Is The Walking Dead a racist show? There has been some internet speculation about whether or not The Walking Dead is a racist show because of how often the characters played by black men end up dead. However, I find this question a tad simplistic. I prefer instead to consider the ways in which The Walking Dead reproduces the racist ideologies and racial hierarchies of our society. As I have written elsewhere, one example of this reproduction is how the show appropriated the Trail of Tears in order to emphasize the loss of Carol's daughter Sophia and in so doing, erased the actual genocide of Native peoples.
Since the Cherokee Rose episode, something else on the show has been nagging at me. Ever since Michonne accompanied Rick and Carl on the trip back to their home town in the 13th episode of the 3rd season, I've been thinking a lot about the relationship between Michonne and Carl and what it means. This episode is titled Clear - it's the one where the audience (FINALLY) gets to see what has become of Morgan from the first few episodes of the series. This episode is easily one of my favorites because of the tremendous acting ability of Lennie James as Morgan, but it is also one the most interesting to watch because of its racial dynamics. It is the episode where Carl, the 13 year old son of Rick Grimes, grants Michonne permission to join the prison group after she helps him procure a photo of his deceased mother for his new infant sister. Rick and Carl were both skeptical of Michonne and somewhat anxious to get rid of her, but after she helps Carl he tells Rick, "She might be one of us," and permits her to become a member of their group. This situation, where Michonne must prove herself as a person of value to a white male child in order to gain access to a community, is a clear reproduction of racial hierarchy. In The Walking Dead universe, a Black woman has less status and social power than a white male child and can only gain social status by performing to his desires.
Michonne and Carl's story arch is a favorite among many fans of the show, and it is no wonder why. This story is a familiar one. The audience, whether knowingly or not, takes comfort in the relationship between a caring Black woman and a needy white child because it neatly puts everyone in their places. Carl, as a young white male, is the future of the group and Michonne, a strong Black woman is his servant, his friend, but never an authority figure. This friendship, however charming and quaint, reinforces white supremacy and patriarchy.