Race And 'The Walking Dead'

Posted on December 10, 2012 

SPOILERS ON THIS SEASON OF 'WALKING DEAD" BELOW...

YOU'VE BEEN WARNED

I've read a couple of things recently criticizing "The Walking Dead" for killing off black characters at the same time it introduces new ones.

For example, T-Dog gets killed just as a new black character, Oscar, is introduced as a prisoner who joins the group.

A couple of episodes later, Oscar is killed just as Tyreese, a popular character from the "Walking Dead" comics, makes his first appearance on the show.

Eric Deggans, a media critic with the Tampa Bay Tribune, raised the question when he interviewed actor Chad Coleman ("The Wire"), who has joined the cast as Tyreese.

In a recent column, Deggans wrote: "The question matters because The Walking Dead is TV's most popular show this fall with younger viewers on broadcast and cable, drawing 15 million viewers over three showings Sunday. ... It is odd to see a show set in Georgia and around Atlanta with so few black people in it. According to the last census, Georgia is the state with the largest black population; 30 percent of residents are African-American. In Atlanta, 51 percent of the population is black people."

I think the criticism misses the boat for a couple of reasons. For example, compare the number of white characters who have died over the same period of time: Shane, Lori, Dale, Amy, Sophia, Carol's husband, most of the folks at Herschel's farm, the CDC scientist. That's a considerably higher number than the two black characters. (Admittedly, there are more white characters, but considering how many regular characters die during a season, no one is safe no matter what their race. That's the point).

The TV producers wanted to stay true to Robert Kirkman's comics while creating their own product for the small tube. That's why the original cast largely reflects the original comics characters (except Daryl and Merle, who were created for the show).

The critics seem to gloss over the fact that one of the most popular characters in the comics, Michonne (Danai Gurira), was added this season and seems to be a keeper, no doubt as Tyreese will be.

It doesn't seem fair or realistic that a black character on the show would face any more or less danger of being killed off as a white character, given the post-apocalyptic world the characters face each week.

The fact is, in creating a TV show, producers can only have so many cast members to begin with, in order to keep the characters busy enough that we care about them on a weekly basis.

Sure, fans of the show cared about losing T-Dog -- he had been there since the beginning and died heroically saving Carol. (Oscar, on the other hand -- we hardly knew you). His death wasn't any more or less affecting than any of the other deaths on the show, except in the sense I liked T-Dog more than Lori, Shane or Dale. At the same time, the most impactful death was Sophia's, because the search for her drove much of the first half of the second season, and that it involved the death of a child, which is always a terrible thing.

"Dead's" biggest appeal is that the viewer gets the sense that ANY character at ANY moment may die, underlying the tension the characters themselves would feel living in such a world. (OK, Daryl is probably not going to die, if for no other reason than fans of the show would torch AMC's offices in protest, especially the female fans).

Making a debate about the race of characters who die on any show, especially this one in particular, simply detracts from good storytelling, which is what the producers care about most.

MONDAY'S BEST BETS: NBC launches a new Howie Mandel-hosted game show tonight at 9 p.m. Funny, I don't remember "Deal or No Deal" ever getting canceled; it was just gone one day after the network seemed to air it every single night. This one, called "Take It All," is a gift-swapping game reminiscent of "Let's Make A Deal." It follows a new "Voice" and precedes a Michael Buble Christmas special at 10 p.m.

CBS has new installments of its comedies, followed by a new "Hawaii Five-0" at 10 p.m. "90210" and "Gossip Girl" are new on The CW, while Fox airs The American Country Awards.

On cable, SyFy airs a 20th Anniversary special, looking at highlights of its original programming such as "Farscape" and "Battlestar Galactica," plus a lot of crap, which is pretty much everything else.

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