Last weekend The Walking Dead did something remarkable.
And then The Talking Dead promptly undid it.
I sat down last Sunday to watch what has easily become my favorite show currently on television. And what I love so much about it — what keeps me coming back every week to Rick and his family — is that it represents and normalizes scenarios that other shows might present as plot points or points of conflict in the show. Interracial relationships, LGBT relationships, women (especially women of color) in leadership roles—many of these themes are presented for cheap twists on other series. But, when they are viewed through the lens of the zombie apocalypse, race and gender become irrelevant. A good leader is a good leader. Love is love. Family is family. The Walking Dead has lead network television in a quiet revolution since its first season and the best part is that no one has noticed yet.
So you can imagine my delight as I watched what I believe to be one of the strongest episodes of the season to unfold.
Now, I’ll admit I was nervous at the start of “The Same Boat.” Maggie (one half of my favorite television couple) and Carol (a remarkable figure of survival and grief and healing) had been taken captive. But, beyond my fear for tiny baby Gleggie and the growing threat of Negan and the saviors, there was something else. I was excited. I was thrilled.
Every major character on Sunday’s episode was a woman. Even the villains. I reveled in their complexity and flaws.
Now the brutality of this episode was nothing we hadn’t seen before. The only difference is that this time it wasn’t Rick or Abraham or Tyreese beating the snot out of that Terminus jag in that cabin, it was the ladies’ turn to go medieval.
Of course, no show is perfect and this episode had its flaws. I would have liked to have seen more of Michonne or Tara coming to terms with the part of herself that enjoys the vigilante thrill of going after another camp. All things considered, though, I was pretty thrilled about the whole episode. Lauren Cohan (Maggie) and Melissa McBride (Carol) were given an episode and arc worthy of their significant talent as performers. They played their characters beautifully; giving us layers to Carol and Maggie we’d only had mere glimpses of before.
And then I watched The Talking Dead.
Don’t get me wrong. I love The Talking Dead. I enjoy Chris Hardwick as a host and on the rest of his Nerdist ventures. That being said, something that came up in the course of discussing the show rubbed me the wrong way.
Paul Feig, most notable at the moment for directing the all-female Ghostbusters reboot, suggested that Maggie’s strength and rage came from her pregnancy and now “having something to fight for.” This statement troubles me for two reasons:
- I have astronomically high hopes for Ghostbusters.
- Maggie has plenty of reasons to fight and even more to be angry.
Melissa McBride brushed the suggestion off admirably, but the discussion continued without her.
For a second I was almost sure that I’d been watching an entirely different show for the last six seasons.
Maggie Greene has always been angry.
Furthermore, that’s totally okay and does not need to be justified. But, if it does, let’s quickly revisit Maggie’s major arcs: Her father’s been murdered, her sister was murdered, people keep trying (and thankfully failing) to murder her husband, she’s moved several times, lost friends, been sexually assaulted and kidnapped on multiple occasions.
Furthermore, Maggie has never shied away from her darkness. She keeps it in check but there is a definite undercurrent of fury and rage that runs through her and it is the reason she is still alive. Maggie is not, nor has she ever been, a shrinking violet or southern belle with a case of the vapors. She externalizes her anger, often expressing it in physical ways not entirely unlike Rick.
When Glenn tells the group about the barn full of walkers, she smashes an egg on his head. When her father is murdered by the Governor, both she and Beth open fire without hesitation. She brutally ripped open walkers on her way to Terminus just to leave messages for her missing husband.
I’m sure her pregnancy is added pressure to survive but it’s certainly not the spark that started the fire. Trying to explain away her rage as “hormones” or “motherly instincts” does a disservice to a complex character that has been developing since season two.
Let Maggie be angry.
Let her be a daughter and a sister and a mother. Let her be a badass knocking walkers down on horseback. Let her be someone who has sex with a cute stranger in a pharmacy. Let her be a wife. Let her be a leader and negotiator. Let her grieve and rage and heal.
Anything less may create a more palatable character but also one that is boring and unrealistic. We need more complex female characters on television for better or worse.