By Guest Contributor Aymar Jean Christian, cross-posted from Televisual
It’s an old and uninteresting complaint: black characters on TV–and horror movies–get killed or written off too early. Clearly, that is what’s been happening on The Walking Dead with T-Dog. (UPDATE: The arrival of a new character signals a possible shift in season three.).
I’m going to try to push the debate further, past “isn’t it a shame characters of color get short shrift.” The truth is the T-Dog Problem signals broader problems with The Walking Dead and some other prominent dramas. It’s a symptom of an ailment the writers might actually care to remedy, beyond appeasing black viewers.
First, the basics. Earlier this season T-Dog told Dale he was concerned about being black and a weak link in the group. This was an insightful moment from the writers, foregrounding the idea that being different after the apocalypse might be a problem–after all, in times of stress, people stick to their own–and an interesting meta-commentary on the fragility of being a black character on TV. T-Dog was a great candidate for a quick kill. Then T-Dog disappeared. I literally forgot all about him until last week, when he had one line that was almost comically interrupted. This week T-Dog was similarly marginalized, leading Vulture‘s recapper to state: “By this point, the casual dismissal of one of two minority characters…on this show is feeling extremely suspect. The only thing saving it from being full-on offensive is that the same treatment is being given to Hershel’s entire white family.”
The problem isn’t only about a tired debate over representation.