It occurred to me last night that there is not enough sex in The Walking Dead.
Let me explain.
I’m not saying that I think AMC’s hit show should have more nudity or titillation – though this wouldn’t offend me, I also don’t think it would add any substance to the series. I’m not looking for depictions of sex, per se, but rather an acknowledgement that the characters in the series would be having sex regularly. Through six seasons, we’ve had roughly half a dozen implied sex acts, and these have involved only a handful of the cast: Rick and Lori, Lori and Shane, Glenn and Maggie, Andrea and the Governor, Rosita and Abraham, and Rick and Michonne. (Perhaps there are examples that have escaped my recollection, these are just the examples that spring to mind like a Catholic rab…. never mind. But the fact that the show has only given us a couple more romantic pairings just underscores how chaste those romances have been.)
In season five, Daryl and Beth fled from the attack on the prison together, believing all their friends and family were likely dead. They proceed to survive a number of close encounters with the undead, including a span where they hide together in the trunk of a car, open up to each other emotionally, and eventually get drunk on moonshine near the warmth of a fire. A virginal hug is the extent of their physical intimacy.
Give me a break.
Never mind the fact that a heightened state of fear severely amplifies sexual attraction, this is just one of the show’s many missed opportunities for character building. The characters in The Walking Dead occupy a world where virtually all government and social institutions have broken down, but by and large the deviations from Judeo-Christian values have been relegated to the show’s antagonists. Sure, Rick gets more and more willing to kill people he perceives to be a threat to his community, but that’s the extent of it. That the show never bothers to ask the question of each of its characters, now that the only constraints on their behavior are life and death, “How have you changed?” is one of its most glaring failures.
Let me give a concrete example. In season two, Lori discovers that she’s pregnant. Uncertain whether the father is Rick, her husband, or Shane, the man she slept with when she believed Rick to be dead, she considered inducing an abortion. Maggie confronts her on this dilemma, and the whole scenario plays out in a single episode.
In season six, Maggie becomes pregnant. The show greets this development with a shrug. It raises the stakes some, I suppose, but it’s not interesting. But hat if the writers had Maggie struggle with the realities of rearing and raising a child in such a world? Never mind the fact that there is such limited medical care, the fact that a crying baby would be a dinner bell to any zombie in the area would means that any child poses a major safety hazard to every character in the community. Most Americans agree that risk to the mother’s life is a legitimate reason to at least consider terminating a pregnancy. What if the child is a risk to the life of literally every person you know?
Letting Maggie wrestle with that question – and showing her tempted by an idea she found disgusting under different circumstances – would add depth to her character. We would have a better understanding of the strength of her beliefs. We would know whether or not her repulsion to abortion was an intense personal belief or just a reflection of living in her father’s Southern Christian household. And we would gain empathy for her character as she learned about herself. William Faulkner famously said, “The only thing worth writing about is the human heart in conflict with itself.” How much more conflict could one ask for? Maggie would be split between belief and practicality, safety and danger, love for an unborn child against the love for your friends. What a fierce battle we never got to witness.
When I say there’s not enough sex in The Walking Dead, I guess what I’m really saying is that this show ignores the storytelling possibilities given by the obliteration of the concept of a normal human life. The total breakdown of civilization would change everything about human interactions. The imminence of death would make all forms of intimacy that much more valuable. And common. The showrunners can afford to pass on such narrative low-hanging fruit about as much as our favorite survivors could pass on literal low-hanging fruit.