Fear The Walking Dead: Madison Clark proved women can lead genre TV

Kim Dickens as Madison Clark - Fear the Walking Dead _ Season 4, Episode 4 - Photo Credit: Richard Foreman, Jr/AMC
Kim Dickens as Madison Clark - Fear the Walking Dead _ Season 4, Episode 4 - Photo Credit: Richard Foreman, Jr/AMC /

Losing Madison Clark on Fear The Walking Dead is a loss for representation as well as a loss to the series. But she paved the way for better representation of women in genre TV.

Fear The Walking Dead fans have always been divided on Madison Clark. Some hated the character that seemed at times too detached and hard to connect with. Others loved her for her fierce loyalty to her family. But the fact that fans reacted so strongly to the character proved that Madison made an impact. And partly that’s because Madison was one of the few female leads on genre TV.

The Walking Dead franchise has been better than most when it comes to female representation on TV. But killing off the female lead of Fear The Walking Dead just three and a half seasons into what looks like a long run for the series is causing some controversy.

As all fans know, no one is safe in The Walking Dead universe. No character is untouchable, as the shocking death of Carl Grimes in season 8 of The Walking Dead proved. But killing Madison Clark isn’t just a loss for the series. It’s a loss for the representation of women in genre TV which still has a long ways to go. For a show that has the reach that Fear The Walking Dead has to kill off the female lead is a disappointment, even if it ends up serving the story in ways that fans aren’t aware of at the moment.

Primarily that’s because Madison Clark proved that older strong female leads don’t kill a genre TV show, which is the argument that has been used for years as a way to continually relegate strong female roles, especially roles for women in their late 30s and 40s,  to the background in genre TV. In an interview with EW Kim Dickens had this to say:

Fear The Walking Dead has had consistently high ratings and season 4 has been the strongest season so far narratively and in character development. If Madison had lived it would have opened the door for more shows to include strong female leads.

Not A Typical Mother

Part of what set Madison Clark apart from the other female characters in genre shows is that she wasn’t a stereotype. Even in genre shows that take a progressive attitude towards female roles like The Walking Dead franchise Madison was an anomaly.

On other shows mother characters are almost universally depicted as gentle, caring, and emotional while not taking on the heavy lifting of fighting for survival. Carol on The Walking Dead and Michonne both became fearsome warriors, but only after losing their children. The experience of losing their children is what propelled those characters to become the fighters they are today. Madison was a fighter from the start.

Smart, savvy, and able to make tough decisions without hesitating Madison was an atypical mother in genre TV. She had more in common with Rick Grimes than Lori Grimes. And the characteristics that made Rick a good leader were the exact same characteristics that got Madison labeled “cold” and “detached”.

Madison And Travis Vs. Rick And Lori

From the beginning of Fear The Walking Dead Madison and Travis Manawa had opposite roles from the traditional gender role stereotypes that are portrayed on TV, even in genre TV. Travis was the quieter, gentler, more laid back partner while Madison was the direct, decisive, action oriented partner. Traditionally it’s the female characters who act as a calming or centering force, like Lori Grimes was for Rick Grimes.

Travis was that calming and centering force for Madison. When Madison lost Travis she was devastated, as Rick was when he lost Lori. But Madison never wavered when it came to doing whatever she had to do to protect her kids. Just like Rick never wavered when it came to protecting Carl and Judith. But while that ferocious devotion to their children made people love Rick Grimes to some fans it was offputting in Madison, because Madison didn’t conform to the “mother” stereotype that is so prevalent even in genre TV.

A Heroine’s Death

Madison’s death was a blow to the series and to fans. But in the world of The Walking Dead a good death is a death that means something or a death that helps the people you love survive. By that yardstick Madison got the only death that would have made sense for her character: sacrificing it all for her kids without a second thought.

Fear The Walking Dead’s Next Lead

All is not lost when it comes to female representation in genre TV though. Losing Madison Clark is a blow for representing strong older females, but it does clear the way for Madison’s daughter Alicia Clark to step up as the show lead. Alicia is her mother’s daughter and has the same strength and ferocity that Madison had. As the only surviving original cast member from the pilot it makes sense for Alicia to take the reins as the lead of the show and carry on Madison’s legacy.

Some fans are speculating that Morgan Jones will become the next lead, but it seems like Morgan will continue to have the same centering role for Alicia that he had for Rick Grimes on The Walking Dead. In the Fear The Walking Dead midseason finale Morgan and Alicia had a tense moment but Morgan was able to get through to her and change her course of action. It’s entirely possible that Morgan will become an advisor to Alicia and not take over the lead role. Morgan always seems more comfortable just off center instead of taking center stage.

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Fear The Walking Dead Still Female Driven

Even with the tragic loss of Madison Clark Fear The Walking Dead has one of the largest female ensemble casts in genre TV and continues to treat strong female characters as normal instead of as outliers. It will be interesting to see how the rest of season 4 plays out and what character development is coming for Alicia Clark, Luciana, June (Naomi/Laura), Charlie and Althea. Representation matters, now more than ever, and hopefully The Walking Dead franchise will continue to lead the way for genre TV with diversity and representation for women.