I have a very important question to ask this week; If the characters in AMC’s The Walking Dead were real, who would you rather have as a survival buddy during a zombie apocalypse; Tyreese Williams or Abraham Ford? In case you forgot who these characters are, Tyreese is a big black dude who travels with his sister (Sasha) and of late has become most notable for his babysitting skills. Abraham on the other hand is a big white dude who travels with his girlfriend (Rosita Espinosa) and a guy who he believes can cure the zombie plague (Eugene Porter). Abraham is best known for his dedication to his self-assigned mission, which is to get Eugene to Washington, DC. For the purposes of this discussion however, let’s focus only on Abraham and Tyreese and not their traveling companions. Here’s a little background on each character:
FYI, I haven’t read the comic book, so this debate is based solely on the TV series and events that have occurred as of season five, episode five.
Sgt. Abraham Ford
Most of what we know about Abraham comes from the most recent episode of the show (again, season 5 Ep. 5), so if you haven’t watched it yet SPOILER ALERT! Until this most recent episode, we only knew that Abraham is former military (supposedly, people do lie about their pasts in The Walking Dead) and he’s on a mission to get Eugene to DC. Abraham showed time and again that he is about getting things done and everything he did was in pursuit of this one goal. This was both an asset and a liability as he seemed willing to sacrifice any and everything to keep Eugene safe, including his girlfriend Rosita.
Abraham’s backstory, which we finally learned this week, begins violently as we discover that early in the apocalypse he savagely beat and killed four men with a can (of soup? peaches? who knows) in order to protect his wife and kids. As it turns out, whatever he did to protect his family scared them so bad that they ran away in the middle of the night… only to be eaten by zombies. We also learned that without his family Abraham had no purpose and was seconds away from suicide, until Eugene stumbled into his life begging for help and talking about special missions.
With a reason to carry on, Abraham’s skill set becomes clear. He said it best this week when he tells another character; “It’s easy to kill. It’s the easiest thing in the world.” Speaking of things Abraham says, at one point he gives this winner of a quote;
“…I took a pretty hard shot to the sack with that crash. I am stressed and depressed… I’m gonna rub some dirt on it and walk it off.”
Later that night, when another male character tells Abraham he should get some rest, he responds by saying; “I need to get some ass first.” Then we see him having sex with Rosita… which is probably a good indicator of how he sees Rosita. That pretty much sums up Abraham. He’s brave, loves to protect people and is goal oriented, but he’s also angry, ignores his emotional and physical pain (which Rosita wisely points out may actually be slowing the group down as opposed to making them stronger), and thinks that sex and violence are the answer to his problems. Oh right, and he has an explosive temper and finds killing to be the easiest thing in the world.
We don’t know much about Tyreese’s pre-apocalypse life or even his life before joining the show’s main protagonists. We know that he lived in Jacksonville, FL, and that he and his sister bounced between a few different groups of survivors before finally joining the show’s core group. We also know that Tyreese led at least one group for a time and that he’s been in love twice so far. Sadly, both relationships ending tragically (zombies killed one partner and a main character killed the other).
Here’s part of Tyreese’s description from AMC’s website;
“Tyreese proves himself a capable soldier but also a kind and thoughtful member of the community, expressing distaste at the systematic slaughter of walkers…”
Kind and thoughtful have become the defining aspects of Tyreese’s personality thus far, as he is often unwilling to commit violence, even against walkers. He makes himself useful in plenty of other ways, so he’s not a bad group member, it’s just the violence that he avoids. His primary refuge from all the violence is watching the few remaining kids left on the show. He’s become so associated with child care in fact, that one of my Facebook friends once wrote; “I don’t like what they’re doing with his character. They’ve turned him into a glorified babysitter.” Post-apocalyptic mammy is more like it. It’s hard to miss the racial undertones of watching yet another black character raise the white people’s kids as they’re off doing whatever it is they do (in this case slaughter zombies). However, I have to admit that I’m not completely opposed to this turn of events. Rarely do we see a black man depicted this way anywhere on TV. For the most part I’m pleased to see this depiction of a black man choosing tenderness and love over aggression and violence. That being said, there’s got to be more he can be doing beyond minding the white kids!
