I stopped caring about “The Walking Dead” a while ago. Specifically, I stopped caring about it after I read the Image Comics title’s 100th issue. I put that comic down and realized that I did not need a monthly dose of bleak horror in my life. That stuff works for other people, and that’s fine; it doesn’t work for me. I stopped watching the TV series after I found the second season alternatingly infuriating and boring. I know the show has changed a lot since then, as I have spent the last two years working full-time in the comic book journalism field. I know who all has died, I know how popular the show has become and I really am aware of how insanely popular it is — it’s more popular than football! I can’t do my job and not know all that stuff. But to sum up, at one point I realized that that “The Walking Dead” in all of its forms was just not for me and I sold my handful of single issues and trades on eBay (my copy of Michonne’s first appearance helped me buy an iPad).
I do feel a bit like an outsider and a naysayer for even writing about “The Walking Dead” at all. I don’t watch it. I don’t read it. I have no plans to ever do either again, so what could possibly force me out of my total non-participation in all things “TWD” and inspire me to write a minimum of a thousand words on the topic? Well, I am very personally invested in diverse representation in media, even in the ones that I’m not actively consuming — like all video games. Therefore, I was fascinated and intrigued in the idea of a gay or asexual Daryl Dixon, and I experienced the biggest eye roll of my life earlier this week when Robert Kirkman made an announcement that he was, indeed, straight.
“In the letter column of the comic book that I do, I mentioned that there was a possibility early on about making Daryl Dixon’s character gay,” said Kirkman during AMC’s “Talking Dead” post-show. “I just wanted to clarify that the possibility is there and that I would have been fine with it, the network would have been fine with it — but we ultimately didn’t do that. I can make it official: Daryl Dixon is straight.”
Robert Kirkman had to make an announcement on “Talking Dead” that confirmed that a character admittedly portrayed as “somewhat asexual” on the series was, in fact, straight. There are so many things that I find bewildering about this announcement and development. Why did Kirkman have to say anything about his sexuality? And why was this weird announcement framed as “good news for the ladies” online? Isn’t it weird that the creator of the most popular show on television decided to back away from a progressive development and play it incredibly safe — on “The Walking Dead,” the least safe show on television?
We’ve progressed enough toward inclusion that Kirkman had to stress that he would have been fine with making Daryl gay, as would AMC, lest they be accused of homophobia. I’m definitely not accusing Kirkman or AMC of homophobia. I am kinda accusing them of cowardice, though. Just saying that there was a chance for Daryl to be gay is not a brave choice, and it does not at all make up for the fact that he has now been undeniably defined as straight.
The fact that people responded to Kirkman’s declaration with “Thank god!” is exactly the reason why he should not be straight. Dixon is unquestionably the show’s breakout character. I’ve only seen the first two seasons and I can flat out admit that he was the best part of that show. Millions of people from all walks of life root for this character, who’s a tough, crossbow-carrying redneck. People love Daryl Dixon. That is exactly why he is the perfect character to define as anything other than straight, and the fact that his orientation had not been defined for the first four seasons of the show provided the “Walking Dead” creators with the opportunity to do something incredibly powerful.
With a gay or asexual Daryl Dixon, people opposed to homosexuality or ignorant of asexuality, would have been made to confront it — that is, if they wanted to keep watching their action-packed zombie drama. They would have been forced to reconcile whatever assumptions and stereotypes they may have in their heads regarding other orientations with what Daryl Dixon is — an incredibly badass, rough around the edges tough guy character. This is the type of character that is — nine times out of ten — always straight. I guess DC Comics’ Midnighter is the one time out of ten?
Daryl Dixon could have been different. He could have been a stereotype-busting example, one that could appear in fifteen million households across the country on a weekly basis. I know from personal experience that the quickest way for someone to get past their prejudice against gay people is to find out that someone they love is gay. No, a television character is not the same as a son or daughter, but it’s not nothing. But apparently, even though I hear the show has never given solid evidence to support it, he’s straight, and Kirkman had to set the record straight on television.
All the Daryl Dixon news is made even more head scratching by Kirkman’s footnote to his statement that a prominent gay character from the comics will be joining the cast. Again, as a guy that cares about representation, that’s great to hear! But coming after the Dixon announcement, doesn’t it sound a bit like a consolation prize, as if people are asking for one non-straight person on every show and “The Walking Dead” is about to fill their quota? Making Daryl Dixon asexual should not preclude them from introducing gay characters from the comic like Aaron or Eric into the television show. There is room for more than one non-straight — and also non-cisgender — person on every show. The introduction of another gay character also won’t accomplish the specific thing that a gay or asexual or bisexual Daryl Dixon would have accomplished; if a new character is introduced with their orientation front and center, then people with prejudices against those minorities won’t be made to think about their prejudice in the same way they would if a character they already had t-shirts and action figures of — like Daryl Dixon — were to come out.
This “Walking Dead” news was really disappointing, especially because getting characters of any diverse orientation in comic book adaptations has been seemingly impossible. Constantine is straight, Victoria Hand was murdered, Phyla-Vell and Moondragon were kept out of “Guardians of the Galaxy” — at least “Gotham” has Renee Montoya. Still, there should be more than the ridiculously few we have right now, and it’s disheartening to see a show as massively popular as “Walking Dead” sidestep progress. I guess I can go back to not caring about “The Walking Dead” for a little while longer.
Brett White is a comedian living in New York City. He co-hosts Matt & Brett Love Comics, writes for the sketch comedy podcast Left Handed Radio, and makes videos for the Upright Citizens Brigade as a member of UCB1. His opinions can be consumed in bite-sized morsels on Twitter (@brettwhite).
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