Four years ago, on assignment for The Comics Journal, I asked Robert Kirkman a tough question about his Walking Dead comic series, a question that now, after the TV adaptation’s third season finale, is still resonant: Why are all the strong female characters either crazy or dead?
His response, from issue No. 289 of The Comics Journal: “I don’t mean to sound sexist, but as far as women have come over the last 40 years, you don’t really see a lot of women hunters. They’re still in the minority in the military, and there’s not a lot of female construction workers. I hope that’s not taken the wrong way. I think women are as smart, resourceful, and capable in most things as any man could be … but they are generally physically weaker. That’s science.”
While the TV drama has generally been more even-handed than the comics in the amount of time it gives to which characters, after season three’s finale–well, spoilers ahead.
Before we get to Andrea, let’s consider whether Kirkman’s answer bears on the show before Sunday’s episode. In the comics, Carol (Melissa McBride) tries to kill herself twice, and propositions Rick and his wife, Lori (Sarah Wayne Callies), for a threesome. This can’t happen in the show now, of course, as Lori is dead. As in the comics, Lori provided Rick with a sense of normalcy rather than with anything like, say, practical aid.
That’s just the kind of role that the women played throughout season one, especially when the female survivors kibbitzed about their men and pleasuring themselves while doing the group’s laundry. Rick’s hallucinated conversations with Lori on the prison’s phone after her death proved his ongoing need for her– not for her skills or intelligence but because he gets unsettled without his woman by his side.
Now, Andrea’s death promises to be similarly destabilizing for Rick. She has been the biggest link between season three’s focus on the inevitable confrontation between Rick and the Governor; Andrew had brought Rick to the Governor’s attention, and vice versa.
As the Governor’s lover, Andrea also needed to decide whether or not to stay with him, and her choice was the catalyst for the Governor’s first attack on Rick’s group. But apart from the sad fact that so much of season three’s drama was decided by Andrea’s relationship with a psychopath, her death leaves the show less one more strong, independent woman in a show that already had so few of them. Maggie (Lauren Cohan) wasn’t given much to do after the Governor nearly raped her. Carol’s opinion on the fate of the group haven’t carried much weight with Rick.
This leaves Michonne. inarguably the biggest badass on the show, who first appeared armed with a katana and two jawless zombies on a leash. She’s also been largely peripheral to the story. This is by design, and speaks to the way that Kirkman and the show’s writers have painted themselves into a corner with that “science”-based conception of male and female characteristics from that Comics Journal interview.
Kirkman’s ideas of hunter/gatherer/provider societal norms seem to govern the show’s characters. Michonne doesn’t talk and doesn’t get along with Rick’s group, making her a marginal loner, like Daryl. Though Daryl’s character was greatly expanded in season two, he already had a backstory: We knew him as the brother of Merle (Michael Rooker), the racist whom the group left for dead in the first season. Despite appearing in nearly every episode of season three, Michonne remains a cipher.
Viewers of AMC’s show should at least be grateful that Michonne wasn’t raped by the Governor like she was in the comics, a development that led her to get revenge on her attacker by sodomizing him with a spoon.
So much of season three revolved around male community leaders making decisions, leaving the women to be companions at best, and accessories at worst. Rick is only more emotionally balanced than the Governor because he listens to Hershel and Daryl first, and his group’s less powerful members second. He’s sane because he’s got a village of friends supporting him, which makes that village’s old-fashioned gender divisions that much more distressing. So while Kirkman’s comics series has been, to some extent, organically exclusive the whole time, that doesn’t mean that that exclusivity is a good or even a necessary part of the show.