In 2013, a unique little show popped up over in the United Kingdom. This show was called “In The Flesh”, and it took a unique approach in numerous directions. It was a horror television show that had very little focus on blood, guts, and gore; they appeared (what form of media involving zombies could entirely omit it after all) but were in contrast to the story, which focused on the zombies’ thoughts, their feelings, and their struggles. In doing so, it went against the traditional layout of zombie films and TV shows. And in another surprising development, the creators made the focal point of the show in particular an openly bisexual male character: a rarity in entertainment worldwide, but especially in the United Kingdom, who would get legal marriage equality shortly after the first episode aired (months after it was filmed, when it was still at best considered an outside possibility).
This is by no means the first instance of LGBT+ representation in zombie media: Walking Dead viewers and readers know there’s at least one gay couple and lesbian undertaking over the course of the lengthy still-ongoing series. But to the best of my knowledge, this is the first time LGBT+ representation is at the forefront of the piece. The main character, Kieren, is a rehabilitated zombie or “rotter” who ended his own life after his closeted boyfriend was killed in action in the Afghanistan war. Rehabbed zombies are essentially treated like immigrants or…well…LGBT+ people. The town rebels and says we don’t want you, you might infect or kill us or take our jobs. Over the course of the show’s 2 seasons, things happen that affect his life even more than those verbal accusations. Yes, it’s a zombie show, so the lover comes back, but as with many things it’s not meant to last.
Season 2 shows the most progression of both the storyline and the role/trope of the doomed LGBT character. Things don’t seem so hopeless ultimately, even for a drama! A new love comes into his life. His best friend is by his side until the end. And he comes to terms with himself, who he is, what he is. The show got praise from critics and viewers alike in the United Kingdom when it aired on BBC Three and in the United States when it aired on BBC America for its progressiveness, not just for a show with zombies, but for a show with an LGBT+ main character. Throughout the show, aside from flashbacks, it’s abundantly clear that zombies mirror LGBT people, especially Kieren who is both: the town didn’t like him when he was bisexual and human, the town doesn’t like him now that he’s bisexual and potentially could snap and eat their brains. In season one, this was a problem because Kieren didn’t like that he was either. He didn’t want to be an ostracized minority, he just wanted to be happy and fit in.
But in season 2, he gradually became more confident in both his sexuality and his status as a rehabbed zombie. He only has two relationships in the show, and they’re both with men, but it’s never assumed that he’s just gay even by other characters like his best friend Amy, which is a wonderful step forward for media showing bi visibility. Simon, his new lover in season 2, at one point gives a speech that essentially teaches Kieren the biggest lesson he learns potentially ever: the only acceptance you really need most is your own. And he never forgets it after they embrace in a wonderful moment.
Like I said earlier unfortunately, many things in life aren’t meant to last, and this show was one of them. The second season was its last, with a total of 9 episodes throughout the series. Still it was a hell of a ride, and both seasons are available for purchase on DVD from BBC America wherever DVDs are sold. I highly recommend giving it a chance. Few zombie shows or movies are this consistently captivating, progressive, and important.