“Into the Badlands” Is Here to Quench All Your Gay “Game of Thrones” Thirst

“Never judge a show by its pilot,” is a motto I try to live by, and Into the Badlands is the perfect example of why this is a good way to live. Even I forget it sometimes, and almost let this show slip through the cracks; I watched the first episode with my dad once, and while it was visually stunning and the stunt choreography was brilliant, it was a dude-fest and I thought it was going to be an hour a week of fighting for fighting’s sake, lacking plot. Women barely make an appearance at all; maybe a brief cameo by the Baron’s wives, positioned as only that. Plus at the very end, we met a woman they referred to simply as “the widow.” (What I didn’t know at the time was that it was actually The Widow, but we’ll get to that.)

So I decided not to watch it. I watch way too many shows as it is, I don’t need another one if it’s not going to be feminist, queer, or both.

Cut to a few months later when I see more and more talk of Into the Badlands on my timeline, women whose TV opinion usually aligns with my own just raving about it. And then I was given the advice I usually give but forgot to take: Don’t judge the show by its first episode; watch at least one more before you make your decision.

The second episode starts like this.

A single stiletto

On a good foot, IF YOU WILL.

And, as far as my interests go, the second episode felt like an entirely different show. It was still beautiful and gritty, but now the fight scenes weren’t just men; and even the women who originally seemed positioned as “Sunny’s girlfriend” and “the Barons wives” stepped out of the shadows. There’s Lydia, the older but wiser Baroness who will protect her family at all costs. Veil, the best doctor in the Badlands. And Jade, the Baron’s soon-to-be new wife and the master of secret manipulations.

Jade gently touches Veil

I won’t lie, I shipped this for a second before a more viable ship came along.

And of course, The Widow and her girls, dubbed The Butterflies. A band of girls with killer fighting skills and butterfly-shaped throwing knives.

See, the Badlands are broken up and ruled by seven different men and women called Barons, and a lot of the conflict in the show has to do with the balance of power between them (or lack thereof.) Most of the Barons run estates, but The Widow, upon her husband’s death, went rogue and has been rescuing girls from brothels and servitude and training them to fight, for her and for themselves.

The Widow’s right hand girl is Tilda, a baby butterfly who we have had the pleasure of watching evolve since her first appearance. She grows bolder and bolder, and in season two she’s given the title of Regent, sworn to serve and protect The Widow (who the girls call Mother) at all costs.

Tilda with a crossbow

Weirdly proud of my bb with a crossbow it’s fine

In the first season, Tilda and a young man named MK had a little flirtationship, but they found themselves on very different paths in season two. Instead, Tilda’s path lead her to Odessa, one of the girls rescued from a “dollhouse” (what they call brothels in this post-apocalyptic world) and frankly the first rainbow flag (get it? like a red flag but gay?) was when I noticed Tilda said “Odessa” more times than was strictly necessary. Not unlike our favorite Trikru Commander. It becomes clear she’s taking a liking to this ex-doll and she seems to be the only one whose name Tilda bothered to learn.

Tilda and Odessa

Two brunettes? On this and Supergirl? Is this even legal?

In this most recent episode, “Leopard Stalks in Snow,” we see Tilda and Odessa talking one-on-one. Odessa wants to leave the Butterflies; she’s been property of Barons her whole life, and isn’t sold on the idea that The Widow is any different than those who owned her just because she lets them call her “mother” instead of “master.” Tilda insists The Widow is different, and explains why. We knew a little bit about Tilda’s backstory, but it was mostly hinted at before; now she tells Odessa in full detail: Tilda was a servant in the Baron’s house and he used to sneak into her room and rape her every night, until one night he did more than that and the Baron’s wife could no longer live in denial. Tilda says The Widow came to her in the morning and apologized for not killing him sooner. And as much as I don’t condone murder in real life, a triumphant chorus of The Cell Block Tango (“he had it coming!”) rang out in my head when she finished that story. My note for this part of the story read simply yet joyously, “She widowed her damn self!”

Odessa’s heart visibly breaks for our little butterfly and though she still isn’t sure she trusts The Widow, she’ll stay with the Butterflies for now…for Tilda.

And then she goes in for a kiss.

odessa kisses tilda

!

Tilda looks alarmed at first; she surely wasn’t expecting it. But after a few beats of her eyes flicking back and forth from Odessa’s eyes to her lips, Odessa goes in for another kiss. And this time, Tilda returns the kiss with fervor.

tilda kisses odessa back

!!!

I’ve mentioned before that too often kisses between two women are cast entirely in shadow, or are a quick peck in the middle of a camera transition. But not here, not now. The camera loves them and the music swells lovingly and the light glows softly as they kiss and kiss and kiss. Meanwhile I am pressing my hands to my face so hard my eyeballs almost pop out of my head. Everything’s fine. EVERYTHING’S FINE.

