This week's episode of The Walking Dead posed some big questions — Where's Maggie (Lauren Cohan)? What did those poor mattresses do to the Saviors? Why doesn't Negan (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) stick to his word if he's so "honorable" as he says? — but it also gave us one huge answer.
Rick Grimes, you are not the father!
That's right, as many of us suspected, Rick (Andrew Lincoln) is not the father of Judith, Lori's (Sarah Wayne Callies) daughter. That honor goes to Rick's former best friend Shane (Jon Bernthal), who got together with Lori after they both assumed Rick was dead following the onset of the zombie apocalypse. In reality, Rick spent six months in a coma in a protected hospital while the world fell apart around him. Depending on how strictly you follow bro code, you can't blame Shane. But Rick always took the high road and immediately took Judith in as his own.
We probably shouldn't pat ourselves on the back too hard for snooping this one out. After all, this is The Walking Dead, where misery reigns supreme, and the most miserable situation for Rick would be to risk life and limb for the product of his wife's infidelity with the friend he ultimately had to murder. Ouch.
Now that we have the answer, we can look back at what's happened with Rick and Judith and underline some dark themes of the show and character motivations that become chillingly clear. First, we'll look at Rick. How did Rick reveal that he knew he wasn't Judith's father? With these words:
"I know Judith isn't mine," he said. "I know it. I love her. She's my daughter. But she isn't mine. I had to accept that. I did. So I could keep her alive. I'll die before she does, and I hope that's a long time from now so I can raise her, protect her, and teach her how to survive. This is how we live now. I had to accept that too, so I could keep everyone else alive."
This shows us a few things. First, Rick is a decent human being! "I had to accept that" signifies that this isn't a recent revelation for Rick, and that he's likely known that Judith was Shane's for some time now. Now, I don't think Rick would simply throw Judith in a dumpster if he knew Judith was Shane's. She's a baby, and you'd have to be pretty awful to do that, even though a crying baby isn't exactly the best accessory for the zombie apocalypse, and selfish survival rules say that extra baggage should always be left behind. (And we've seen some people, like Carol (Melissa McBride), take care of problems like that. *Ahem, look at the flowers, Lizzie*) But first and foremost, it only reinforces that we know Rick is a good guy.
"I did. So I could keep her alive" has some interesting meaning, too. Reading into that, Rick made the conscious choice to be OK with Judith being Shane's, and the fact that he emphasized that he made that choice indicates that he struggled with that decision. But he did so in order to give this baby a chance to live, and he's willing to do what it takes to make sure of that. And if that means deciding that she's his daughter in order to have that paternal drive to keep her alive, then OK.
Rick's doing this because "This is how we live now," meaning that survival at all costs is tantamount. It reflects back on how Rick is treating the Negan situation now. He's not taking any risk to get anyone else killed by mounting an attack on Negan because he can't stand to lose anyone else. Compare that to his risky decision to invade Negan's compound last season — he was willing to make that sacrifice. While this isn't directly related to Judith, Rick's choice of words help us understand why he's being so submissive to Negan instead of rising up.
But back to Judith. If you notice that last time Rick went off the deep end in Seasons 4 and 5 — which really hit a dark spot when Rick tore out Joe's jugular with his teeth — it was when he wasn't with Judith, who was in the care of Tyreese (Chad L. Coleman) and Carol. It's possible that Rick accepting Judith as his own has a steadying effect on him. Will I test speeding up through that yellow light if my daughter is in the car with me? Nope. But I'm Speed Racer when she isn't. Maybe Rick needs Judith to stay moral and civilized. Maybe he has one of those Simpsons signs that says "Do it for her."
As for Judith herself, as the youngest character in the show, she's a physical representation of the future. What does that future look like? Well, now we know it's half Shane instead of half Rick, which means it's unpredictable and volatile. A repeating theme of The Walking Dead is how to rebuild after this disaster, and what kind of future our children will be left with. If we read into it with this Judith news, it doesn't look good. Carl (Chandler Riggs) — who is quick to point a gun — isn't giving us much of a better outlook, either. Hopefully Maggie gives birth soon to balance things out.
The Walking Dead airs Sunday nights at 9/8c on AMC.