Depending on how long you've been watching The Walking Dead, you may have mixed feelings about its feminist credentials. (And if you've been watching from the beginning, the memory of Lori might be enough to put it on your permanent "nope" list.)
But despite some bumpy patches early on, The Walking Dead has been seriously upping its game lately when it comes to its lady characters — and this season is shaping up to be the most feminist yet, in ways that continue to delight us.
We've come a long way
To more fully appreciate the greatness of women on The Walking Dead this season, it's important to remember how the show used to treat them — whether it was sidelining them from the action or reducing them to one-dimensional shrewish stereotypes. In Season 1, every action-packed moment in Atlanta was a total sausage party (except for the pivotal moment at the CDC in which Carol handed Rick a grenade... which she found in his pants while doing his laundry. Yeah.)
Season 2 saw Lori (Sarah Wayne Callies) — who was, herself, a disastrous mash-up of every awful/manipulative/helpless/nagging female character trope in existence — berating another woman for standing guard and shooting walkers, rather than falling in line and playing housewife at the farm like the rest of the gals. And even Maggie (Lauren Cohan), who's had one of the most interesting arcs on the series, made her debut mostly as a vehicle for Glenn's (Steven Yeun) personal growth.
In short, the way The Walking Dead handled its female characters at the outset was clumsy at best — which makes this season that much more amazing by comparison.
For a perfect example of how The Walking Dead is killing it with female characters this season, look no further than Oceanside. It's the fiercest and closest-knit community of survivors we've met yet. They're organized, ruthless, utterly self-sufficient, and they shoot strangers on sight — and of course, they're all women.
Meanwhile, Oceanside is not only a rare matriarchy in the world of The Walking Dead, but the show's writers deftly handled its introduction (and avoided any "man-hating feminist" tropes) by having Tara (Alanna Masterson) be the one who accidentally stumbled into the community and learned the truth about its heartbreaking origins.
We need to talk about Michonne
It's a truth universally acknowledged that without Michonne (Danai Gurira), basically everyone on The Walking Dead would be zombie chow by now — but she's also Exhibit A in the case for the series having finally figured out how to make its female characters real. When Michonne first came on the scene, she cut an impressive silhouette with her killer katana-wielding skills and her matched set of mutilated walkers on chains, but she was also a strong, silent stereotype with great moves but no depth.
Since then, though, she's become one of the most multi-faceted characters on the entire series, right up to the part where she reacted with an uncharacteristic but natural level of upset when confronted with a pack of zombies who appeared to have just eaten her boyfriend for lunch. Taking a pause and shedding a tear for Rick (Andrew Lincoln) was a rare show of vulnerability, but that's the point: Michonne contains multitudes.
Strength in flaws
And speaking of vulnerability, let's hand it to The Walking Dead for allowing its lady characters to be not just as complicated as the guys, but also just as dumb and reactionary and mistake-making — or in other words, just as human. This season, we've seen Maggie emerge as a competent leader; we've seen Tara serving as the show's moral compass; we've even seen Carol and Morgan as two characters struggling identically, and in a completely non-gendered way, with the torment of taking human lives.
But we've also seen Rosita (Christian Serratos) acting like an impulsive child in her desperation for revenge; we've seen Sasha (Sonequa Martin-Green) joining her in a totally stupid suicide mission to take out Negan; and we've met Jadis, who rivals King Ezekiel for first place on the "You Can't Seriously Be Like This" list. Compared to their limited reach in the show's early days, the women of The Walking Dead now occupy a huge range of roles, and exhibit the same depth of character, both good and bad, as their male compatriots.
In other words, this is one show that's truly embraced the radical notion (as the saying goes) that women are people.
The Walking Dead airs Sundays at 9/8c ET on AMC.