Team Merle, Team T-Dog… a tag team

They are the oddest couple I know. One is a strung out, racist, redneck with a really bad attitude and cojones only a fool would dare challenge. The other is a black man built like a Mack truck who displays good intentions and guts, but harbors doubts about his place in a zombie-infested society. When they meet sparks, …or rather blood and spit, certainly fly. It’s a feast for the eyes and the spirit…for both Merle Dixon and Theodore Douglas, better known as T-Dog, are grappling with issues of race, survival and what it means to honestly show your true colors.

Who are Merle Dixon and Theodore Douglas? They are characters from The Walking Dead—a series of graphic novels by Robert Kirkman turned into one of the world’s hottest cable television shows by AMC and an insanely talented production crew. They have created cast of characters I have a great deal of love for:

If you aren’t watching the show you should be. From the moment the show begins viewers are taken on the undead ride of a lifetime, watching a cast of beleaguered humans fight not only to survive, but to retain that which makes us most human.

These two characters represent the opposite ends of the spectrum in a battle that has raged since the beginning of recorded history. Are we, the human family, truly one? Or, are we divided by race, religion, ethnicity and/or politics? Are we a global family? Or, is it us against them? Neither man is evil. Both are, at least partially, products of their environments. And both men have valuable lessons to teach us about what it means to be human.

[***WARNING: Spoilers ahead***]

Everyone loves Merle. Wait, scratch that. Everyone loves Michael Rooker, a singular actor who can take the most vile character and leave viewers salivating for more. But it isn’t just Rooker. Merle is able to do what most of us cannot—to be true to who he is and speak his mind no matter how unpopular his feelings might be. Putting aside, briefly, that Merle is a danger to pretty much anyone he encounters including his own family members, there is a sort of freedom there that few human beings have the guts to display.  T-Dog certainly doesn’t have that kind of courage—it is only when ravaged by fever that he is able to give voice to the dark thoughts he harbors within about race and the fate of the black man. While he may later express disgust with the bile that spewed forth from a fevered mind, he cannot really deny that those were—at least, in part—his true feelings…and given the state of pre-zombiepocalypse society, not entirely unjustified.

T-Dog, played by IronE Singleton, is the main survivor group’s conscience personified. After Merle’s disgusting display on the roof, it is T-Dog who steps forward to take on the responsibility for Merle’s fate even though he, above all the others, would have the most reason to turn and walk away. He took the responsibility for dropping the key and delivers a message few want to hear—that the blood is on their hands, and no matter how repugnant Merle may be his fate will weigh on their spirits. By securing the door with a chain and padlock even as he fled the rooftop scene, T-Dog recognized that his anger towards Merle was human, but that the outcome was untenable.

The one vs. the many. Merle and T-Dog, because of who they are as men, have polar opposite approaches to survival. Merle needs no one and sees the pansies, democrats and n*ggers as negatives rather than assets. T-Dog sees every individual as having a place on this earth with value to add to the group. In this regard Merle is hopelessly deluded. A man may be able to survive physically on his own, but the human spirit requires others to flourish.

Both Merle and T-Dog have strength of spirit, the strength of true survivors. If you pull away the layers of drugs, acerbic wit and short-sighted views of Merle, and the doubts about his place in the main survivor group as a whole in the case of T-Dog, both men have a strength to them. Seriously. How many people out there could do what Merle did on the roof, and in the kitchen with the iron? How many can continuously put aside fear and loneliness to act in the best interest of the group as a whole with no real sense of acrimony?

Which leads me to the rub. Is there a place for a man like Merle in a group of survivors for which he expresses little more than outright disdain? Should a man who consistently puts the group before himself feel like an outsider? And, ultimately, should the group survive long enough to begin a true rebuilding process, can they—the new human family—rise above the hurts of the past to chart a more humane future?

With special thanks to R.C. Murphy

5 thoughts on “Team Merle, Team T-Dog… a tag team”

  1. great article! I think Merle is too set in his way of thinking to ever be an asset to the group. I look forward to his return and the fireworks it will bring though.

    I love T-Dog but I’m afraid he may be too gentle a soul to survive long term. I hope I’m wrong.

  2. Great job, as always.
    I agree with Sarah Q, Merle is bound to be trouble when he comes back! I cannot wait to see how he fits in to the dynamic of the group, if at all. As for T-Dog, I think he has a survivor’s heart and I have a feeling he will be around for a long time.

  3. You know. As crazy as it sounds, I am still hoping that Merle shows back up. Why? Because between the population of hungry eating zombies and a group of broken individuals struggling for survival, a need exists for a maniac on the loose swooping in every once in a while to take a bite at the group.

    We expect the ‘walkers’. We know what they will do, so we know how to deal with them. We expect Hershel’s farm to be clinging on to humanity. We know how to manage them. Hell, we expect Shane’s cheese to slide off his cracker. For the most part, we understand that problem. Merle though, he is a box of surprises. With him you just don’t know. That is what I like about him and I want MORE!

    T-Dog, on the other hand, is like a rock. He is a modern day Jiminy Cricket and I would want his innate wisdom and discerning to guide my path through thick and thin. If more men were like T-Dog, I think there would be less of the crap that makes society fall apart at the seams. T-Dog for president I say!

    Rick, go take care of your/Shane’s baby and put T-Dog in the driver’s seat.

    Thanks Juliette for an awesome article! Lovin it!

  4. Thanks Juliette. Great job!
    T-Dog is truly a good guy. I love his character. In any scene when faced with conflict T-Dog is always one of the first to stand up and have your back. He does what needs to be done and has become one of my faves.
    Merle~ I have to agree with everyone loving Rooker. No one can play a racist piece of trash the way he can and even though we despise the character still, on some level, love him too. Merle is hardcore and in a World full of Zombies he will survive as any other outcome is not an option for him. Hope to see more Merle in the future.

  5. Thank you ladies!!
    Some very well thought out response and glad you’re all enjoying the posts.
    Can’t wait to see what happens next to these characters…!

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