An Ode To The Women Of The Walking Dead

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loriembedPhoto: Courtesy of AMC.


You guys, The Walking Dead is coming back tonight, and I am beside myself. Considering my idea of heaven is eating night cheese in bed with a hot water bottle, I'm not sure why I get so jazzed about post-apocalyptic scenarios, but Her Holy Highness Ke$ha taught me that I R who I R, and I'm going to stick with it. Because you're all already aware of our obsession with Norman Reedus, I think the season four return of one of the greatest zombie stories of all time is an appropriate moment to talk about the ladies who make the show so darn good.

Of course, there are the obvious ones: Michonne and Andrea, consummate badasses whose attraction lies in the fact that they're not always good guys. Michonne, in particular, is a perfect representation of how humanity's most brutal, instinctual qualities manifest when the rules disappear. And while she can be every bit as scary as the governor or Merle, she's also a lot less selfish. Andrea (RIP) was her perfect counterpart, stubborn and tough but also desperately in need of a companion and a partner in crime zombie-killing. And then there's Maggie, whose willingness to help others before herself is tested every day, sometimes to her companions' chagrin. To put Maggie in the larger context of the show, her romance with Glenn is one of the few normal feelings we get, a necessary escape for both the characters and the viewer. But it's a testament to both actors' strengths that, charming as they are together, their love story also carries its weight as a serious plot-driver. And, of course, I don't need to tell any fans of the show that Carol, played by casting-director-turned-actress Melissa McBride, is awesome. Carol might be the best and most reliably moral character, not to mention a quiet leader who's in some ways more suited to the job than Rick. Female characters her age very rarely make it this far in this genre, or any, for that matter. But her presence is an essential component to the group dynamic, and her transformation pre- and post-apocalypse is also one of the most interesting to watch. And, with characters dropping like flies in season three, she's poised to really come into her own even more in upcoming episodes.

But, I want to risk the wrath of the commenting community by pointing out that Lori, too, had her merits. She was the Skyler White of the show, hated with vitriol by many for what her critics would describe as shrill, harpy ways. Just like Walter White apologists felt that prudish Skyler was holding her husband back, a lot of fans of the show, and the comics alike, seem to feel the same way about Lori. To paraphrase a popular meme, she's a bitch, she's a bad mother, she's making the zombie apocalypse even worse by being so insufferable. And while I think that Skyler-haters and Lori-haters share a lot of the same prejudices, I'm not going to make the argument that Lori is necessarily a likable character. Or a good person, or an example to live by. What she is — like most of the people in the story — is a flawed, pretty average human who is completely unequipped to function without the comfortable rules and regulations of a civilized society. I won't even deny that Lori sucked sometimes. But that's why she was a worthwhile and important part of the cast. Like everyone else on the show (not to mention the planet), Lori lived her entire life based on certain notions, assumptions, and creature comforts. Are we really in a position to criticize her if she's unable to consistently rise to the occasion of raising multiple children, fighting zombies, and maintaining a relationship with her husband after she's had the rug pulled out from under her feet? I personally appreciated the fact that she was never able to transform into a comic book hero over night, guns blazing, moral compass fully intact. She had her moments, she stepped it up when she could, but she's never been a perfect person. That's not just realistic, it's what the vast majority of people would do in her situation. Forcing us to admit that we can't all be like Rick or Hershel or even the governor is exactly the kind of nuance that makes this story more than just a gory stream-of-consciousness (though it is that, at times).

But you know what I like most about the women on this show? They're not just the same bland, token-ish "strong female characters." If that sounds like a controversial statement, read this essay by Sophia McDougall first. While having "strong female characters" might sound nice and feminist-y, McDougall explains that it denies female protagonists a basic advantage granted to almost all of their male counterparts: Male characters are used to "being interesting across more than one axis and in more than two dimensions." While I don't think anyone on The Walking Dead can be described as weak — those who fit that description died early on — I think that "strong" is a useless platitude in this case. It's like describing the show as "gory." Is it true? Yes. But there's much more to it than that. Like pretty much anything when you're struggling for basic survival in a world full of vicious enemies, it's complicated.

The Walking Dead returns tonight on AMC at 9 p.m. EST.