The Walking Dead fans wait with baited breath for the season 7 premiere series tomorrow, when we’ll finally learn who meets the business end of Lucille. The controversial cliffhanger has created a long wait filled not only with speculation and rumor but also a deep look at deaths throughout the series. While the series has had its highs and lows with killing off characters, one area of contention was how the show treated its minority roles.
The infamous “revolving door” of black male characters became a regular criticism, to the point that one death seemed liked a purposeful jab at the rumor. But did the revolving door exist? If so, did they finally break the habit of killing and replacing minorities? What does the future hold for PoC cast members?
To figure out what’s going on (and speculate about the future), we’d need a database of all the characters, their demographics, and their lifespans. Luckily for us, we have one! So, let’s take a look at diversity in the Walking Dead through the series…
A Stereotypical Cast
Like much of Hollywood, The Walking Dead casts mostly Caucasians and men in the primary roles. When it started, over three-quarters of the main cast were white and over two-thirds were male. Minority roles in such a small cast were limited to 1 or 2 characters, some of whom spent much of the show in the background. Although some claimed this reflected America, the show was set around Atlanta… a city (at the time) that was over half black!
Over time, the cast did diversify, but not until Season 3 and the introduction of the Prison and Woodbury. Women, in fact, slowly became the longest running characters on the show, at just over half the main cast. Still, most of the minority roles were spent supporting everyone else, with few but Glenn, Michonne, and Tyrese holding screen time until Season 5 and the post-Terminus stories. By the time Alexandria had been established (and the Saviors loomed), one-quarter of the principal characters were black even if Latinxs were still struggling to have any representation beyond Rosita.
The Revolving Door
So, what about the “revolving door” of black characters? That certainly seemed to be the case for quite a while in the series. Season 1 had two main African-American characters, and one of them died at the end. T-Dog was the only core black person at Hershel’s Farm until the coda of the last episode when they introduced Michonne (and it wasn’t even Danai Gurira playing her). The Prison was the worst, as new African-American characters were introduced… and killed within episodes (if not minutes). T-Dog was killed as soon as Oscar started to rise in Rick’s crew and then died shortly before Tyreese and Sasha switched allegiances to the Prison.
Perhaps it was the uproar of fans at this casual death of PoC characters that led to Season 4, with enduring roles like Tyreese, Sasha, and Bob. Season 5 was a confounding moment, however, as they added Gabriel only to kill off Bob, added Noah only to off Tyreese, and then killed Noah of five episodes later in a literal revolving door. Had they broken the curse? Or had they just upped the limit of African-American characters on the show? Season 6 was more optimistic, as not a single main PoC character (or any core character) died, but with the Saviors looming it’s hard to tell.
Lonely Asians and Missing Latinos/as
We’d be remiss if we didn’t talk about the status of other minorities throughout the show. The Asian demographic has been represented quite strongly… but by a single character. Glenn has been the only major cast member, and is only one of five Asian roles throughout the entire series. In fact, not a single other Asian character has been more than background, with the next longest running role being a member of the newly introduced Hilltop Colony.
Latinx and Hispanic actors may have had it even worse, despite having more roles. While outnumbering Asians, the vast majority of their characters have been minor, often an episode or two and then gone. Worse, most of these characters don’t even have an on-screen death, relegated to “unknown” status and forgotten. Rosita is the only main Latinx character, with the last long-running role being the Governor’s right-hand man. Did all the Latinx/Hispanic people die in Fear the Walking Dead?
Toward the Melting Pot… or Not?
The real question is, what does the future of the show hold in store for its minority and female roles? Casting and roles have become more diverse, but we’ve also continued to see regular “replacements” for black characters and little love for Latinx/Hispanics or Asians. That is, aside from Glenn, and given the show’s current direction that run might finally come to an end.
Admittedly, Asian and African-American characters have proven to have longer lifespans and survivability than most Caucasian roles. Even women began to outnumber their male counterparts, at least among the core cast; from comic staples to new additions, plus one character who’s far different in the TV series. Plus, with two new settlements, the Saviors and the Kingdom, the opportunity arises for better representation in the show. Of course, more deaths loom as all out war approaches, and the question is… will it reasonably target all groups? Or will they continue the revolving door?
I guess we’ll find out what Negan (and Lucille) have in store for everyone On October 23rd, at 9 pm Eastern. Then we’ll see whether the Walking Dead has learned anything over the past few seasons… or if they’re still shambling through days gone bye.