I really like Walking Dead, in spite of its many problems. But the truth is, thinking about the show is often better than watching the show. And in my opinion the best thoughts on the show are coming from the round table at The Atlantic.
If you’re not up to date with the show then be warned, the following might include a truck load of spoilers for you.
Among the more interesting questions to contemplate about apocalyptic survival is what would parenting look like. Not far into Walking Dead a lead character, Lori, gets pregnant. She explores the option of abortion and receives criticism for that from some of the other characters in the show, including her partner, Rick. I found this unrealistic. If ever there was a time when abortion might be considered the kind alternative surely a zombie apocalypse is it. My suspicion is that a lot of pressure would be put on women in apocalyptic situations to have abortions because being pregnant, giving birth and taking care of babies involves dependency and I imagine groups on the edge of survival might be very merciless about that kind of thing. I have friends who debated me on this, yes we do think about Walking Dead way too much, and who have argued, instead, that groups in apocalyptic situations would see babies as an important sign that life still had meaning.
Lori, who subsequently gave birth to a baby daughter, was an interesting character in terms of how ‘bad mothers’ are framed. She was a deeply irritating character, which didn’t help, but it was noteworthy to see the criticism she received from viewers for imperfect supervision of her school-aged son when the child’s father was readily forgiven for the same parenting failures. In fact, Rick as leader of the group of survivors frequently takes extreme and unnecessary risks with his life and receives very little criticism from viewers, even though his death would leave his child extremely vulnerable in the zombie apocalypse. Lori’s pregnancy was interesting for me and my friends to speculate upon. Knowing how American television usually deals with birth, and also how very intervention-free an apocalyptic birth would have to be we wondered a lot about how the scenario would unfold. Some aspects ended up being very telling. Lori stood up during much of her labour and viewers, having not ever seen normal births depicted on television, predictably criticised her for what they saw to be a dangerous labouring position. Wouldn’t the baby fall out and hit its head? In the end, something went terribly wrong with the labour and a caserean was performed to save the baby’s life, where upon Lori was put out of her misery before she died and transformed into a zombie threatening them all. Lori redeemed herself as a mother through extreme self-sacrifice.
Post-apocalyptic parenting is one of the many storylines whose full potential is missed by Walking Dead, as noted in The Atlantic:
I don’t mean to go on, so I’ll quickly suggest two hoped-for fixes: The first is movement. TWD is much less flaccid when the survivors are on the road, in part because the road holds the promise of a better future — or at least of radical new circumstances. The second has to do with Rick: The writers had two choices, post-Lori. Derangement was the more obvious choice, and it’s the way they went. But I would like to see Rick — who was built up, over two seasons, to be the most capable hero in all of television — actually be allowed to adjust to a new, complicated and dramatically interesting role, as a father in a post-apocalyptic environment. Post-apocalyptic parenting seems like an fascinating subject to me (as well as a great name for a magazine), and I’m waiting for him to meet the challenge…
.. And I love the idea of post-apocalyptic fatherhood as a theme. Since the end of Season 2, Rick seems mainly to have resigned himself to Carl being forced into premature adulthood. There have been alternative treatments of the theme, meanwhile: Hershel, resiliently, with his daughters and now his adopted son-in-law, Glenn; the Governor, pitiably, with his unparentable zombie child..
.. While we’re on the subject of post-apocalyptic parenting: Isn’t the show tackling it already? Rick may be checked out of the whole fatherhood thing, but the rest of the group is doing a pretty good job raising Little Ass-Kicker: Glenn and Maggie go on formula runs, Daryl and Beth take turns feeding her, someone who’s probably not Michonne makes time to change her diapers. As the old saying goes, it takes a village to raise the child of a ghost-chasing lunatic, and I like the way that Judith has become a rallying point for our heroes. It’s basically what they tried to do with Sophia’s disappearance, but with actual dramatic weight..
.. Hope filled me early, as the monochromatic Carl confronts his father: “You should stop,” he says. Rick asks, “Stop what?” Carl responds, “Being the leader.” A wrenching thing to watch, but a portent of something excruciating and complicated to come? No, of course not: This moment is left unexploited by the writers, who allow Carl’s words to cure his father instantly. This is apparently an extremely convincing kid.
It’s not easy to for me to argue against this miracle cure, because last week I suggested that this most recent run of episodes would be more interesting if Rick would actually be allowed to parent in an apocalyptic environment (what, for instance, does a father say to a child after the world has ended? I would like to know), and now we have been promised an episode in which Rick and Carl (and Michonne) are going to be doing some zombie-land bonding. But still, imagine for a minute what a David Chase could do with this father-son relationship, and then despair at the missed possibilities.
Now, if you really want to explore post-apocalyptic parenting then you can do no better than the film, The Road. But ohmygod, prepare yourself for tense and grim.