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A significant departure from the comics may have lasting ramifications.
, but thanks, in small part, to some unfortunate timing, the latest character to go carries some major cultural baggage. More on why this death will weigh heavily on
fandom after the spoiler warning. If you haven’t watched Season 6, Episode 14 “Twice As Far,” consider this your final warning.
star Alycia Debnam-Carey) died shortly after consummating her relationship with series lead Clarke (Eliza Taylor). This sparked massive outcry from the
fandom who accused the show’s writers of falling back in a well-established trope known as “Bury Your Gays” or “Dead Lesbian Syndrome.” (The names are pretty self-explanatory, but you can go here for a pretty complete history of the trope in film, TV, literature, and more.) Now
has killed off one of their two lesbian characters, Dr. Denise Cloyd (Merritt Wever), with a nasty arrow to the eye. Another lesbian bites the dust. The timing couldn’t be worse, but the circumstances around Denise’s death only exacerbate the problem.
In the comics, it’s Abraham (Michael Cudlitz), not Denise, who dies with an arrow through his eye. The comic book version of Denise
die, yes, but a little later on down the line. And while being a lesbian doesn’t mean a character should be bulletproof—anyone and everyone should be ready to die on
decide to swap the gay character in for the straight, white alpha male. They had to do a lot of plot contorting to get there, too. In the books, Denise dies while rushing to medically assist a friend from inside the walls of the compound. In the show, she dies out on a supply run trying to prove—like Eugene does elsewhere—that she can face her fears.
Just a two episodes ago, Denise told her girlfriend Tara (Alanna Masterson) she couldn’t go with her on an extended supply run saying, “I can’t. I need to be here, I’m the only doctor now. I can’t. But I want to.” This week Denise admits to Daryl and Rosita, “I could have gone with Tara. I could have told her I loved her but I didn’t because I was scared.” And
when she achieves romantic clarity (and a can of Crush for Tara) Denise dies.
So while Denise’s death didn’t come immediately after she and Tara consummated their relationship, it did interfere with her plans to tell Tara she loved her when they saw each other again. Masterson is off the show for at least a few weeks due to a pregnancy so we may have to wait to get the full poignant fall out from the latest
serves as a poignant reminder to Daryl that he made a serious mistake letting his crossbow go.
It’s worth noting that the character of Tara doesn’t have an exact counterpart in the comics and that Denise on the page is straight. In fact she ultimately sacrifices herself in order to save her male lover, Heath. So this entire lesbian relationship—however brief—was a show invention and part of
recent attempts to be more sexually diverse. Last season saw Aaron (Ross Marquand) and Eric (Jordan Woods-Robinson) share a controversial same-sex kiss. But while Eric and Aaron are still alive and kicking, they are very much on the back burner and neither they nor their relationship has ever seriously factored into the main plot of
That wasn’t the case with Denise and Tara. Denise’s role in the community was extremely significant—she saved Carl from
should-be-fatal eye wound just a few episodes ago. (Worth noting that Carl escaped with just an eyepatch while Denise died.) And Emmy award-winner Wever brought an extraordinary amount of pathos to Denise’s emotional struggle. And though the character’s been sidelined by Masterson’s pregnancy, Tara has been an integral member of the group and an important role model for LGBTQ
Wever herself addressed potential backlash telling
I understand if viewers watching the show really identify with the character or like seeing themselves or some part of the world that they know is real and true and valid and prevalent represented. And then to have that taken away, I definitely see how that would be disappointing in the broader scheme of things. I’m not sure that that’s what was going on here but I understand the sentiment very well and I am familiar with the [trope of] black characters or gay characters getting killed off because [they’re considered] less human or less real or less important and people aren’t gonna care as much. From my end, it didn’t feel like that’s what was happening though. But I certainly understand the concern in the wider culture.
That disappointing tease about Daryl’s sexuality a few years ago aside,
continues to take some shuffling steps towards greater LGBT representation. Paul “Jesus” Monroe (Tom Payne)—a gay character in the both the comics and the show—got a splashy intro a few episodes ago and promises to have a healthy amount of screen time going forward. In creating the stereotype-defying character,
In my opinion there should be more awesome gay people in fiction because there are plenty of awesome gay people in real life. I want Jesus to be a character where his sexuality is as unimportant as Rick or other heterosexual characters. So we won’t focus on it constantly and it won’t be the focus of any big storylines for him... but he’ll make out with a dude every now and then... before going out and drop kicking zombies. He's one of my current favorite characters.
But as happy as we all may be that a kickass gay Jesus has arrived on the scene, lesbian characters are much rarer on TV—
lesbian characters in happy relationships. One of the biggest critiques associated with the “Dead Lesbian Syndrome” trope is that fictional gay women in relationships are often denied the happy endings their straight counterparts enjoy. Well, one thing we know about
is that nobody, gay or straight, is guaranteed a happy ending. But we also know that thanks to Denise’s death, Abraham is alive and well. At least for now.
Lauren Cohan, Steven Yeun, Norman Reedus, Andrew Lincoln, Laurie Holden, Sonequa Martin-Green, David Morrissey, Melissa McBride, Chandler Riggs, Melissa Ponzio, Emily Kinney, Chad L. Coleman, Danai Gurira, Scott Wilson
Norman Reedus, Andrew Lincoln, and Danai Gurira
Greg Nicotero, Norman Reedus, and Andy Schoneberg
Norman Reedus, Brighton Sharbino, and Kyla Kenedy
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