(Spoilers for Walking Dead Season 5 to follow. You have been warned)
Walking Dead had a strong second half of the season, elevating season 5 of the zombie drama to one of its best. But despite my enjoyment of the characters, story direction and mounting tension, one thing still bothered me:
The black guys kept dying.
I’m not exaggerating. In the first half of the season, we lose Bob to cannibalism. Then we lose Tyreese to two silmulantaneous walker bites+blood loss from a severed arm (in an attempt to stop the infection). Lastly, we lose Noah, (a character that has been a part of the main group for less than half the season) to a horde of zombies devouring him in one of the most gruesome deaths of the series. That’s three in one season. As a point of comparison, the “Main group” has only lost one other member that was not a black male this entire season (if you don’t know by now, I’ll let you figure it out).
Even if you take into account that Chad Coleman (who plays Tyreese) may have been looking to get off the show for another one, that still doesn’t get the Walking Dead off the hook. In previous seasons, we’ve had multiple black men die, only to be quickly replaced by another one. It’s a joke among fans of the show, but it’s not an exaggeration. The writers seem to keep killing off the black male character as a sacrificial lamb and then adding a new lamb to join the flock…only be to slaughtered later.
Is it also a coincidence that their deaths have been some of the most disturbing in the series? While Tyreese’s is somewhat standard for a zombie show, Bob is not only bitten, but has his leg cut off and has to watch people eat it in front of him. We then watch Noah as he is literally torn apart by a crowd of zombies. To make sure that we catch every detail, they even use a puppet that makes it look more realistic. In comparison, the fourth character that dies this season got a gunshot to the head. Brutal, yes, but only a few moments’ pain at most. All the black male characters suffered this season before they died. Was the suffering really necessary?
I picked a lot of the Walking Dead because I believe they are a byproduct of a longer trend. Let’s be honest, when you watch a horror movie, do you expect any of the minorities to make it out alive? Isn’t it a surprise where the black characters make it to the end? Sure, I’ll say if the movie stars Will Smith or Denzel, you’re not expecting a funeral at the end. But short of being a prolific actor, your life is not guaranteed. Is Hollywood saying that you have to be so beloved that people would riot if you were killed in order to survive? That’s what I’m getting from all of this.
Art is often a reflection of the society in which it was created. And lately it’s felt like the “black dude dies first” trend is more prevalent than ever. I’ve written about them before, but again, Michael Brown. Trayvon Martin. Unarmed black teens shot by officers out of a combination of fear and rushed decisions. And both are only a couple examples in an unfortunately long history. In the news media, they are seen as victims, but often will be criticized for rumored gang involvements or “looking suspicious”. In the movies, the black characters are still often stereotypes and not always portrayed sympathetically. I will give the point to Walking Dead here: at least they depict their black males in a positive light (if you don’t count the black priest. Seriously, no one likes him). But there is still an overwhelming amount of stereotypes lingering out there for black community, Hispanic community, lbgt community and more.
I’ll close with one of my first points: The Walking Dead (and other media) is not completely ruined for me by watching the black males die constantly. But the fact of the matter is that the show, like all art, can help provide an escape from reality. Yes, the Walking Dead is a bleak drama where people die all the time. But do those people have to be the same people that we see dying on our news channels time and time again? I want to stop being surprised that the black male gets to live a good and lengthy life.
There’s enough of that in real life.