Tara Chambler’s Death on “The Walking Dead” Is More Than Just Another Buried Gay

This article contains major spoilers for The Walking Dead

When Tara Chambler was introduced in The Walking Dead’s season four episode “Live Bait,” she wasn’t just the first openly LGBTQ character on the show; she was the first gay woman I had ever seen in any form of zombie horror in my life. Years of watching countless films about the terrors of the living dead and playing untold hours of Resident Evil games did not prepare me for the elation I felt seeing a queer sarcastic badass like her on my TV. Six years later, I now find myself ill-equipped to accept that her story has come to an end.

The beginning of something special.

The ninth season of The Walking Dead laid the foundation for the war with the Whisperers and brought to life the most terrifying villain from the comics — Alpha, who is played masterfully by Samantha Morton. She’s a bald menace and the leader of a demented group of survivors who wear the skin of the dead in order to blend into the zombie hordes and prey upon their enemies. Unfortunately, while building the inevitable conflict with these new foes over the course of the latest season, two of the three longest recurring queer characters were killed off. Tara was one of them.

My first red flag should have gone up when gay character Jesus was killed in the mid-season finale, because of actor Tom Payne’s comments after he left the show. According to an interview with Insider, they had done so little with his character in prior seasons that he’d become bored and expressed his frustration during season eight. Instead of leaning into the potential of Jesus’s character and letting the comic book romance he has with Aaron come to fruition against the backdrop of the upcoming Whisper War in season ten, he was killed off.

I wanted to believe that Jesus’s death was meant to propel Tara further into the spotlight in Maggie’s absence. With Maggie gone and Jesus dead, Hilltop needed a leader and she was there to take up the mantle. The few episodes we got to see Tara take control of her community were the highlight of the nine years I’ve spent watching The Walking Dead. Looking back on it now, those were the moments that lowered my guard and made me believe in something I probably gave the show too much credit for: Having a lesbian leader that lives, on a post-apocalyptic show where “landmark deaths” are used as a constant plot device.

Just a couple of gays running a post-apocalypse refuge together. NBD.

In the aftermath of killing off Jesus, showrunner Angela Kang offered up the following statement:

“For a show that deals with issues of life and death and people who have heroic and surprising ends, it’s hard because almost anyone you kill on our show or write out is going to be part of some underrepresented group on TV. I wish all of TV would step up as well. We just tend to get a lot of attention for it.”

While I don’t doubt Kang is sincere in wanting more inclusive representation on TV overall, this is a pretty boilerplate response when our gays get buried. I think it may be time for The Walking Dead to retcon the idea that killing off notable characters is the best way to move a story forward. In fact, the best examples of keeping characters alive leading to more compelling storylines can be found within the show itself. There were three key moments in season three and four where characters were spared an untimely demise that helped lead the show to evolving into what it is today. Tara was one of those characters.

In 2016 EW revealed that Sarah Wayne Callies who played Lori, the wife of Rick Grimes, heard Carol was going to be killed off and told the producers it was a huge mistake. Had they not listened to her, we wouldn’t have gotten to witness the glory of Melissa McBride’s Rambo phase and see her assume major elements of the story line Rick Grimes had in the comics when he went up against the Whisperers. Judith Grimes should have died in the same episode, but they decided to deviate from the source material and ignore Robert Kirkman’s constant pleas to follow through with her death as an infant — and now there’s a sharp shooting nine-year old girl wielding a katana on the show.

I know I wouldn’t have stuck around to see any of this unfold had Tara died in season four like she was meant to. In the tribute video made for her character after she was killed off in the ninth season, Alanna Masterson mentioned that her initial appearance was meant to only be a three-episode arc. I don’t know why the decision was made to keep her around past season four but I’m grateful for it. Seeing how hard Tara tried to make amends after the prison attack and help Glenn reunite with Maggie was really moving. Tara’s redemption arc stands out in stark contrast to the redemption story lines The Walking Dead has given to villains like Negan and Daryl over the years. Rick saw the good in her during the battle at the prison and seeing that come full circle when they met again at Terminus was the story line that made me start believing the show would integrate her more going forward.

