The Most Important Character on The Walking Dead
If any TV show has ever prompted our minds into a preposterous mode of apocalyptic planning, it's the Walking Dead. If you've watched it, consider yourself well-educated on the methods of zombie takeover survival: move quietly, ration your food, and if you come across a walker (and you will), spare no violence. Crush their heads, spike their brains, decapitate if necessary. Just don't. Get. Bitten.
As TWD gears up for another crazy season of zombie thrashing, few characters have remained from the origin of the show. You have Rick, the strong yet sometimes aloof former cop leading the group along with his now trigger happy son Carl. There's Carol, the mother of the group that tends to mostly domestic needs as they arise, though she's not scared to smack a zombie. And of course you have Daryl, the crossbow wielding do-anything-necessary survivalist that could've been the subject of Hank Williams Jr.'s classic "A Country Boy Can Survive."
There are others that play key roles as well, such as Glenn and Maggie and Michonne and Tyreese. All adults finding courageous ways to, in NCAA tourney terms, "survive and advance." But among all of these characters that have endeared us (or driven us crazy), the most important character of the show is someone who can't even really put together complete sentences yet: Rick's daughter Judith.
She's nothing more than an ordinary adorable 2 year old. Yet as cute as she is, Judith is relatively useless. She can't scavenge for supplies. She can't stay up late keeping watch from walkers. She can't slaughter the undead. She provides absolutely no value to the group as a whole, save a moment or two of bonding she might have with her paranoia-plagued father who is typically more in survival-mode than daddy-mode.
Judith's mom (Rick's wife) Lori is no longer around. She died shortly after a crude C-section in season 3, forcing the group of survivors to take on more of an ownership role for little Judith. But what makes more sense in the middle of zombie warfare: changing diapers or running for your life?
When Lori first found out she was pregnant, she was terrified. After all, a bleak zombie apocalypse isn't really the best environment to raise a child. On top of that, confessing her pregnancy to Rick would also mean confessing her adultery with another survivor Shane who happened to be a close friend of Rick's. Lori attempts to end the pregnancy with a handful of morning-after pills, but immediately purges herself to throw them up. She's chosen life.
Ask any mother in America and they'll tell you that managing care for a child has its own worries and frustrations. Raising one under constant fear of zombie attacks takes the parenting tasks to a whole new level. So why would The Walking Dead decide to even let Judith survive? Wouldn't her death be an almost immediate sigh of relief for the group, knowing there would be one less mouth to feed, body to clothe, and life to look after?
First, it's not kosher to kill off little children in television shows. It rarely happens, and when it does it's typically an accidental death, not a malicious intentional one. The Walking Dead scenario is unique, however. There have been a few survivors that have intentionally been "sacrificed" to lighten the group's load (sorry Otis and Randall.) But even those characters had their own ways of potentially benefiting the group. And when it comes to survival, anything not beneficial is considered dead weight.
Yet here we are, following along as the group mothers the motherless Judith, caring for her, taking turns feeding her and nurturing her. While logistically Judith's existence is burdensome, her fragile life presents an ointment for wounds dwelling in a dark, dark world. In an article earlier this year that asks the very question we are (Why is Judith still alive?), TWD's executive producer answered "It's a very, very bleak world. We've seen that and as long as there's an innocent child, a baby that they can all care for we thought that was keeping hope alive."
Few things in an apocalyptic world can represent hope quite like a little child. Few things in a real world do that either. And despite the savagery of bloodshed we see on the show, The Walking Dead is teaching us all an important life lesson. Life is most valuable and precious when it seems everything around us is dying. The rose blooms brightest when it's surrounded by only thorns.
In TWD's comic book series, Judith dies shortly after birth just like her mother. It makes greater drama for TV though to have a little one survive; to test the constantly eroding virtues of adult survivors who would frankly be better off in such a dark Darwinian world without a baby to lug around. Innocent life has not been spared often in The Walking Dead, even with Carol's young daughter in season 2. But Judith has survived.
She is never the focus of any show. Even in her birth the sorrow of Lori's death weighed much heavier than the blessing of new life. Judith really is viewed not much different than a pet dog might be: shown on camera once or twice a show for feeding or playing with people. Why? Because obviously she doesn't do anything. She's helpless.
Her survival to this point may boil down to the fact that the group leader, the main character in the story happens to be her father. Perhaps it's the salient need to shine glimmers of hope even in a fictionalized zombie fantasy land. But even in other grim TV shows, the youngest of the young have managed to survive. Those shows are often about unsavory characters hoping their offspring will grow and change the family legacy for better. In The Walking Dead, Rick and Carl and the others are desperate to find a way to give Judith something that all the rest of them have experienced: a life without fear.
Rumors are flying that in TWD's season 6 one of Rick's children will die off. Cruel as it sounds, I hope it's not Judith. What we as human beings hold so dear is the preciousness of life: the lives of our families, our friends, and our own. The lives of even our pets. When life is at its most fragile is when we fight hardest to give it protection. Protection from disease, from hatred, from evil, and yes, from zombies.