Last year while in graduate school, my roommate, boyfriend, brothers and close friends all incessantly tried to convince me to start watching “The Walking Dead.” Between them, every comprehensible reason was thrown at me. “The first season is only six episodes!” “It’s not really a zombie show, it’s more about how people would react in utter chaos.” “The special effects are amazing; it’s the most expensive drama on prime-time.” Having a full-time job and being a full-time student allowed me to cite time constraints as my main excuse for not drinking the “Walking Dead” Kool-Aid. In reality, I just didn’t care about another show about zombies.
I ended up conceding during Hurricane Sandy. With the storm in full swing, I was out of excuses—the office was closed, school was cancelled, and what, my boyfriend asked, would be more appropriate for the last week of October? Giving in, I watched the pilot. I was largely unimpressed with everything, except for Andrew Lincoln’s ability to put on a convincing Georgian accent. After all, what woman can forget him standing outside Keria Knightley’s apartment in “Love Actually” brandishing his “To me, you are perfect” sign? Well played, “Walking Dead.” You have appealed to your female demographic.
Since then, I have become just as addicted as the rest—so much so that I’m actually considering reading the graphic novels. The true appeal of the show lies in its realism. The special effects, props and sound effects are astounding (with some episodes costing as much as $3 million to create). More importantly, though, the show’s creators focus as much on the psychological effects of society’s destruction as on the challenges of fighting off zombies’ snapping jaws. Indeed, by the beginning of season three, the “walkers” seem to have become little more than furniture, background to the true conflict between rivaling groups of survivors. The decisions the groups are faced with are difficult, and the consequences are real. Nothing is sacred and no one is safe. The show has been simultaneously criticized and lauded for its ability to ruthlessly kill beloved characters. “My advice,” my brother said when I told him I finally started watching the show, “is do not become attached to any characters. They don’t stick around long.”
True, some don’t deserve to stick around, but others—like Daryl (Norman Reedus), Glenn (Steven Yeun), Hershel (Scott Wilson)—are all strong, well-rounded characters with sound judgment. What’s sadly missing is a dynamic and powerful female presence. Andrea (Laurie Holden), typically runs to the man (or woman, for that matter) who has the most influence. In recent episodes, she has been trying to do “what’s right,” but it feels too little, too late. Michonne (Danai Gurira), while clearly an able warrior, independent thinker and highly valuable, remains flat. She’s tough, but does that mean she has to be devoid of emotion? The only exception is Maggie (Lauren Cohan). Maggie is a smart, courageous fighter who, though she’s in a romantic relationship, does not hide behind it. So why, then, in a recent episode, was sex used against? If a woman becomes too strong, must her sexuality be made into a tool of humiliation? Still, she is the redeeming female character who, I would argue, does not get nearly as much screen time as she deserves. This may not be a sentiment shared by the show’s core demographic of men aged 18 to 49, but among the upwards of 11 million viewers per episode, I can’t be the only one who would like to see a woman take the lead.
Perhaps as season three comes to a climax, the stage will be set for Maggie to play a bigger part in the next season. The men in charge have made questionable decisions with calamitous consequences. The imminent threat of war promises loss on either side, and I’m anxiously wondering who will be there when the dust settles. Either way, despite my initial reluctance to watch, I will look for season four as ravenously as walkers look for the living.