The Badass Women of “The Walking Dead”
Since its launch in 2010, fans of The Walking Dead have applauded the show for delivering a wealth of well-developed female characters to the small screen. From Michonne [Danai Gurira] and Maggie Greene [Lauren Cohan] to Carol Peletier [Melissa McBride], Sasha Williams [Sonequa Martin-Green] and Rosita Espinosa [Christian Serratos], the Golden Globe-nominated series has continued to present three-dimensional women in its post-apocalyptic storylines. This theme was honored at New York Comic Con 2021 with a virtual panel titled: “The Badass Women of The Walking Dead Universe.”
Moderated by Yvette Nicole Brown, the female-focused discussion featured producers and actors from three of the franchise’s current dramas. Showrunner and executive producer Angela Kang was joined by executive producer Denise Huth and actors Lauren Cohan and Paola Lázaro [Princess] from The Walking Dead, along with Jenna Elfman [June Dorie], Karen David [Grace Mukherjee], and Christine Evangelista [Sherry] from Fear the Walking Dead. Aliyah Royale [Iris Bennett], Alexa Mansour [Hope Bennett], Annet Mahendru [Jennifer Mallick] and Julia Ormond [Elizabeth Kublek] represented the latest spinoff series, The Walking Dead: World Beyond.
The panel kicked off with a question to Angela Kang, who was asked to talk about the women who are integral to bringing the zombie drama to life – both on-screen and behind the camera. Kang admitted that the writers’ room is a 50/50 split between men and women and that many of the key crew members are female.
“I think it’s been really great to be able to write for a show and a franchise where we get to tell so many stories about strong female characters,” explained Kang. “I think it’s one of the things that’s the value system of The Walking Dead universe, and we just love writing for these incredible women. I love being on this panel and seeing these wonderful faces of people whose work is beautiful; people who I’ve admired for many, many years. It’s really exciting for me.”
Alongside Angela Kang, Denise Huth is another example of one of the many female creatives working behind the scenes on the flagship series, which is now in its eleventh and final season. Huth has been a producer on The Walking Dead since the show started and an executive producer since season nine, but she revealed how it’s not been an easy task to bring the undead to the small screen.
When quizzed about the origins of the show, Huth said: “I worked for [season one showrunner] Frank Darabont, who first got the rights to this back in 2005. Back then, absolutely everyone thought putting zombies on TV was a terrible idea, so it took us a while to get it going – but it’s just been such a dream to be here from the very beginning. From day one, Frank said to me: ‘You’re going to be on set. You’re going to be the person on the ground while I go back and deal with the writing and post-production.’ It was like being dropped into the deep end of the pool, but I was lucky to have [executive producer] Gale Ann Hurd here from the beginning, too. She’s been such an advocate of mine and is so supportive of me.”
When it comes to the cast of The Walking Dead, Paola Lázaro is one of the newer recruits on the mothership show. During the panel, Julia Ormond asked the actor if she was anything like Princess, the feisty and optimistic character she portrays. “I always say that Princess is like how I was when I was seven years old,” responded Lázaro, with a smile. “I was always in the principal’s office and I was always getting kicked out of Girl Scouts. We’d have meetings every Friday and I’d be kicked out – not for being a bully, but because I spoke up a lot. When something wasn’t right, I would say it. I stood up for people. And, of course, I was the class clown. When I got this character, I instantly fell in love with her because of how vulnerable she is. The comedy in her larger-than-life [personality] comes from trauma. That’s her defense mechanism, so I definitely have a lot in common – although I think I’m much calmer. Or maybe it just depends on the night.”
The panel went on to reveal how Lázaro convinced the creative team to adapt the character to represent her Puerto Rican heritage. “When I first got the role, I messaged the writers, because in the comic books she’s Mexican American,” she explained. “I don’t know how I got the guts to do it, but I asked them: ‘Hey, let me know if this is out of line and no pressure at all, but I was wondering if we could make this character Puerto Rican? There’s already a Mexican American character, who is fantastic and super strong, which is Rosita. I wondered if we could represent other Hispanic people?’ They thought about it and said yes – and I burst into tears because it was like a dream come true for me.”
The significance of the role is clearly not lost on Lázaro. “It’s a huge honor to get to play a strong female character, and to have her be a Hispanic character is huge for me,” she added. “The comic books have always been super diverse from the get-go and that is something I will always be thankful for.”