Tilda and Odessa kiss some more

!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Who knows how long they would have sat by the end of that fountain if they weren’t interrupted, but interrupted they were, by The Widow’s advisor, Waldo, who says Tilda is needed elsewhere. Tilda panics but Waldo cuts her off before she can bother lying about what just happened. He doesn’t care who she’s with, and what I like is that, at least for now. It’s unclear whether Tilda’s panic and Waldo’s disinterest has to do with Odessa being a girl or a fellow Butterfly. He just warns her about getting her feelings too tangled up in someone. It’s advice he gave Sunny, it’s advice he tries to follow himself; emotions can get you killed in the Badlands.

And if that’s true, I’m doomed, because Tilda fills my whole heart and I want to protect her like she is my own and I want her to fall in love a thousand times if that’s what she wants.

It’s such a great feeling to genuinely be loving a show despite it’s lack of queer content and then be gifted with such a thing. The ladies all get fiercer with time and I think this Tilda/Odessa storyline will get some love in the coming episodes.

Fun queer tie-in, Jade is played by Sara Bolger, who also played Aurora (Mulan’s unrequited love) in Once Upon A Time.

Jade stands proud

But she’s no princess in this show.

And even though this is unrelated to everything I just talked about, it IS related to me trying to get you to watch this show with me: Madeleine Mantock is amazing at livetweeting.

Anyway, in conclusion, I’m excited to see where the Tilda/Odessa storyline goes; this show is short on episodes (six in the first season, ten in the second) so they’re not ones to throw away storylines. Every narrative choice is purposeful and followed through, so whether this lasts one more episode or the rest of the season, I believe it will be well-thought out and discussed at length.

Tune into the next episode of Into the Badlands on Sunday at 10pm EST on AMC. (I know! AMC again! I never regretted not watching The Walking Dead until I found out AMC was also harboring gems like Humans and Into the Badlands that I missed out on because I don’t watch the channel and therefore don’t see their commercials.)

The Widow and I will see you there.

The widow smirks into the camera with blood all over her face

Or else.

Just a nerdy, TV-loving, Twitter-addicted Hufflepuff who loves reading, watching, and writing about stories. One part Kara Danvers, two parts Waverly Earp, a dash of Cosima and an extra helping of my own brand of weirdo.

Valerie has written 158 articles for us.

30 Comments

  1. I’m intrigued, but would love to know more about the show itself. How much space and time do the dudes take up? It’s post-apocalyptic, not actually fantasy? Does the world-building make sense, or is one of those “accept a lot of nonsense for the sake of a fun story” show?

    And seriously, how much space and time do the dudes take up? I’ve been burned before.

    • Seconding this question, and also, how rapey is it? Like clearly from this description it’s a rough, misogynistic world, but how much screen time does sexual violence and general abuse/exploitation of women get?

      • Sexual violence so far has only been discussed/implied/threatened. There are some scary scenes where you’re afraid it’s about to happen but so far (if my memory serves correctly…and I usually remember these things) there hasn’t been any on-screen rape. There’s some physical abuse but it rarely if ever goes unpunished.

    • It’s definitely a combination of post-apocalyptic and fantasy – there’s a whole storyline about a superpower some people have. And the fights are more artful than they are even a little realistic. That said, I do think the worldbuilding is well done, if you can accept the fantasy aspects.

      There are like five threads of storylines going on at any given time, and at least two of them are focused on women, while the others are focused on men, but after that first episode I do feel like it’s usually a pretty good balance. But I mean there are a lot of dudes. It just doesn’t affect my ability to enjoy the ladies, personally.

    • Yes, thirding all of this. The Game of Thrones comparisons have me a bit wary. I love high fantasy, but I prefer it without a bunch of rape and murder. Is there magic? Does anyone ever get to be happy? Are there ay dudes we could actually like?

        • I appreciate all the responses, especially on the sexual violence, which was one of the main questions I meant to ask. I guess I’m trying to figure out where it falls on the scale of grimdark to sparkly unicorns and rainbows, and it sounds like it leans grimdark, but might not be too much for me to watch. Does it really relish its murders and depict them graphically?

          Also, how white is it? (As in, how many of the people who have substantial plot lines or are POV characters are recognizably people of color?)

