The child in the apocalypse enjoys special status. When Sophia goes missing in The Walking Dead series 2, the entire plot centres around the effort to find her. The scene  during which the zombie-Sophia emerges from the barnful of protected walkers is simple and devastating, while those with the children in the current series 4 are close to unwatchable to this parent of two (though I do, of course, watch). The depiction of innocence in the fallen world creates massive emotional tension, just as showing  children injured or killed in, say, a terrorist attack appears to many to leap over some boundary of decency. William Friedkin assaulted this invisible line in his mesmerising and appalling The Exorcist in the excruciating scenes of a child bawling obscenities. Even now our BBC is routinely criticised if it depicts criminal children in dramas, where the child swears or behaves with cruelty. In the outstanding The Line of Duty of 2012, it was reported for having taken “insufficient” steps to care for a child actor, which makes one wonder what Mr Friedkin would face  if the Exorcist were re-made in today’s shiny new United Kingdom.

In the post-apocalyptic world, the child is like Blake’s Little Boy Lost:

“The night was dark, no father was there,
The child was wet with dew;
The mire was deep, and the child did weep”

The mire is indeed deep for the children lost in the forests of southern America in the Walking Dead. The idea of family lies at the heart of this show, from Rick’s odyssey with his son, to the Governor’s chained zombie daughter, from the heartbreak of Sophia to the heroic self-sacrifice of Hershell. In the apocalypse, family is both all we have, and all we do miss.

So here is a sketch from my work in progress, my child character about to cross the line that both excites and appalls us:

Yes the birdies all quiet now, yes no singing. Quiet like nighttime, but not scary. Not scary like the creaking if it’s windy. Creak creak creak. Like the monsters padding up and down up there on the roof. And you pull the duvet round you tight and snug and Daddy says think of nice things and you’ll go to sleep so I say like ice cream?, and he says like summer days playing in the paddling pool with your friends and I pull the duvet tight tight tight and close my eyes and think of Jessica and Imogen and Violet and me all splashing in the paddling pool, and the sunlight making a rainbow yellow green red blue but pink’s my favourite. Pink but not too frilly. My sister likes frilly but she’s much younger, she was a baby when I started school. Now she’s a toddler but then she was a baby. We get older, and then we die. Like Grandad did; he died, and made Mummy cry.

David Quick, March 2014

Advertisements