I have been watching AMC’s The Walking Dead, like millions of other people, for almost six years. Since the show — one of the most popular of all time — debuted in 2010, my life has changed a lot.
I’ve changed jobs three times, moved twice, broken both of my big toes, had three cavities filled, bought a car, bought a house, sold a house, and lost both of my grandmothers. Oh, and I also had a baby. A lot of shit has changed and, yet, many things haven’t.
(Warning: Many spoilers follow.)
The Walking Dead has not changed. It has been and continues to be the most brutal, violent, and nihilistic television show I have ever seen. It is relentless in its apparent hatred for its viewers, never giving us a scrap of hope for longer than two concurrent episodes. New character you like? Dead. Steady food supply? Ha-ha, I think not. Walled town? Get outta here.
Nothing — I mean nothing — in this universe is reliable except that there is a never-ending supply of zombies, and it doesn’t matter how that works on any technical level. (Try not to think too hard about their state of decay. Wouldn’t they be skeletons at this point?) There are always more zombies, and the crew of protagonists is never safe for long.
Nothing has changed, but I have. Like I said, I became a mother back in early 2014, and immediately my relationship to television shifted. I watched TV at night, right after the baby went to sleep, and sleep is a state that is always fraught with anxiety for a new parent: “Is she sleeping? She’s sleeping. Has she died? No, she’s breathing. Why is she crying? Oh shit, she’s awake. You get her. I’ll go.” The unnerving cycle lasted the whole first year. Even given hours of peaceful slumber, many parents — like myself — sit down to their shows already on edge.
Maybe that’s why I’ve become much more sensitive to violence overall, especially violence against children. Or maybe I’ve just gone soft. Either way, after more than two decades of slasher-film-horror love, I, Laura, dislike seeing human beings put in harm’s way for entertainment.
This season of The Walking Dead was, for me, particularly bad. For several seasons now, we weak-stomached fans have had to contend with the near-constant and agonizing question “Where is Judith?,” though the creators actually haven’t made that a specific plot point in some time. The only baby on the show, Judith is the prized offspring of the main character, Rick Grimes, and his long-dead wife. She is a pain in the ass, more for the characters and show’s writers than myself, I’m sure, but the mental energy I have expended thinking about her is vast. And yes, I took immense and inexplicable pleasure when Rick & Co. somehow procured a baby monitor. I worry for Judith’s health and well-being, her language skills, her mental capacity. I once thought, mindlessly, about how she isn’t vaccinated. I am a stereotype, I know.
But nothing really prepared me for the thing longtime viewers always knew was bound to happen, sooner or later: the pregnancy of another (post-Judith) main character. That it would be Maggie I always guessed: Maggie and Glenn are in a lot of ways the center of the show, if only because one feels that they might have actually enjoyed one another’s company pre-zombiefest. They’re legitimately in love, so when one of them is in danger, we feel it a lot harder, and the show’s makers know this. They toy with our emotions about Glenn and Maggie constantly. Over and over, the two have been separated; they’ve seemed like goners so many times. At this point, the show’s entire axis turns on manipulating us into worrying over Maggie and Glenn and their unborn baby. I know Maggie means business: She cut off her hair. That’s what moms do.
And because I know that nothing in this universe changes, under no circumstances will the endgame for the Maggie-Glenn-baby story be “happy three-person family” or even “alive three-person family.” I almost expect Maggie to give birth and then one second later to have the baby attacked by a zombie, becoming the bit part character I have feared for almost six years: the tiny baby zombie.
“Where are all the baby zombies?” is a good and valid question, but what isn’t a valid question, I don’t think, is, “Is this going to turn out well for Maggie and Glenn?” Because I don’t think there’s any possibility of that, which makes me wonder if there’s a point to this show at all — not just for me, the haggard, assailed mom-viewer, but for Maggie the mom-to-be and for Judith, the current baby.
There’s no future here, none that I can see. I’m almost angry at Maggie for even considering pregnancy! What kind of person would Maggie’s baby, or Judith, even be in this world where only the worst people survive?
Over the past five or so years, I’ve seen a lot of people announce — on social media, at parties, and on Facebook — that they are quitting The Walking Dead. And I’ve always understood it: It’s a horrible mind-numbing show that probably says something really bad about us, considering its popularity. But I’ve always come back to it, catching up after months of avoiding it like a pap smear. If it says anything about me, the viewer, it’s simply that, like the world in which these characters live, nothing ever changes, no matter how much everything actually does.