  2. I just watched the first season over the weekend, because of all the good things I’ve been hearing, and I was questioning going forward, because as fun as the fight scenes were, I wasn’t completely sold on it… I guess they have me back 😀

  3. Just curious, does every single show have to have homosexuals in it? I live a very outgoing life, and I have to say as a percentage of population, homosexuals are not 25% or more. Anyone actually know the ratio of gay to straight? According to several Galup polls, it’s less than 5%.

    http://www.gallup.com/poll/183383/americans-greatly-overestimate-percent-gay-lesbian.aspx

    Granted, many won’t report as LGBT, for whatever reason, but the amount that don’t report wouldn’t quadruple the number.

    Can I have just one main stream show without it?

    • 25% out of a billion is 250,000,000 which is a lot. But uh 25% of 7.5 billion is more.
      So have a think about that.

      Or in more relatable terms does a 25% sales feel substantial amount of money out of your pocket?
      Not that media representation of not you is actually taking anything, it’s giving something needed to the world.

    • Hi there, Russ. You seem lost. But since you decided to comment on this article celebrating an LGBTQ+ relationship written by an LGBTQ+ person for LGBTQ+ people on this LGBTQ+-focused website, I’ll play your numbers game.

      Say you’re right, and only 5% of people are not straight. (Even though I think you’re more correct in thinking not everyone reports as LGBTQ+ on polls…probably for the same reason not every LGBTQ+ person you meet comes out to you. And I guarantee you’ve met more than you know.)

      If 5% of poeple identify as LGBTQ+, for Into the Badlands to be “realistic” in its representation – setting aside the magic and murder – in order to have Tilda and Odessa be not-straight, there would need to be at least 40 characters. I went over to IMDb, and here are 40 characters we’ve seen so far:

      Sunny (16 episodes)
      Lydia (16 episodes)
      Jade (16 episodes)
      M.K. (16 episodes)
      The Widow (16 episodes)
      Ryder (16 episodes)
      Veil (16 episodes)
      Tilda (16 episodes)
      Quinn (12 episodes)
      Waldo (10 episodes)
      Bajie (6 episodes)
      Bale (6 episodes)
      Petri (6 episodes)
      Ava (5 episodes)
      The Master (4 episodes)
      Abbott 1 (4 episodes)
      Declan (4 episodes)
      Zypher (4 episodes)
      Odessa (3 episodes)
      Gabriel (3 episodes)
      Tate (3 episodes)
      Penrith (3 episodes)
      Angelica (3 episodes)
      Mari (3 episodes)
      Esta (3 episodes)
      Quinn Clipper (3 episodes)
      Colt Boy (3 episodes)
      Quinn Clipper (3 episodes)
      Jacobee (2 episodes)
      Ringo (2 episodes)
      River King (2 episodes)
      Portia (2 episodes)
      Edgar (2 episodes)
      The Engineer (2 episodes)
      M.K.’s Mother (2 episodes)
      Roth (2 episodes)
      Jenkins (2 episodes)
      Baron Hassan (2 episodes)
      Acolyte (2 episodes)
      Valentine (2 episodes)

      And this is not including any characters who only showed up in one episode. So, even by your flawed logic, Tilda and Odessa are free to be who they are. In fact, frankly, there should be more LGBTQ+ characters! Especially because, if we’re going just based on personal experience, LGBTQ+ people usually have more than one LGBTQ+ friend.

      Have a great day.

      xoxo Valerie Anne

    • Louisa, it’s got a ton of violence, and is inspired by Hong Kong action movies, but it also has so much diversity and pro-feminism themes, so give it a shot.

  4. I love this show — a lot of it is about crushing the patriarchy and how to survive it.

    The visuals of the kiss made it one of my favorite kisses … the close up of their mouths and moving up to their eyes was very well done. I really hate how so many kisses are behind locks of hair or in the shadows – they do that on purpose, and it feels glaringly like self-censorship.

    I believe you don’t watch promos, Valerie. But.. I am very excited about a meeting the Widow has next episode; one that I have been hoping for a long time to happen. (Hopefully no one gets stabbed!)

  5. I used to love the show for its beautifully done fight scenes, which frequently quote other favorite Martial Arts movies and fight scenes!
    However, the bonebreaking sounds and graphicness and the deadly violence really turned me off after a while.
    I might give this another chance, though, because postapocalyptic Martial Arts Tale plus Liberation of Fighting Girls plus Lesbian Twist really sounds like my kind of jam.

  6. I love this show to death. I think,I see a love triangle Tilda, M.K and Odessa. I do love the women of the show. I’m so glad it got a season 3. Great Review!

  7. I am so in love and in awe of the racial diversity of show. Like it genuinely warms my heart.

    Visually it’s such a treat and gets better episode to episode. Going into season two the only bummer was how straight the show was so it’s been beyond amazing to get some queer content.

  8. Then what the hell are you doing on our website? Awww, did poor baby get lost when you crawled out of your pit? Moron. Moderator, please delete this comment. Thank you and have a nice day!

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