Tara Chambler: Lover of stale apocalypse candy.

Now, in the aftermath of season nine I find myself at an impasse. The usual response to complaints about characters dying on shows like these before they can find any kind of happiness or love is brushed off as just part of how the show works. However, what I witnessed overall in the current season was that this isn’t the case for everybody. When the six-year time jump is established after Rick’s supposed death in episode five it’s revealed that several characters have settled down with someone in some way.

At this point Jerry has had three children with Nabila while Carol has settled into being Ezekiel’s wife and they have adopted Henry as their son. Enid is in a relationship with an ex-Savior and Rosita finds out she’s pregnant with Siddiq’s child after beginning a relationship with Gabriel. There’s also a significant amount of time dedicated to Eugene expressing his unrequited love for Rosita, which is an obvious nod to the fact that the two are married in the comics.

Meanwhile, we’re supposed to believe that in that six-years’ time, Tara never found a new girlfriend? It didn’t make much sense that someone as charming and funny as Tara Chambler would be single after all those years. Then there’s the issue of Jesus and Aaron, who despite becoming romantically involved in the comic book, are only portrayed as being really good friends who have clandestine meetings in the forest to gossip about their communities and train together. Some acknowledgment of their relationship from the comic book in the show before Jesus was killed off wouldn’t have made things any easier to accept but it would have been nice to see. Not having that validated on screen almost makes it worse.

The BAMF queer lady trio we deserved.

The only clearly defined queer relationship that was acknowledged and intact at the close of the season was that of Magna and Yumiko, played by Nadia Hilker (The 100) and Eleanor Matsuura (Into the Badlands). Like Jesus and Aaron these are characters who are also a couple in the comic book series. When Judith saved them and the other members of their group, they were eventually taken in by Michonne and brought to Hilltop where we got a brief glimpse of what could have been in season ten if Jesus and Tara hadn’t died.

Even though the portrayal of queer characters on The Walking Dead has been respectful and has avoided hypersexualizing them, I still find my enthusiasm for the show fractured for good after the events of this season. How am I supposed to believe that they will do right by Aaron, Yumiko and Magna when they didn’t see the value in keeping around a scrappy lesbian badass and a gay man who could kick the head off a zombie? The mere fact that nobody involved in making those major death decisions thought about the optics of killing off two of the show’s most notable queer characters in one season is massively disappointing.

Watching the finale of season nine was bittersweet. A small part of me still cares about where the story is going, but for myself and others who saw a bit of ourselves in Tara that “what if?” question will never be far from our mind. When I saw the survivors of the Kingdom playing in the snow with children on the outskirts of Hilltop all I could think about was Tara greeting them at the gates.

She survived being on the wrong side of the Governor’s attack on the prison. Her girlfriend got shot in the head by a kid. She survived falling off a bridge and escaped the people at Oceanside trying to kill her. Her next girlfriend got an arrow through the eye. When she sought vengeance, she learned the value of mercy. In the absence of Maggie and Rick she became a leader they would have been proud of. I admired her bravery, treasured her wit, and was inspired by her compassion for others.

The addition of new queer characters that have an established relationship doesn’t soften the blow of losing someone like Tara and it never will.

Jessica Vazquez is an artistic, gaming, cat-loving, writer and over analyzer of all things queer media related. You can follow her maelstrom of feels on Twitter or listen along to the podcast she co-hosts, QueerComicsPod

Jessica has written 1 articles for us.

