(Warning: Spoilers ahead.)
During an impassioned speech to two of her fellow zombie apocalypse survivors on Sunday's episode of The Walking Dead, Denise Cloyd is shot through the eye with an arrow. The brutal, unnecessary, and gruesome death seems to be an arbitrary plot choice: last season another character was shot through the eye with a bullet and survived.
While unexpected deaths are the sort of narrative exclamation points that The Walking Dead's writers seem most comfortable with, Denise's death is notable given that she is the fourth lesbian murdered on primetime TV this season. In the past month alone, Jane The Virgin's Rose, The 100's Lexa, and The Magicians' Kira have all met their on-screen ends, leading fans to accuse showrunners and writers of plaguing their shows with "Dead Lesbian Syndrome."
Dead Lesbian Syndrome, an offshoot of the "Bury Your Gays" trope, has roots in mid-20th century movies like The Children's Hour and Suddenly Last Summer that featured characters who were coded as queer (though rarely explicitly identified as such) and died before the end of the film.
As Autostraddle points out, Dead Lesbian Syndrome made one of its most iconic television debuts back in a late-'70s episode of Executive Suite in which a woman is literally run over by a truck mere moments after realizing that she was a lesbian.
In the 40 years since Julie got hit by that truck, networks and studios have grown a lot more comfortable with giving lesbian characters more depth and narrative freedom to openly express themselves, but the specter of Dead Lesbian Syndrome still haunts many plots involving queer women.
On the one hand, there's the idea that as LGBT representation in Hollywood grows, so too will instances of LGBT characters dying. That being said, when you look at the number of queer women who have died on television versus the number of them who have been able to live happily ever after, it becomes difficult to argue that Dead Lesbian Syndrome's as much of an outdated relic as it should be.
Between shows like Empire, How To Get Away With Murder, and Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, there are still a number of living LGBT characters coming to our screens on a weekly basis. There are also more on the horizon: Xena and Gabrielle's romantic relationship will finally be explored in depth in the upcoming Xena reboot, and The Vampire Diaries' resident lesbian couple of vampire-witches have made it through two seasons without being killed (yet).
Rather than just treating these women's death as another one-off instance of structural homophobia in pop culture, fans are gathering around the hashtags #LGBTFansDeserveBetter to raise awareness about the trope.
"Storytellers can do better, and we want creators and viewers alike to commit to demanding better," the LGBT Fans Deserve Better site explains. "STOP introducing LGBT+ characters into narratives for the sole purpose of baiting queer viewers in, only to force them to watch people like them repeatedly die in acts of shocking violence that serve only to move the story forward for other characters."
There's something to be said for the fact that there are still two gay men and a lesbian counted amongst The Walking Dead's living survivors, but Denise's death is significant.
Unlike her straight counterpart in the comics, Denise's television incarnation struggled to find the words to come out to her girlfriend Tara just as she came to grips with the reality that she was now the group's de facto doctor. Her arc showed that even now, six seasons in, The Walking Dead can still introduce characters capable of speaking to an entirely new audience.