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Michonne or Maggie? Race, Gender, and Rape on The Walking Dead TV Series

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The Walking Dead TV series exists in a universe apart and separate from the comic book. Season Three's storyline with The Governor has reinforced this fact. However, both of these stories are a version of "The Walking Dead." As such, they provide an example of what Culture Studies types call  "intertextuality." Here, the comic book and TV series reference each other, while also signaling to other examples of storytelling in the zombie genre.

[For example, the TV series character named "Milton" is a clear allusion to Dr. Logan's character in  George Romero's classic film Day of the Dead and his "pet" zombie Bub.]

As I wrote about  here, The Walking Dead TV series has little to no interest in developing its African-American characters. The graphic novel has several black male characters who are integral to the story, and are not sideshow stand-ins that are included because of a sense of multicultural political correct noblesse oblige. By contrast, the AMC series has (the now dead) "T-Dog"--a character that was a glorified black man servant chauffeur to the white characters, a black gollum mute with few lines, who lived only to serve and protect the other survivors.

Michonne, a fan favorite, and a richly developed, full, interesting, and challenging character in the graphic novel, was first introduced as a black caretaker and best friend/magical negro to Andrea on the TV series.

There, this iconic character is a black pit bull warrior, unfeeling, laconic, and damaged. Michonne, has a few more lines of dialogue than T-Dog; but she is dangerously close to being a two-dimensional figure whose only plot purpose is only to serve as a weapon to be unhinged at the command of Rick, the leader of the intrepid group of zombie apocalypse survivors.

In future episodes, I would suggest that it will be even more clear that Michonne is only a slightly more under control version of the X-Men's Wolverine for Rick. Wolverine was Weapon X; Michonne is a Samurai sword wielding loyal negress.

Glenn is the Asian fix it man, former pizza delivery man, and loyal friend of the white men in the party. Glenn is a post apocalyptic version of the model minority myth. Glenn is not a full  "Hop Sing"; however, he is very close to that archetype.

To point. For two seasons, he remains "feminized"--"sneaky, evasive, and stealthy"--until being forced into "manhood" by Merle's interrogation in the most recent episode "When the Dead Come Knocking." Glenn's loyalty to Rick, and the system of white male patriarchal authority he embodies in the show, was symbolically "rewarded" by the former's sexual union with Maggie, a white woman.

In The Walking Dead universe, upward racial mobility would seem to have its "perks."

The Walking Dead TV series is ultimately a story about how white male authority is enduring in a world populated by the undead. As a premise, this is a fine, interesting, and potentially fascinating framework for genre storytelling (I wonder how many viewers understand that this is the not so subtle subtext of the series?).

As further proof of the continuing dominance of white masculinity in a world where the dead now walk the Earth, this season's villain has also surrendered to the white racial frame, where The Governor, who was originally Hispanic in the graphic novel, has been rewritten as a white character.

I can accept that The Walking Dead TV series occupies its own universe and narrative space. I can also accept that people of color are peripheral in this universe, and as such, the roles played by them will be different than the vision offered by the graphic novel. But, I am less forgiving of how a character such as Michonne has been robbed of her power and complexity. My claim is a challenging and provocative one: if you love a character and respect them, then you, the author/creator, must at times let bad things happen to your beloved creation.

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