I recently started re-watching The Walking Dead so that I could prepare myself for the return of the sixth season. But when I watched it this time around, I wanted to pay more attention to what this show was trying to tell its viewers.
My main concern was with Rick and Lori Grimes, our main protagonists and—let’s face it—their own antagonists as well. People seem to have a generally positive response toward Rick for taking the lead and keeping his family and “his people” safe with his “stuff and thangs.”
However, people also have a generally negative response—a VERY negative response—toward Lori, and that’s myself included.
They’re both pretty bad parents, if we’re being completely honest.
Both of them never seem to know where Carl is and simply tell him to “get back in the house” without giving him a sense of direction or purpose. You can argue that they’re trying to shield him from the world they’re in, but that’s pretty naïve, and I think that once Lori gets pregnant, they finally realize they’ve been going about this new-world parenting thing the wrong way. Carl’s told to step up, and as he does, he mirrors his father’s rejection of Lori.
At the beginning of the third season, Lori and Rick basically don’t talk to one another besides survival necessities. Despite Rick being all right with the possibility of his wife carrying his now-dead crazy best friend’s child, he’s finally snapped and only sees Lori as someone who needs his protection out of obligation—not out of any sense of love.
The main episode that struck me was season three, episode six, “Hounded.” Lori has died in the episode before this (“Say the Word”), and has done arguably the most selfless thing throughout her time on the show: told Maggie Green to cut her unborn child out of her so that she may live, while Lori will surely die. Lori and her pregnancy and birthing become an important image later in the next episode (“Hounded”).
When last we saw Rick, he’d gone on a walker-killing rampage in his attempt to find his wife’s body, leaving his newly-born child and pre-teen son with the rest of the group. He shows no regard to how the baby is going to live past this point without her mother.
Pretty bad parenting.
“Say the Word” leaves Lori looking like a saint while Rick just appears insane, though it’s pretty easy to see why he’s on his trip to Crazy Town.
“Hounded” has Rick finding the room where Lori gave birth. (Somehow, her boots and clothing are pushed neatly off to the side and there is no trace of her body.) Rick finds the bullet’s shell casing and a gargling sound leads him to the walker that’s eaten Lori whole.
Let’s take a moment to really look at this zombie. It’s male, completely stick-thin everywhere in its body except for his abdomen, which is swollen to ridiculous proportions. Remember how Lori looked when she was pregnant? Stick-thin everywhere except for her ridiculously swollen abdomen.
To me, this zombie is Lori’s symbolic opposite and gives me a clue as to how the show’s producers and writers want me to see this new world they’ve created. This zombie is male, and could not have been pregnant ever in his life as a human; but as a zombie, his belly is swollen with the remains of a once-pregnant woman, and now takes on her visage, thus becoming pregnant himself. However, this pregnancy is grotesque: it was never meant to have happened, and should not have happened.
Because I view this zombie as Lori’s symbolic opposite, now I have to take a look back at Lori’s pregnancy. In a way, Lori’s pregnancy was grotesque, too, or at least so she, Rick, and many other characters in the series thought. Many people expressed their concern with bringing a newborn into the world (Beth, Glenn, Maggie, etc.), and even Lori herself had wanted Carl to simply “pass on” instead of allowing Hershel to perform surgery on him after he got shot (back in season two). Lori also doesn’t know whom for certain fathered her baby, another thing that she worried about until she emphatically told Rick that “no matter what” the baby was going to be his.
So while Lori needed to be convinced to save her son, it is ultimately Lori’s decision and quick-thinking that saves her daughter—not just once, but twice (once when she vomits up “the morning after” pill and the second when she tells Maggie to perform a C-section on her so the baby might live).
Now let’s look back at Rick. He’s found the zombie that ate his wife. You know, the same zombie that I was talking about before—the one that’s Lori’s symbolic opposite. Understandably, Rick puts his gun in the zombie’s mouth and shoots, killing it instantly. But then he takes out his knife and stabs the zombie in his swollen abdomen, effectively stabbing his wife’s remains as well. So, not only is his stabbing his dead wife’s remains, Rick is also—in a way—stabbing Lori herself in her pregnant abdomen. While he’s doing that, Daryl and Maggie have gone out to risk their lives to get the baby formula, bottles, and other supplies from an abandoned daycare facility. These two have taken on the role of surrogate parents as Rick is destroying the symbolic representation of his wife and unborn daughter.
It’s not until the middle of “Hounded” that Rick seems to show any interest in his daughter (or “his” daughter—whatever makes you happy). At that point, Daryl’s already held her, silenced her crying, given her a nickname, and fed her (making about a million pairs of ovaries explode in the process).
Rick simply looks at her, holds her for a moment, and then returns to the boiler room to await the phone call from the voices in his head. He really shows genuine interest at the end of the episode, but it’s been at least two days since his daughter’s birth. Neither Rick nor Lori are winning “parent of the year” awards any time soon, and while their angst may have been easy to understand, this is the part where I really, genuinely started to hate Rick as much as I disliked Lori.
Ultimately, I think the creators, writers, producers, directors—whomever—of the show are trying to tell their viewers something. They’re trying to tell their viewers many somethings, but in this instance I think they’re commenting on parenthood and bringing children into the world. And I don’t think it’s just about bringing children into a post-apocalyptic world infested with zombies.
Was it the right decision to have this baby in this new world? From what I’ve covered, and also from the way the first half of the fourth season ended, all signs point to “no.”
The way Rick and Lori interact with Carl (and if I really wanted to, I could go into the whole Sophia debacle, too, but I’ll refrain for now) and then the way the baby is essentially orphaned by her own parents speaks to me at a pretty primal level. The way children are treated in this show is abysmal. They’re ignored, pushed off onto others who are not their parents, and are only important to the plot when they’re in danger or putting someone else in danger. It’s not unlike what happens to many unfortunate children today.
To me, what the show is telling its viewers is that we need to be careful as to how we treat our children in this world—in the here and now. While Rick and Lori might have been good survivors (until a certain point), neither of them were very good parents.
I think the simple message, really, is to think about your choices, particularly where another life that is dependent upon you is concerned. Own up to your responsibilities; don’t become a Rick or Lori.