…I always think “No, but this time they’ve changed! They’re going to do better!” But they never do.
I have not watched an episode of The Walking Dead in over two years. I just couldn’t do it. The memory of wanting to throw my television out the window was just too fresh. But all this time, it’s been sitting there in my Netflix queue, taunting me with its incompleteness.
“Come back!” it whispers, every time I fire up my Netflix account. “Don’t you want to know what happens to your old buddy Michonne?”
So this weekend I finally gave in and binged the two seasons I hadn’t watched. And predictably, I already regret it.
What I want to know is, what is it about female antiheroes that genre television hates so much? You would think that with all the progress we’ve made as a society, genres that deal with totally invented worlds would be able to invent some awesome, free-standing female anti-heroes to populate those worlds. But nope.
There was a time where I was satisfied with female characters that were even remotely two-dimensional. I was okay with the forced romance subplots, sex-as-a-weapon, and Mean Girl-esque social machinations that are typically considered to be a woman’s primary (if not only) source of power. I couldn’t always relate to them, as I’ve never been totally gender-normative… But I could play along. Then along came The Walking Dead with Michonne, and she totally changed the bar for me.
A katana-wielding loner, sexless as the weapon she carries, who survived an apocalypse partly by keeping de-jawed zombies as freaking pets on leashes? Yes, please! It’s like womankind’s answer to Batman.
In a cast full of weeping, manipulative, gender-normative women engaging in almost exclusively female-coded survival strategies, Michonne stood out like a rose in a bed of daisies… complete with thorns. With her laconism, her resting “I want to kill you” face, and don’t-flinch-or-you’re-dead approach to combat, Michonne was a character defined first and foremost by her fight to survive, instead of by the men who had hurt or protected her.
Name any other female in this show, and I will tell you the man they are defined by… But Michonne has been a breathtaking example of how a female character can exist in a survival setting without the need for either a rape-threat subplot or a dude to wrap her existence around. The only way to improve her would be to give her a more central role in the story.
So I guess maybe that’s why the Walking Dead writers felt they couldn’t possibly allow this to continue. Strong female character that even puts some of the men to shame? Fans criticizing her for not be central enough? People like her more than the white male who is meant to be the most important character? BLASPHEMY!
I can just imagine the conversation that must have happened while writing Season 6.
“So we need to make the viewers see Michonne as more feminine so they’ll be properly afraid for her at the cliffhanger ending.”
“Okay, but I’m pretty sure fans care about her exactly the way she is, though?”
“Nah, don’t be stupid. We need to feminize her so that she’s more relatable. Maybe we can have a rape-threat plot?”
“I don’t think the fans would buy that particular threat with Michonne. She’d probably bite their dick off if they tried, you know?”
“Ugh. That’s exactly what I’m talking about. She’s a real problem.”
“I don’t understand why that’s a problem.”
“We can’t have this woman who is stronger than most of our male characters! It’s too unrealistic.”
“But… is it unrealistic though?”
“No one thinks Michonne is realistic, Bob.”
“Yeah, but I’m pretty sure a lot of fans do, though.”
“Shut up, Bob. No one cares what you think.”
“Oh, forget it. We’ll just have her bang Rick. That’ll remind everyone she has a vagina. Problem solved. Now let’s talk about this Carol problem. She hasn’t been nearly weepy enough lately…”
Seriously. This episode where Rick and Michonne go to bed together was so poorly conceived that I thought I had skipped something by accident. Not only that, but you could TOTALLY skip this event and literally nothing would change. It’s like an episode from a totally different season was just spliced into an episode of season 6.
Can you imagine what would happen if there was a time skip and then, say, Daryl is shown hooking up with Aaron with literally zero explanation of events leading up to it… and then to add insult to injury, it was NEVER MENTIONED AGAIN?
There would be torches and pitchforks.
But since it’s Michonne, who is an African American woman instead of a white man, anyone who says anything against the episode is shouted down as a racist, and for the most part, it seems the fan consensus is that it’s totally cool for the writers to sacrifice the integrity of one of the greatest female anti-heroes of genre television, for no apparent reason whatsoever.
The world has SO many gender-normative characters. So many hyper-sexualized females whose plots revolve around the men in the story. So many badass females cast as villains who would make far more interesting protagonists than the men they’re supposed to lose to.
Couldn’t they have just let me keep my sexless katana-wielding badass? Just this once?