Caution: this will contain spoilers.
Now that it has been over a week, I can assume that everyone is caught up on The Walking Dead episode from March 15th, “Spend”. I can assume you have all sat through the suspense of watching Glenn, Noah and Nicholas in that revolving glass door surrounded by Walkers, the annoying frustration with Nicholas’s selfish maneuver to escape, the loss of hope as Noah was dragged by his already-not-in-all-that-great-condition leg until the walkers ever so thoughtfully posted him against the glass for you and Glenn to watch as they literally tore him apart, leaving no doubt that he was in no way, even possibly surviving this mob of hungry walkers.
Now, let’s be real—Noah didn’t exactly get the best start on the show. He wasn’t very confident against the walkers, he didn’t show a lot of outstanding bravery during the first episodes that he showed up in compared to the main cast that we knew, and some fans even blamed him for the deaths of both Beth and Tyreese. The Internet had all sorts of comments and meme’s making fun of the new character
However, in “Spend”, Noah was starting to show a lot of progress and potential. He survived with the group from the Hospital all the way to Alexandria, and at the start of the episode, he was meeting with Reg to learn useful architect skills so that he could be a valuable asset to the community. It was the moment we all were ready to fall in love with him and watch him grow. Personally, I wait until a character has been around for three episodes before I let myself get attached. If they’re not meant to be semi-permanent, they’re usually gone by then.
The reason for my upset feelings towards Noah’s death isn’t simply the fact that I was falling in love with his character, but because he is the third black character to have died this season. Tyreese had a poetically beautiful but heartbreaking death in “What Happened and What’s Going On” and Bob had his leg eaten by cannibals after he was bit by a walker in the food shelf and then died in “Four Walls and a Roof”.
The number of deaths in general isn’t surprising. After all, it’s typically uncommon for an episode to go by without someone dying. But the fact is, there aren’t many black characters to be killed, and the only one who I am counting on surviving is Michonne.
Some people may think “But walkers don’t discriminate who they bite! They’re just trying to kill anyone for food!” Which, of course! If I was a walker, I’m sure I’d eat whoever was nearby too no matter what their skin color was. But we need to remember that The Walking Dead is fictional, and just because some things happen by chance in our world, nothing is actually by chance in The Walking Dead‘s world. The writers make the decisions on who dies and how; there is a God in this world and his name is Kirkman (or in the episode “Spend”, God was Matthew Negrete).
But, okay. If you want to talk about what would be realistic, I can do that. Geographically, this cast should never have been as white as it is. When they started out in Atlanta, according to the 2010 census, the demographics of the population were 54% Black, 36% White, and 8.3% Hispanic and or Asian. Washington DC has a population of 49% Black and 43% White. As a reflection of our current culture and society, the groups depicted might very well be monoracial because of neighborhood demographics and people’s tendancy to cling to whoever looks like them. But in The Walking Dead‘s universe, you cling to whoever else is simply alive. There is no logical reason that the cast should have been so consistently white. It flies in the face of probability.
Also, they haven’t run into any survivor groups that are mostly black, unless you count the Morgan and Duane duo—and 50% of that that group got killed off too. The two other black characters from the earlier seasons, Jacqui and T-Dog, never even got much air time. T-Dog had only about three talking scenes. We never got back story on any of the black characters except Michonne.
Here’s why all this matters. We’ve been shown time and time again that media representation has been an important aspect to young people of color in how they see themselves. A few years ago, I went to a Halloween party as Snow White. Even though I’m a very light skinned black person, people still made comments about me being “Snow Black”.
Young black kids who cosplayed Spider-Man before Miles Morales had been told they “Can’t REALLY be Spider-Man because Spider-Man is white!” That kind of thing—negative comments for cosplaying outside of one’s race—really sticks with kids. (Not that kids should really be watching The Walking Dead, but fact is, there are many who do.) Heck, that kind of thing sticks with young adults. And adults. You’ll find no shortage of black cosplayers talking about it on social media sites like Facebook and Tumblr.
The Walking Dead has become a very popular cosplay choice since you just have to wear some seemingly dirty clothes, paint a few cuts on yourself, and do your hair a certain way with maybe a few accessory accents (like a hat for Carl; crossbow to Daryl; sword for Michonne). This makes The Walking Dead costumes low budget but pretty easily recognizable as well as popular. Any young white girl or woman can choose to cosplay Tara, Lori, Rosita (Who isn’t white but still has a fairly light skin complexion), Andrea, Maggie, Beth or Sophia without exposing herself to race-based criticism, but the only black female characters have been Sasha and Michonne (unless you count Jacqui who existed for only a few short episodes in season one or the Telltale video game characters.) And only Michonne has been given enough of a story-line and background to have the fan-base that Carol, Maggie or Beth have had. On the Tumblr blog, Cosplaying While Black, there is one Tyreese coplayer under the “Walking Dead” tag and the only other cosplays are all Michonne.
Even when it comes to the guys, Noah is the first young black character they’ve had since Duane, who again only existed for one episode before being killed off. There haven’t even been young black characters in the extras of survivor groups. All of the black men have had a similar build and skin complexion so there hasn’t been much variety in representation. Other than Rosita, the Hispanics on the show have been mostly nameless, and Glenn is the only Asian character they’ve even run into on the show thus far, leaving out almost the entire Hispanic and Asian communities for cosplaying the Walking Dead unless they want to cosplay a walker (which have also been mostly white—especially strange given the population demographics I mentioned earlier).With the current #BlackLivesMatter movement, young black people have been fighting against the unjust murders of black people with no repercussions. Having the black characters first completely and illogically underrepresented, and then killed off in The Walking Dead carries the subtext that black characters (read: black people) aren’t important enough for longer, in-depth storylines and are disposable. That kind of thing sticks with kids. It sticks with young adults. It sticks with adults.
Maybe this is why Morgan is holding out on meeting up with the rest of the group; he’s trying to stay alive as long as possible before he becomes the fourth black death of the season.
However, The Walking Dead writers, if you want to kill off Father Gabriel, you can go right on ahead. We won’t miss him . . . Judas.