22 Comments

    • As soon as they had Magna and Yumiko show up as one, I knew Tara was done for! Too many lgbt and too many colorful people representation for the shows liking! I knew T-Dog died so Tyrese could live than Tyrese died so Noah can live and than Noah died so that Gabriel could live a few more seasons, Morgan was moved to another show!Angela Kang can say what she wants but she is a big part of the problem! She knew of this trope yet still thought it was appropriate to kill not one but two lgbt characters, both had been leaders of a community, both ignored by others as if they were nothing to be taken serious! I also feel Kang is showing a little too much love for Daryl! She claimed this season was gonna be all female power when you barely witnessed it, it was Daryl you saw this whole season! Rosita was all about her weird love quadrangle, speaking of is the only latina represented and I hate to see another because that’ll mean Rosita is done for, Michonne was all attitude for a bit, Tara was leader yet you wouldn’t know seeing as they pushed her aside and had Daryl running things such as speaking to Alpha instead of Tara who’s the leader of hilltop, you had Daryl and Michonne ignore Tara when she warned that her community would be in danger for Daryls actions such as stepping on alphas territory, killing her people in the process and taking her daughter! Her worries were rebutted, leading to her unfortunate demise! Which is what led to the biggest disappointment, lack of reaction, none of the surviving characters seemed to actually give a damn about those deaths!

  1. Tara was the only reason I even TRIED to stick with TWD. I still quit watching a few years back because it became so repetitive and boring, but this is still a gut punch. ESPECIALLY considering how mad people were after her love interests kept dying…you think the showrunners would understand that killing queer women isn’t cool.

  2. Sorry, y’all, it’s been two weeks since this episode aired! We avoid spoilers right after something big happens on a show, but this has been in headlines all over the internet and all over Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, and even Instagram! We can’t hold off on a headline indefinitely until all our readers give us the go-ahead that they’re all caught up on a show. (But we do love you!)

  3. I quit watching after the season 7 premiere made me feel like they actively hate the viewer. Sorry, Tara, but I will probably never catch up on your remaining adventures, such as they were. 🙁

  4. ok but can we take a minute to appreciate that magna is the only character on this entire show besides QUESTIONABLY daryl who showed up dressed properly for a zombie apocalypse

  5. I gave up on the TWD tv show after Negan was introduced, unfortunately, I’m surprised there hasn’t been as huge of a focus on the The Walking Dead Game, formerly created by Telltale Games before the company collapsed and eventually finished by Skybound Games.

    Spoilers for the final season of the game:

    The protagonist, Clem, is bisexual! She can date another girl named Violet. I highly recommend playing through season 1, perhaps season 2, and season 4! Seasons 1 and 4 made me sob.

  6. I’m really sad over Tara’s death. I knew it was coming for years and I’ve been saying I’ll quit when they kill Tara. But this season changed everything and I’ll continue to watch the show. I have more than one reason:

    1- I always hated Rick and he’s finally gone.

    2- I wanted Michonne as lead since they teased her character on Season 2 finale.

    3- The new group!! Especially Magna and Yumiko! Connie and Kelly and even Luke.

    4- Gimple is a jerk! He turned the show a shitstorm, then when there’s no way to recover he elevated himself to Chief Content Officer and “promoted” Angela Kang to executive producer and showrunner – pushed her off the glass cliff- But she turned the whole thing around, everyone’s singing her praises for months, even Andrew Lincoln said he picked the wrong time to leave. I feel like we need to celebrate her success.

    • And a quote from Angela Kang:

      “I’ve been asked on a panel before, ‘When did you know you wanted to be a writer? Did you always know that you wanted to do this?’ Honestly, when I was a kid, I didn’t think this was a job that I could have. There was nobody like me. I didn’t think there were women or Asian women running a show. That wasn’t a thing. Now, there are so many women who are showrunners and that’s exciting because it means that the next generation can look and go, ‘Hey, of course this is a job I can have.'”

