This Walking Dead Character Could Change TV Forever

daryl_embed1Photo: Courtesy of AMC.
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The Walking Dead returns this week, and many of the questions that have kept us awake at night will (hopefully) be answered: How will our heroes escape Terminus? Where did Beth go? Isn’t Sasha a little schvitzy in her chunky wool sweater? And, last but not least: Is Daryl gay?
The signs are there. This past season our rangy, crossbow-toting badass had close bonds with two women, Carol and Beth, but he always remained brotherly — never making advances. When trapped in the trunk of a car with Beth all night, he remained a gentleman. Even when they were drunk on moonshine, he made sure she doesn’t get too wasted — like a true gay guy best friend. Also, he wears leather really well.
Daryl’s sexuality has been a major topic of discussion amid the show’s rabid fan base. And, the team behind the series aren’t denying that there may be more to Daryl than meets the eye. In a recent letter column in The Walking Dead #130 graphic novel, show creator Robert Kirkman responded to a fan’s query about Daryl’s possible gay sexuality: “All I can say is that it’s been discussed. We have very specific ideas about Daryl’s sexuality (or the seeming lack thereof), and if there’s ever a quiet period in the show where he’s not consistently distracted by crossbowing…we’ll tackle it in the show.”
Actor Norman Reedus, who plays Daryl, said that show creators had been considering making his character gay since the beginning. In an interview with GQ, the actor recalled that at a party in L.A. after the first season, Frank Darabont (the series' first showrunner and director of the pilot) pitched the idea to him that Daryl might be “prison gay” — as in, he is too frightened and cautious to let anyone know how he really feels. (Not the most gallant way of putting it, but still.)
Reedus is open to the possibility. (“That’ll blow minds,” he responded to Darabont.) And, it’s a testament to the actor’s talent that he has given Daryl a soulfulness and vulnerability under his tough exterior that could allow for such character development. As troubled and emotionally impacted as Daryl Dixon may be, there is something sweet and lonesome behind his squinty eyes — not unlike Heath Ledger’s unforgettable Ennis Del Mar in Brokeback Mountain. He was rough, mumbling, afraid of his own emotions, but still so in love with Jack Twist that he throws up in an alley.
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daryl_embed2Photo: Courtesy of AMC.
And five seasons in, it’s about time a gay man showed up during the zombie apocalypse. The Walking Dead arguably has the most diverse casting ever seen on TV, but so far it can’t seem to find one gay male survivor. Even the Walkers seem heterosexual.
Meanwhile Armageddon hasn’t stopped anyone else from hooking up. Maggie and Glenn seem to make out everywhere — even during a deadly flu pandemic. Tyreese had Karen (until she was slaughtered). Tara, an out lesbian, is seen canoodling with her sexy girlfriend Alicia (until she was shot in the head). Even a psycho killer like The Governor had an emotional life and got laid (until he was slaughtered and then shot in the head).
The Walking Dead started off with people in traditional gender roles and has slowly been dismantling them. In the first two seasons, the women didn't know how to use guns and were always cooking and doing the laundry while the men strutted around barking orders. That changed when Rick lost his marbles, and Michonne showed up (the other much-loved badass of the series).
That’s why the series has been so groundbreaking: The typical straight white male lead gets emasculated, major characters unexpectedly die (Bye Herschel, we’ll miss you! So long Lori, we won’t miss you), and Glenn, an Asian-American, is half of the series central enduring romance. (It’s 2014 and in the U.S., it’s still rare to see an Asian man as a sexually attractive, emotionally rounded lead) .
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daryl_embed3Photo: Courtesy of AMC.
So, where is the gay? It isn’t helpful that in our culture, gay male sexuality is still predominantly seen an amenity that comes with being upper middle class — something you only do when you have time and money, like exfoliation or a summer share. But, gay desire is a powerful force that can’t be suppressed, even during a catastrophe.
Gay men have survived all sorts of things, including at least one plague. Also, if anyone knows how to deal with zombies, it’s the gay dude who made the mistake of going to a really annoying club full of muscleheads and pounding “oonce oonce” music and desperately needs to find the exit.
What’s more unrealistic are the lengths TV and film goes to to ensure two men never have an intimate moment with each other. Consider the death scene in A Perfect Storm, where George Clooney and Mark Wahlberg are drowning in the hull of a boat and know they are going to die. Instead of grasping onto one another in a final embrace they make chummy quips and practically high five.
Or, last summer’s blockbuster Star Trek Into Darkness, in which the central lovers, Kirk and Spock, must say their goodbyes after Kirk is bombarded with radiation. Conveniently, they are on either side of a sealed chamber so they can’t kiss. But, do they say they have always loved each other and wish they could finally French? Nope. Instead it’s:
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Kirk: “I want you to know why I couldn’t let you die”
Spock: “Because you are my friend.”
daryl_embed4Photo: Courtesy of AMC.
Thank god for fan fiction, where Spock and Kirk have the relationship you always knew they wanted, and Batman and Robin have crazy sex.
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When a gay man does exhibit power and strength, he is often depicted as a villain. It’s the central thesis Vito Russo made in his classic book, The Celluloid Closet, (released in 1981 and made into the 1995 documentary), and it’s still shockingly true. Many of today’s super-villains often have a little effeminate swish to them — think of Javier Bardem in Skyfall or Loki in the Avengers and Thor franchises.
“There's an amazing leap into cartoon villains that are coded as gay,” says David Thorpe, a filmmaker whose new documentary, Do I Sound Gay?, will have its U.S. premiere at NYC’s DocFest in November. “It starts with Captain Hook in Peter Pan and remains a robust trend through the Jungle Book (Shere Khan) to the Lion King (Scar) and Aladdin (Jafar)...Heroes have to stamp out evil. What's one version of evil? People who supposedly threaten the foundations of society by rejecting heterosexuality.”
Things, of course, are changing. At least now we have one iconic, intimidating but completely lovable gay anti-hero (Omar from The Wire), and one bisexual anti-hero (Francis Underwood in House of Cards).
What’s missing is a gay guy who defends his loved ones and stands strong. And, Daryl Dixon, who has become one of the most popular heroes on TV, is just the man.
So, here’s hoping this season, Daryl gets a sexuality and maybe a boyfriend. A tough gay guy who holds his own and isn’t an evil queen? It will be the biggest thing to happen on TV since Kirk and Uhura made out.
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