The Lone Queer of George A. Romero’s ‘Survival of the Dead’

tomboy survival of the dead

There’s yet to be a Lone Queer from a zombie film. Until now! But they’re not from just any ol’ zombie film. They’re from a George A. Romero zombie film. Obviously not from the original series, but from the second series … chapter … reiteration of his Dead films. That film is 2009’s Survival of the Dead. The Lone Queer is a badass with a heart of gold, Tomboy, portrayed by Athena Karkanis (Saw IV, Saw VI). 

In the realm of Romero, I’m surprised that it took five films before he included a queer character. Each of Romero’s films is politically charged. The previous five films were ripe to include a queer character. Perhaps within Romero’s mind, it just wasn’t time. He saved a queer character for his last Dead film which was his final film before he passed away in 2017.

So how did Romero treat Tomboy? Let’s take a look.

Survival of the Dead is a continuation of 2007’s Diary of the Dead which was a fresh start for the Dead universe for Romero. With Diary, he wanted something that would speak to the age of journalism, and how it had moved into the digital world. After Diary’s success, he was approached to make another film. With Survival, he wanted to go for the jugular when it comes to humanity constantly feuding with each other. 

Survival is centered on two families: the O’Flynns and the Muldoons. The latter thinks that the dead should be kept alive because they are still the people they were, and the former believes that the dead should be destroyed because they are obviously dangerous. The feuding families inhabit a small island off the coast of Delaware. Aside from these two families is a group of survivors from the National Guard. This group includes Sarge (Alan Van Sprang) who made a small appearance in Diary, Kenny (Eric Woolfe), Francisco (Stefano DiMatteo), and our Lone Queer, Tomboy. They get tied up in the feud and must fight both the dead and the living to survive. 

Is Tomboy Actually a Tomboy?

Let’s start with the name of the character: Tomboy. Is she a literal tomboy? Sort of, maybe. She’s just an ass-kicking lesbian surrounded by testosterone. I’m sure it’s a loving nickname created by Romero and her real name is never actually revealed. I’m not nor have I ever been a part of the National Guard, but I know nicknames are prominent within. Sarge is Sarge, and I’m sure that’s not his real name. I’m going to take the moniker of Tomboy as an endearing thing. 

Tomboy’s introduction in Survival Of The Dead shows her with her hands down her pants, masturbating in a Jeep, surrounded by her three male comrades. This scene shows that Tomboy gives zero fucks. It also shows that she’s not doing this for male attention. Two out of the three guys around her aren’t even paying attention. Francisco does come around to let her know that she’s turning him on. Her response? “I’d let you lick me, Frannie, but guys just don’t know how.” And that’s how we learn that Tomboy is queer. 

Coming Out Over and Over Again

Tomboy has a few other moments where she has to explain to new characters that she is indeed a lesbian. The cutest of these comes when she meets the patriarch of the O’Flynn (Kenneth Welsh) family when they’re on their way to the island. He mentions that he has a daughter on the island and that Tomboy reminds him of her. She responds with, “Good, something that we both have to look forward to.” O’Flynn’s slightly taken aback by this, and does the standard, “Oh, you’re a …” Tomboy asks if he has a problem with it, and O’Flynn lets her know that he doesn’t at all. He doesn’t even defend his daughter from the possibility of being hit on. Good for you, O’Flynn. 

Tomboy and O’Flynn actually have a great repertoire throughout the film. After all, she’s the one who helps him on the boat as they escape a horde of zombies (even though he was the reason they got into the zombie horde mess in the first place). Later when she’s in trouble, he says he owes her a favor so he goes out of his way to help her. 

More Than A Damsel In Distress

Tomboy definitely earns the respect of her male counterparts throughout Survival of the Dead and continues a lineage of strong women throughout the Dead films. She may be a badass queer, but she’s a queer that has a heart of gold. She’s constantly checking in on her counterparts in their time of need. Her relationship with Francisco comes to an untimely end as he’s been infected by biting a zombie. Instead of having to kill himself, Tomboy mercy kills him, preventing Francisco from having to turn into a flesh-eating ghoul.

The only iffy part of Tomboy’s journey is that Romero spent all of this time creating a badass heart of gold only to have her eventually become the damsel in distress. The Muldoon clan captures her to lure the O’Flynn clan in. A legit storybook damsel in distress capture occurs including having her thrown over a horse throughout the capture. Yeah, it goes back to the good ol’ Western stereotype so I’m sure that is what Romero was encapsulating. After this, Tomboy has nothing more to do once she’s back with her crew. 

She Will, And Does, Survive

But yanno what? Tomboy survives Survival of the Dead. She makes it to the end!  On initial viewing, I was afraid she would go the way of the zombie digestion. But leave it to Romero to carry out his queer character to the end. 

Would I have loved to see Tomboy’s sexuality play a more integral part of the story? Absolutely. She’s a captivating character.

So here’s to Tomboy, the only known queer within the six Dead films that Romero blessed us with. She’s a badass with a heart of gold. She masturbated in front of a group of men and didn’t give a damn what they thought. As she heads off back to the mainland with the other two survivors of Survival of the Dead, I hope she has aspirations of meeting a fellow queer with which to share her remaining days of the zombie apocalypse.


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