As I mentioned before, Tyreese is big and strong and it’s also clear that he knows how to fuck shit up when he needs to. Like Abraham, Tyreese also shown a bit of a temper. When his second on-screen partner was murdered by an unidentified survivor, his anger boils over and his desire for justice leads him to get in a few fist fights among other physical displays of rage. Unlike Abraham however, when Tyreese gives into his anger he seems to be more willing or able to reign it in (outside of that one incident). When he discovered who killed his most recent love interest for example, a clearly angry Tyreese chooses to take a minute and pull himself together before eventually forgiving the murderer. But he also admits to being messed up by the incident and not ready to deal with or trust people for a while.
The downside to his kind and gentle ways is that he sometimes waits too long to “unleash the beast.” In one episode he tries so hard to be non-violent in the face of a serious threat that it ends up endangering the baby he was watching (ever the mammy, he now spends more time with the baby than the actual father does). However once his hand was forced, Tyreese goes into bezerker rage mode and single handedly kills a horde of zombies and the person threatening to harm the baby. He eventually did what he had to, but he did it reluctantly. A choice which pretty much sums up Tyreese.
So, who would you choose? Many people would choose Abraham because in the midst of a zombie apocalypse you wouldn’t question if he’s going to spring into action or not. You know exactly what he’s going to do and how he’s going to do it. This is certainly an understandable choice, but for my money Abraham’s downsides outweigh his single upside.
Let’s go back to Abraham’s history for a second. Remember, he brutalized four men supposedly in the name of protecting his family. I’ve read some arguments that Abraham’s wife was naive and/or stupid for leaving him and thinking that she and the kids were better off on their own. Was living with the bean can murderer really worse than braving hordes of the undead? Well, depends on what really happened I guess. We don’t know why Abraham bludgeoned those men to death, as we were never shown the events proceeding his savagery. But why do people assume the wife was merely stupid and not that Abraham was in fact a powder keg of anger who’s display of aggression was the final straw that pushed her away? Oh that’s right, because we’re still more comfortable questioning a woman’s intelligence than a man’s use of violence.
I see Abraham and I see a metaphor for the problems with traditional masculinity. He may view himself as a man with a mission, a protector of the weak and a guy who gets things done, but to me he looks more like an angry man who chooses violence and sex to numb his emotions. He harms himself and others by ignoring his wounds and the group’s need for rest and supplies and then chooses not to acknowledge the repercussions of that choice. Plus he’s constantly barking commands at people and if you ever catch him with a can of creamed corn in his hands, watch out… he may be planning to bludgeon you with it.
Tyreese on the other hand is the quintessential gentle giant and his willingness to be thoughtful about the violence occurring around him, while still being capable of dishing it out when needed, makes him refreshing on many levels. He’s definitely shown the ability to survive in the violent world of The Walking Dead, yet he prefers to care for kids and seek love, ever aware of the toll this new world order is taken on all who last (also, let’s not forget that when he hangs back it leaves room for the show’s bad ass female characters to engage in some bad assery).
These two characters represent two opposing types of masculinity that when compared encompass so much of the “what is a real man?” debate. The most obvious examples of these differences can be found in their approaches towards violence, the roles they play in their respective groups and their relationships with women. To be clear, neither of these men are villains, nor are they bad people… in many ways one could argue they’re both “good men” (at least within the context of the show’s extreme setting), heroic even. Yet they both approach their survival, their roles and their relationships very differently.
But If you’re asking me who I’d rather fight side-by-side with in a zombie apocalypse, it’s Tyresse without a question. He’s shown he can survive and help others to survive without barking commands or issuing threats. I also know that he doesn’t resort to violence as a first option, which despite what we’re led to believe is just as much of an asset as anything else. And when the apocalypse finally ends, he’s the type of person I’d hope to see rebuilding the world.