Spoilers ahead!

So on last week’s podcast, I mentioned that The Walking Dead was back to the One Living Black Man situation, but I spoke too soon. It sure looks like the showrunners have brought back Morgan and may be installing him as an honest-to-god main character, which brings the number of LBMs to two.

That’s good! And his fairly lengthy screentime in the finale shows off the character’s depth and sets him up as a friendly counterweight to the increasingly bizarre and troubling choices made by the main characters–chiefly Rick and Carol, but including Michonne and Glenn. I’m more hopeful than I was a week ago that the show can get back on track, but it lost ground on its struggle toward diversity this last season in a way that makes its job hard.

One of the producers pointed out that the show is ecumenical in its killing, and I mentioned that it would be weird if they didn’t kill off black characters. But that producer and I both missed the larger point by a mile: When a show like TWD has a small number of black male characters, their deaths affect the cast balance disproportionately. While it’s true that the show has killed almost exactly 50% of its white characters and 50% of its black characters, that’s not the stat that matters most.

Diversity is hard, and it requires thinking explicitly about issues many of us with privilege would rather keep implicit. We have to think differently about characters who differ from the white/male/straght/cis standard until it isn’t a standard anymore. That changes the creative process significantly, and it feels artificial to those of us who aren’t obligated to deal with it explicitly every day. But it’s essential now and will be for decades to come, most likely.

I won’t give up on TWD just yet. Despite its problems, notably including Rick’s instant redempton/acceptance after his sickening descent into violence, the finale showed some promise. If the showrunners bring Morgan on and keep Gabriel alive (preferably adding a dimension or two to his character), that’ll be a great start. I want to believe they can keep getting better.

These infographics were invaluable in helping me figure out the numbers. They are also lovely, weird, and show off sweet obsession.