by DICK CHENEY
The Walking Dead
creator Frank Darabont
Sundays at 9 on AMC
Only white characters are permitted backstories on AMC's The Walking Dead. If you are white, you have a beautiful child who looks exactly like you and a charming meet-cute story about how every other person you know died from a bacterial infection but you made it out alive. Should you be hurt in the days that follow, never fret. Your pallid Caucasian exoskeleton will survive direct gunshot wounds without complications. You are basically invincible and impervious to pain. If you're a person of color on The Walking Dead, you'll probably just end up killing yourself by accidentally slashing your wrist.
The show's currently surviving characters of color, who have never exactly been named, are portrayed by Anthony Anderson and the little Chinese kid in the second Indiana Jones. He even has the same hat. Anderson, for his part, seems to have done well in recent years. (He also hosts a show on the Golf Channel.) These young men aren't allowed to go about with the other white characters. They have a buddy system, like little kids on a field trip to the aquarium. Someone asks them condescendingly, "Did you close the gate?" as if they would forget and leave it open to the undead.
The Korean fellow, Glenn (Steven Yeun), can't even close out an attractive woman's attentions on him as she mourns the passing of all her male friends. All her dead ex-boyfriends are immortalized on her refrigerator in a haphazard shrine to her loneliness. Glenn just sits there, he doesn't even put his arm around her. When the saddened young woman Maggie (Lauren Cohan) showers him with attention, he refuses her advances and suggests she take up sex with a whiter member of his party. Not since Newhart has open racism been given such a prominent forum on American television.
You can't have pity sex on The Walking Dead, but you can get excited by Georgia's amazing values on new homes. A raised ranch in a nice neighborhood is absolutely free. Should you desire actual meaning from watching white people shoot zombies in the head with bullets and arrows, don't bothering looking in Robert Kirkman's comic books. They look like they were drawn by a four year old, with a litany of "BAZOOOM" and "GURGGGL"s in place of actual dialogue and drama.
In fact, The Walking Dead is drama devoid of all its modern components. It's just people, not usually in conflict, walking around in woods that could be anywhere on Earth, trying to find something interesting to talk about. A full ninety percent of their conversations begin with either the phrase "Dark's coming on soon" or "It'll be dawn in a moment." Talking about the weather is truly the lowest form of conversation. Perhaps what these desperate survivors really fear is the rising and setting of the sun?
We think of the bubonic plague as a singular outbreak, but in reality the black death emerged for the first time during the age of Justinians. It took a break of a few thousand years, waiting for people to experience new sins. No one was white then, they were mostly tan. As in The Walking Dead, every survivor spoke in exactly the same vernacular, with identical intonations, despite wildly disparate backgrounds. We were all alike, witnessing the onset of something we could not fathom — except the Korean kid and the black man who finds himself unable to deviate from the dialogue Danny Glover was given in the first Lethal Weapon.
The cliffhanger in The Walking Dead's season premiere consisted of the white boy named Carl getting shot in a hunting accident. It's a law of the jungle that if someone gets shot, they probably had it coming. As if a young boy's bullet wound weren't upsetting enough, the incident is re-lived constantly by every single person involved, as if no one else had died in this Georgian landscape.
Rick Grimes (the British thespian Andrew Lincoln) muffles his accent with a throaty growl, his wife (Sarah Wayne Callies) doesn't have to fake an accent; she puts all her energy into overacting. Her anguish is so over the top at this point, given that she is hardly the only person to have lost someone, that we find ourselves wishing her face eaten off.
Last night's episode featured the far more disturbing image of a man (Jon Bernthal) with hair shaving himself bald, a disturbing sequence which should have merited a TV-MA warning in and of itself. Bernthal's character is not only stricken with guilt for sexing Rick's wife Lori when he was in a coma, but he's also genuinely upset about losing an intra-cast overacting competition to her. On top of that, he had to sacrifice his fat friend Otis to save her son from that hunting wound. Killing hundreds of diseased people merits no sorrow or sadness, but allowing one healthy person to die is a haunting, inescapable crime.
In fact, the unfortunately named "Shane Walsh" (the handle doubles as Jon Bernthal's porno name) has nothing to be ashamed of. Sure, he originally made a mistake that caused his best friend Rick to become catatonic. Correct, after that he made sweet love to Rick's wife and treated the man's child as his own. And yes, after Rick showed up from the dead he got very drunk and scared the shit out of Rick's wife. And then to save Rick's son from death, he had to sacrifice another innocent. So basically, yeah, nothing to be ashamed of.
The man I shot while hunting quail was 78 years old — he also survived, although he now has about 30 pieces of birdshot lodged in his chest for the rest of time. When you shoot someone by accident, to show the slightest bit of regret or disappointment gives the entire game away. And don't shoot children when you're out hunting — it's frowned upon, even when there is no intent. Don't hunt deer, either. That deer could be someone's mother; a fresh quail tastes like Linda Hamilton.
So what is there to enjoy about The Walking Dead? I have no idea, can only speculate. From time to time it is emotionally profitable to become lost in a place and time not of your own making — that is the therapeutic importance of the dream world. The men and women of The Walking Dead have wandered so far from civilization that they can identify no useful landmarks. One highway begins to look like a lot like another road.
At every destination, they find the same leering disappointment — no matter how useless their new lives are, they experience each sadness as if it were the first, as if everyone they knew had just then become undead, instead of things having been that way for awhile. The advantage of remaining tragic, instead of gradually feeling better about yourself, is that when the next bad thing happens, you are no worse off than you were before.
Dick Cheney is the senior contributor to This Recording. He is the former vice president of the United States. He last wrote in these pages about Boardwalk Empire. You can find an archive of his writing on This Recording here.
"Tomorrow is a Long Time" - Elvis Presley (mp3)
"Blue Jeans" - Lana Del Rey (mp3)
"Space Junk" - Wang Chung (mp3)