I don't believe that I am misrepresenting those scenes at all.

There are quite a few other examples but I'll digress for now. I'm still reading the book, largely because the story is pretty solid overall and it is certainly no more sexist that most other comics today.

I am really hoping that the show tones that down now that they are (presumably) appealing to a larger audience. Based on the first episode, it has so far - but the bar has been set pretty low.

Stephanie said...

As yet another follower of the comic, I tend to agree with both of the previous commenters. Yes, it is a dude-centric story, yes their are a lot more female characters to come, and yes those characters do tend to be limited.

However, all of the characters tend to be limited to basic tropes, including the main character, Rick. He is pretty much a modern version of the western hero - he begins his journey on horseback for crying out loud.

The male characters do take precedence but that is because the main character(s) is male (they shift a bit between two). Annoying that this is usually who gets the to be the main character and take up the most screen time, but there you go. Also, by the most recent comic I actually tended to loathe all of the characters because they diverge from being stereotypes to embodying what we least like in ourselves - which would probably be the case if one must live through the zombie apocalypse.

However, as the comic wore on there was some serious questioning of masculinity during the journey. I'll be interested to see how they handle it.

R.B. said...

A la Battlestar Galactica, it never hurts to change a few male character to female. Really. I believe this. Or GASP! if it's too tempting to have a heterosexual lady-man team, have one of them be gay!

Why are people in refrigerators?

Anonymous said...

Yeah, hubbs and I made it through about 45 minutes into this. I sure as hell didn't care about the main character or the stereotyped 'angry black man'. Hubbs didn't like the Sheriffs talk and it went downhill from there.

Honestly, I'm so used to hearing men in mainstream media talk about how horrible the womenfolk are about thermostats that it didn't phase me. It really bugged my Husband though. He kept asking why he should care about assholes.

All of the characters were just so dull to me. The only person I cared about was the little boy- but once again it was a show about One Man's Journey or some shit.

I also couldn't suspend belief that they would all three shower at the same time- who the hell was keeping look out?

I love zombies but perhaps I'm just getting bored with no one in movieland ever knowing what the hell a zombie is.

Anonymous said...

I am disappointed in this show too...

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AI9M8PPanus

I SO SO wanted to like it.

LB