I know that many of you here are huge The Walking Dead naysayers, who gave up after season 5, or season 7, or much earlier, and you all kvetch about “misery porn blah blah blah,” but holy crap, this season has been good. And not “good for The Walking Dead.” I mean, good good. New showrunner Angela Kang has revitalized the series creatively; the dialogue is much improved; the original storylines are fantastic; and she’s also managed to dramatically improve upon the current comics storyline. In fact, there’s only been one misstep this entire season, and that was former showrunner Scott Gimple’s decision to not kill Rick Grimes and save him for a series of movies (and while I hated the way that worked in the context of the series, I fully intend to watch the spin-off films).
The latest death, however, has generated a small amount of controversy from very loud naysayers, but I believe it has been completely blown out of proportion.
(Spoilers for the midseason finale ahead).
The midseason finale saw the death of Jesus, and it was one of the most stunning, unexpected deaths of the series. The show introduced The Whisperers, a cult of nut jobs who wear skin suits made from zombies and who mill around in herds of zombies, which they also use as weapons against their enemies. It’s kind of a crap storyline in the comics, but Angela Kang has brought it to life on the series by reintroducing horror movie tropes into this horror series. The final moments of the midseason finale were set in a spooky, graveyard-like location, which saw Jesus and Co. being pinned against a gate by a herd of zombies. What they don’t realize, of course, is that a one or more of those walkers aren’t actually walkers, but humans in skin suits, so the idea of a sentient, whispering zombie in this atmosphere is terrifying.
In the scene, while the others are trying to escape, Jesus goes full-on action hero and starts slicing up zombies. It’s badass, right up until he swings his sword at a zombie’s head, and the zombie ducks, comes up behind Jesus, and stabs him through the back, whispering menacingly, “You are where you do not belong,” before dropping Jesus’ dead body.
This shouldn’t happen because, like, zombies don’t do that. In nine seasons of The Walking Dead, it may have been the first death that I absolutely did not see coming because the death is either in the comics or someone leaked it (that may have also happened here, but it was Thanksgiving weekend so no one was paying attention to TWD leaks). It was even better because in the counterpart comics storyline, Jesus is the only character who survives the first encounter with The Whisperers, and here he’s the only one who dies. Hell, I didn’t even realize I was yelling “NooooooooOOOOOOO!” at my television screen until it had already escaped my mouth.
And look: I love Jesus. He’s a great character, but even Tom Payne (the actor who plays him) was relieved to be killed off the series because the character had been sorely underutilized. Again, that’s all on Scott Gimple, who — as showrunner — wasted the best moments of Jesus’ comics arc. He’s still alive in the comics, but his role going ahead is minimal, so it actually made sense to kill him off at this point because the story doesn’t lose much, his death achieves maximum impact, and at the very least, the character will always be remembered for the way in which he introduced The Whisperers.
But, Jesus was gay, and some people are getting worked up over the fact that The Walking Dead killed off a gay character, which is similar to the controversy the series courted early on by killing of Black characters. However, at this point, The Walking Dead is probably one of the most diverse shows on television, which also means that anytime someone is killed off, there’s a very good chance that person will be a person of color or LGBTQ, which showrunner Angela Kang acknowledged to The Hollywood Reporter:
“We’re proud we had this wonderful character. He’s one of my favorite characters from the comic books as well. For our writers who are LGBTQ, it’s something that mattered to them as well. We have a lot of wonderful diversity and representation on the show, and that’s something we’re very proud of. For a show that deals with issues of life and death and people who have heroic and surprising ends, it’s hard because almost anyone you kill on our show or write out is going to be part of some underrepresented group on television. I wish all of television would step up as well. We just tend to get a lot of attention for it.”
That’s exactly right. People may have their issues with The Walking Dead, but diversity should no longer be one of them. There’s still a number of LGBTQ characters on this show, and every single romantic relationship on the show is now interracial. That’s pretty remarkable for an ensemble this size, and while three main characters have exited this season — two white guys, and a white woman — they have been replaced largely by cast members from underrepresented groups. It’s 2018, and The Walking Dead gets it, both in front of and behind the camera, where Kang has sought to add more diversity both in the writers’ room and the directors’ chair. In fact, with that track record, and the creative revitalization of the series this year, it’s a show I’m increasingly proud to be a fan of.