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The Walking Dead: 'The Same Boat'

By Wikimedia Commons
By Richard Nguyen, Crimson Staff Writer

In a tight and tense episode, Maggie and Carol navigate through the damaged psyche of their captor, Paula, and must answer for Rick and company’s murderous rampage through Negan’s compound. This episode, which takes place largely within two underground rooms, focuses upon interiority and fleshes out both Maggie and Carol as the show’s two central female characters.

Women play a refreshingly larger role here, marking one of the few times “The Walking Dead” passes the Bechdel Test with flying colors, with a whopping five women shedding any residual concepts of archaic femininity left over from a pre-apocalyptic society. The collapse of gender roles is best exemplified when the one man, evocative of Ed from the first season, attempts unsuccessfully to beat a bound Carol with impunity. His fate has been sealed.

Even in its attempts at subversion, however, “The Walking Dead” sometimes affirms traditional gender roles. While the show often exhibits whole and empowered female characters (e.g. Deanne), they sometimes still seem bound by what they are expected to do as women. Maggie’s current major conflict deals with the questionable—even impractical—birth of her child in such a terrible world. Her insistence upon becoming a mother in the face of doubt and strife speaks to the problematic idea of a “maternal instinct,” or the unfettered and predetermined inclination towards nurturing others. Indeed, for the many male characters damaged by trauma and consumed by aggression, particularly Crazy Rick, the show often positions its female characters to act as emotional caregivers. Rick found solace in Lori, Jessie, and now Michonne. Abraham, for some reason, must choose Sasha over Rosita as a lover because it is impossible for him to be merely friends with a woman. Perhaps by depicting this world’s regression to a simpler, tribe-like society of disparate communities, “The Walking Dead” knowingly posits these gender dynamics as rooted in evolutionary theory, suggesting that viewers should be glad that males and females are no longer restricted to what has often been touted as biologically determined.

This theory is juxtaposed with Carol’s own history. In losing both her husband and daughter, despite efforts to keep them both alive, Carol often feels like a failed mother. Therefore, Carol’s considerable concern over Maggie’s safety is cast as her own residual “maternal instinct” kicking in, making up for past failures. Carol cleverly feigns vulnerability and piety in order to trick Paula into believing she is weak, submissive, and unthreatening. By the end of the episode, however, viewers are left to question how much was really a manipulation and how truly broken Carol is beneath her cool and coarse persona. “The Walking Dead” boldly confronts motherhood and gender roles in compelling ways other shows with more overtly feminist agendas do not. Even amidst empowerment, the show’s female characters still have problems and flaws, both resisting and embracing societal expectations of the roles women must play post-apocalypse.

The episode is more explicitly concerned, however, with thrusting the responsibility of Rick’s preemptive, unprovoked, and calculated invasion of Negan’s compound into the hands of Maggie and Carol. Paula’s own friends were killed by Rick’s group and, by group identification, technically Maggie and Carol. These two women represent everything that Paula has been fighting to overcome. Yet she is forced to keep them alive in order to conduct a trade, despite the temptation to execute them outright. She goes out of her way to shame them, to say that they are not “the good guys,” which is a poignant point considering that in following Rick’s group as our protagonists, they are assumed to be “right.” It boils down to a conflict between two groups, similar in almost every way, fighting for survival. What is baffling is why the showrunners felt the need to dedicate an entire 45-minute episode to make this point when it was already implied visually during last episode’s shocking bloodbath. The audience know that our protagonists have chosen to damage their humanity and moral purity for convenience and survival. This aptly named episode places both hero and villain in “The Same Boat”—to explicitly tell an underestimated audience just how similar people can be across arbitrary differences.

—Staff writer Richard Nguyen can be reached at

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