Trans, Aro and Ace representation in The Walking Dead
Let’s Take a Look at the Trans, Aro and Ace Representation (or Lack thereof) in The Walking Dead
For a lot of horror nerds, The Walking Dead may have been a gateway to the wider genre of horror as it was one of the few mainstream hits on primetime television. Despite a third of the episodes (and the second season) being a completely drab, it never lost its core fanbase because when the show was good, it was cinematically beautiful. But, is it sincerely representative of Trans, Aro and Ace individuals?
Whether it’s a great show or not, the cultural impact it has left is undeniable. What easily could have been boxed in as a horror franchise, was so much more. “People see [The Walking Dead] as a genre show and a zombie show, but I think at the end of the day, [it’s a] character drama,” says Gohar Gazazyan, one of the casting directors on The Walking Dead. “It’s so much about our humanity, which I think is why it’s so important that we have tried to show what humanity is in all its various forms.” Despite this effort sometimes the show seems to have failed in doing just that.
The show had more than 550 credited characters and not one of them was transgender or asexual. It’s hard to believe that trans people didn’t survive the apocalypse. Or maybe The Walking Dead is set in a universe where trans people don’t exist? Trans people have been written out of history and fiction for the longest time. As a genre that is inherently very queer and a franchise which made repeated attempts to be more inclusive, the show did fail its transgender fans.
The show got a lot of criticism for having a mostly white cast despite being set in and around Atlanta for the first four seasons. The black men would be badly written and stereotyped. Until the introduction of Michonne, black characters would be mostly used as props with barely any contribution to the narrative. Steven Yeun (Glenn) later admitted that the handling of his character in the initial seasons was poor and the costumes and character were stereotypical. Eventually, with the show’s course correction the non-white characters started being written better. This change comes about as a result of the writers’ room having an equal number of men and women.
Characters belonging to racial minorities also started getting equal screen time and started being non-stereotypical once Angela Kang, an Asian American woman, started being more heavily involved with the show. Kang eventually became the showrunner from season 9 onwards. She says, “The idea of inclusion has been very important to us. … When you’re doing a show that is about America and the fall of America, I think we all have felt a responsibility to do our best to show many different people because otherwise, you’re saying the world only belongs to a certain type of person.”
Daryl Dixon, who started out as an aromantic/asexual coded character for the first 8 seasons, became the protagonist of the show since season 9 after the departure of Rick Grimes (the previous protagonist) from the show. Daryl was such an important part of the show that his story gets its own spin-off set to release in 2023. Robert Kirkman, the creator of the comics confirmed that Dixon was ‘somewhat asexual’. Despite that there were a few last moment additional episodes that made him ‘somewhat straight’ by introducing a poorly written romantic subplot (season 10) that felt forced and unnecessary. Asexual erasure is a fairly common industry practice and multiple shows (Sheldon from Big Bang theory) have turned their ace characters straight to pander to ratings.
The final season finally did cast a trans woman; Aneesh Sheth, to play a woman named Jan. Jan’s gender isn’t revealed as she barely gets one dialogue and a minute or so of screen time. Possibly a double tick in the diversity checklist by casting an Indian-origin trans woman, but the representation of trans, aro and ace individuals (or lack thereof) feels insincere throughout.
When you do think of casting choices affecting ratings and profits, ‘Everything Everywhere All At Once’ an indie superhero film does come to mind. The lead, Michelle Yeoh is a 60-year-old Malaysian woman. Despite not being a ‘gay film’ the story, at its very core is queer. Yet, the film surpassed anything Marvel has been incessantly churning out. The Walking Dead franchise has 3 spin-offs and at least 3 more on which work has begun. Even after a renewed effort to make sure the show(s) aren’t trying to placate a certain demographic, it keeps disavowing people who are fighting real-life battles for life and dignity. The writers confirmed that they are going to keep churning out new material for at least the next decade. For a show about death, maybe it’s high time the franchise rests in peace.