    • I believe that writers, showrunners, and producers deserve credit for crafting good narratives as much as they deserve credit for gays being buried on their watch. It doesn’t matter who they are or how many queer characters are left standing at the end of the season. If they squandered six years of character development with Tara, and three years of development with Jesus without giving them decent romantic plot lines, I have no confidence Magna and Yumiko stand a chance of making it more than a season or two. While we know that keeping them and everyone from their group alive would be more shocking then killing them off, I don’t believe there is anyone involved in decision making on The Walking Dead that knows that.

      I’m glad that you are still going to watch the show. I agree that what they’ve done with Michonne and many of the core cast proves the show can survive without Rick. Having her and Carol become primary drivers of the plot going into season ten is really fascinating. I just don’t think I have another nine years in me to figure out if they can get queer representation right.

    • I second this. This season has made a comeback for all the reasons you named Plus Connie. The addition of a deaf character adds a great dynamic.

      I’m sad about Tara and Enid. My biggest frustration with Tara wasn’t that she was killed but that she wasn’t given more to do before she died. Honestly, I could say that about a number of characters.

  7. What really bothers me about the way they handled this death was the whole set-up of this episode: first they properly introduce Magna and Yumiko as a couple for the first time on-screen (showing them kiss while in the episodes before this was only so much as teased upon) and then, in the same episode, they kill off Tara. It felt like the writers spit at me while laughing hysterically: “Oh hey, here’s a new lesbian couple, so we can cut out the existing one, because they’re all interchangeable” Yeah. No.

    I gave up on TWD with the introduction of Negan who was set up as this big cruel villain and then actually turned out to be the farce of a villain. But I was willing to give it another chance after the recent time-jump because on first sight it felt like a slightly different, I’m even inclined to say more diversity-oriented show (I’ve also been waiting for Michonne and Jesus and/or Tara to be the leaders of some sorts for years, and the number of women, queers, and people of color was so high for a moment that I thought I’d fallen into another dimension). And although it’s a little too late for that I thought there could be potential to build up interesting storylines for spin-offs (considering they’re planning on evolving the franchise anyway). But then from episode to episode the narrative became more and more pointless, and the characters are all just acting so dumb at this point?! TWD was never good when it came to its characters remembering things – and acting accordingly – but right now everybody seems quite borderline: motivations and beliefs switch with every episode, there is no coherence anymore whatsoever. And the wisest character on the show is a 9-year-old child that talks like a 65-year-old man? Come on! I accept these things when time-traveling is involved (like it’s done in the Umbrella Academy where Five travels in the future and then returns and is literally a 60-something-year-old stuck in the body of a teenager – see, now that’s an explanation for kids talking wise), but as far as I’m informed there have been no occurrences of this on TWD so far.

    I’m worried though how this we be framed retrospectively when the show will inevitably reach its end in the near future; because it’s true that the moment to install Angela Kang and her team seems well chosen in the bigger scheme of things: ratings have been dropping constantly over the last two seasons, the narrative is a mess, and so in the end you might as well blame it on the new girl and her female approach.

  8. I was sad to see Tara go, especially the way they did it. We didn’t just loose her, we lost 9 other characters with potential as well in a really brutal way. There is a reason fans are calling this the show’s equivalent to The Red Wedding. The entire season had been setting up to this big shocking reveal, the most brutal storyline from the comics, so I was prepared for it. Many people had been speculating that Tara was going to be one of the pike victims so I had a few weeks to prepare myself for that shock. I’m going to miss her as a character. She was just starting to get interesting again after getting on my nerves for a few seasons.

    I should have seen the writing on the wall once Andrew Lincoln left and they gave Norman Reedus a big pay raise in his absence. I knew then that they were going to make him the new Rick and in order to do that he was going to have be made the leader of one of the communities. That meant the death of Tara. Now we know that this next season is going to be Michonne’s last so it will probably be my last as a viewer as well despite my undying love for Carol. If the show continue’s after that, and I don’t know why it would want to, it will have to do so without me. Ten seasons is a good run. Let it die. You don’t want to become Supernatural.

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