Ross Marquand, the actor behind Aaron, one of The Walking Dead's most prominent gay characters, spoke with ComicBook.com about the importance of inclusiveness.
"I love it. I think it's very important," Marquand said. "I think that [The Walking Dead creator] Robert Kirkman has done a really good job of including characters of all walks of life, as it should be because that's how life really is. It's a fair representation of how people are in the world. That every group is fully represented is very important to everyone on this show."
Marquand went on to praise network AMC, showrunner Scott Gimple and Kirkman for their adherence to the original source material, including staying true to the sexuality of its characters.
"Someone asked when I first got on the show if there was any talk of Aaron's sexuality being changed, and I have no idea if that was ever being discussed but it would have sent a really terrible message, especially to people who were fans of the comics," Marquand said. "I'm very grateful that AMC and Scott and Robert have done such a good job of maintaining the vision of those original comics, because I think it's a really wonderful kind of metaphor for how we can all bind together in times of real struggle and real chaos. No matter where you're from, no matter what walk of life you come from, or whatever your background, your sexual orientation, we can all come together and find goodness in each other. I think it's great."
Talk turned to the "bury your gays" trope — the killing of gay characters, their stories usually ending without a happy ending — and a possible backlash if Aaron or boyfriend Eric (Jordan Woods-Robinson) perish.
"I think that's definitely a possibility," Marquand said. "I know that the LGBT community has been much more vocal about that. It seems to be a trend that does seem to happen a lot in a lot of dramas. It's a very unfortunate trend. I think that no matter where this show goes, I hope that whatever happens it's, I'm sure, wouldn't be motivated by any sort of backlash from any fans who didn't care for those characters. I think it would be more just motivated by what's best for the story. But, I think that's up to the fans to decide, truly, at the end of the day, but, yeah, I have very much noticed that trend as well."
The Walking Dead introduced its first gay character, Tara (Alanna Masterson) in season 4, pairing her with girlfriend Alisha (Juliana Harkavy). After Alisha's death, Tara struck up a romantic relationship with Alexandrian doctor Denise (Merritt Wever), who was introduced and later killed in season 6. In season 5 episode "The Distance," Aaron and Eric engage in a passionate kiss, the series' first between two men. The move drew both support and criticism, with some praising the show for its representation and others slamming the show for its depiction of gay romance. The Walking Dead hasn't backed off the sexuality of its gay characters: in season 7 episode "The Other Side," Hilltop warrior Jesus (Tom Payne) acknowledged he was gay, giving the show its third major gay character.
As the show kicks off All Out War against Negan (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) later this month, Jesus and Aaron will grow into more prominent roles, with Marquand revealing Aaron will step up as more of a central leader. The Walking Dead returns to AMC for the premiere of its eighth season Sunday, October 22.