Fear the Walking Dead angers fans with polarizing character deaths

Aug 30, 2015 at 11:37 p.m. ET
Image: AMC

In its second week, Fear the Walking Dead proved considerably more exciting than the sluggish premiere, although, at times, considerably harder to watch. With the current sociopolitical climate, do we really need to see police brutality and racial tropes become part of a zombie plotline?

Much to the enjoyment of gore-thirsty fans who've become accustomed to The Walking Dead's staggering death toll each episode, Fear the Walking Dead certainly upped the body count this episode.

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Only — and I clearly wasn't alone in picking up on this — a frustrating trend already seems to be emerging: all of the show's African-American characters are being killed off. In the first episode, we said goodbye to Cal, a charming and good-looking young man, albeit apparently the friendly neighborhood drug dealer.

This episode, we said goodbye to Principal Artie (who has been dubbed President Obama on social media, due to the actor's striking likeness) and, presumably, Alicia's sweet boyfriend Matt, who gets bitten and must be left behind.

This isn't a new complaint for AMC. There has been a small but passionate contingent of fans throughout the history of The Walking Dead taking the showrunners to task for the seeming eradication of primary African-American characters. Think favorites like Tyreese, T-Dog and Bob.

Understandably, people are, well, kind of pissed.


Of course, there will be those who will defend this pattern, noting that characters of other races and ethnic backgrounds have been killed off, too — Gloria, the chick who looked like Harley Quinn, etc.

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But the problem with that logic is that those characters were all tertiary. Of all the characters we've been introduced to and become invested in, the ones who are being picked off at an alarming rate are the African-American characters.

What is equally disturbing is how dismissive the development of these characters is, in light of the fact that the series is touted for its slow-burn style of intensive character development. Would we have liked to see Cal in more than one episode? Absolutely. Not only was he easy on the eyes, but his story simply seemed... unfinished. The same goes for Principal Artie.

Perhaps the most irksome of these dismissals, though, was that of Matt. Although he goes out on an altruistic note, telling Alicia she has to leave him behind because he loves her, Matt's ending offers the viewers no closure — and, more importantly, denies Matt any real humanity.

Yes, I love that he loved Alicia enough to send her away. I also found it to be unrealistic in its presentation. While Matt didn't necessarily have to freak out in front of Alicia, it would have been nice to get a glimpse into his emotions once Alicia effectively leaves him alone to die.

The other controversial pattern at play in "So Close, Yet So Far" was the seemingly polemic treatment of police officers.

In the episode, much is made of the rise in police-involved shootings. Naturally, the community of characters on the show doesn't know what we know — that this increase is due to the spread of the zombie virus.

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This leads to a protest in the streets, during which we see a group of men — and, particularly, one outspoken young African-American man — protesting the police over the shooting of a man he and the others around him proclaim to be innocent. The dead mean lies beneath a sheet only steps away.

This protest soon gives way to rioting and looting and, ultimately, the initial unraveling of society. How could we not notice this, in light of the current tensions between the police and the public making headlines in real life every single day?

Plus, trending all day prior to Fear the Walking Dead was the tragic murder of Houston-based Deputy Darren Goforth, a 10-year police veteran who was targeted solely because of his uniform. So, it was practically impossible not to connect the dots.

In other scenes, we see police shooting walkers in a seemingly gratuitous manner. We also see a cop hoarding bottled water in his trunk as other people struggle to find any available supply. Are these snapshots meant to imply that police have intel the public doesn't? Or are they meant to play into the court of public opinion, which currently considers cops to be self-serving?


For Fear the Walking Dead's part, showrunner Dave Erickson insists the series is just trying to paint an accurate picture of society responding to chaos. "Ultimately, we're not trying to polemicize; the show isn't polemic," he said. "What we tried to think of is how it would manifest. If people were turning, if they were attacking people in the streets, what would the response to that be?"

In regard to the controversy surrounding the show's African-American characters, Erickson's response was just as dicey.

"Once the story was set, it was the story. Once the story is playing out in a specific way, that's the line that you want to follow. It wasn't as though we were writing those characters and then casting those characters with an intention of, 'This is going to be the death scene for this episode,'" he said.

"I realize it's clearly become an issue and it's something we are mindful of. But ultimately, it's trying to tell the story the best way we can and cast the best people we can," Erickson continued. "I wouldn't want to go back and recast a character just to avoid... if it doesn’t feel true to the character or the relationship — the relationship with Alicia and Matt or Calvin and Nick — it's really about the reality of the world that we're trying to inhabit and trying to have the best actors portray those parts."

I mean, I get it. They want to cast the best actors possible for the roles. Where I run into trouble is the notion that no one noticed this and spoke out during casting or table reads or some other point in the process. Really? The fact that this early in the season, Fear the Walking Dead's three primary African-American characters have all been killed off didn't give anyone pause? I'm just not buying it.

Other people clearly aren't either, which is perhaps why Erickson felt the need to drive home a point about the show's diversity.

"When you're dealing with a show where you have a cast that is as diverse as ours is, it's inevitable that characters of color are going to get bit and are going to turn or die. If you look at the larger scope of this season, what people will see is that there is parity," he said. "We want to tell the story in the best way we can and want the best actors to play those parts. It would have been a mistake to go with Anglo actors for those particular roles because I don't think that's honest to the world of the show."

But if we're being honest, the apology feels a little bit like a reverse psych-apology. (I may or may not have just made up the term, but the act is real.)

You know — when someone makes it a point to apologize, but in a way that actually makes the wronged party feel guilty for being offended in the first place, i.e., "I'm sorry you're angry we diversified the show and cast several African-Americans. Sure, we killed them off, but we hired them in the first place so we deserve a pat on the back."

And, for the record, while I love Scott Lawrence, the pope could have been playing the part of Principal Artie for as little as we saw of him. So, yeah, I'm still not buying the whole "they were the perfect actors for the roles" argument.

Do you think the show should handle these issues better? Sound off.