The Ardent Eccentric: Is Jessie Anderson the Worst Mother in the Zombie Apocalypse?

So last night was the mid-season premiere of Season 6 of The Walking Dead.  And I’m a little obsessed with this show, as well as what could have been, and what should have been, particularly because the show has the freedom to change up the plot from the comics.

So before we discuss Jessie Anderson as a mom, realize that spoilers for the mid-season premiere, as well as her appearances and those of other characters from previous seasons follow, so turn back now if you aren’t caught up.


OK, you’re good? Then let’s proceed

So in last night’s episode, “No Way Out,” Rick, Jessie, Ron, Sam, Carl, Judith, Gabriel and Michonne were making their way through the zombie hoard covered in zombie guts in an attempt to slip through unnoticed by the undead.  Realizing that the hoard is too large to get through completely, Rick directs the group to a quiet spot behind a tree to regroup.

Rick notes that they need to head towards the quarry and their vehicles in order to lead the zombies away.  Father Gabriel volunteers to take Judith to the church because really, a baby has the potential to blow their cover by making any noise.  I think despite any misgivings Rick has about Gabriel, he makes the right choice in sending his daughter away with Gabriel.

And here’s where I started yelling at my screen at Jessie for making yet another terrible mother decision.  Initially I was excited that she was doing the right thing, and then it all went downhill.

Jessie insists that Gabriel take Sam with him as well.  No one has a problem with this except Sam, who says he can handle it, and that he’s not leaving his mother.

I was trying to figure out what was going through Jessie’s head when she was looking down at Sam and making a decision about what to do next.


Since Season 5, when we first met Jessie, we saw that she’s not been the strongest female character.  However, this is completely understandable given her living situation.  But I can’t help but compare and contrast her to Carol either.  I’m not talking about Carol after Season 2 – I mean Carol before Sophia’s death.

Both Carol and Jessie had similar situations with their husbands; Ed was as abusive and controlling to Carol as Pete was to Jessie.  Both Sophia and Ron and Sam had experienced abuse at their father’s hands-at one point following Pete’s death, Jessie challenges Ron to lift his arm, which he can’t do very well because of an injury he suffered at the hands of his father.

While Carol’s family was initially outside the safety of the walls of Alexandria, and Jessie’s was not, when their husbands were confronted by their abuse, the community handled it in a similar fashion. Shane beat the hell out of Ed, making him vulnerable to the zombie attack that killed him, while Rick fought Pete, eventually killing him.

Following their deaths, both women had opportunities to release their anger at their husbands and the abuse they suffered.  When Daryl is disposing of the bodies of the campers (including Ed) who died in the attack, Carol insists on doing it herself.  This is early in Season 1, when Carol is still under the cloud of being an abused wife.  She is meek, subservient and has trouble standing up for herself and Sophia.  I would argue that Jessie is far stronger at this point than Carol.

But when Carol has to make sure her husband doesn’t reanimate, she stabs him repeatedly with the pickaxe, taking out all of the frustrations and anger over what she and Sophia have suffered over the years.  Even Daryl is cringing watching this happen.

Jessie took similar actions, although it wasn’t on Pete.  After Pete’s death, Alexandria was overrun by a group called The Wolves, who were arbitrarily killing the citizens in an effort to take their supplies and homes.  At some point, Jessie realizes that one of them is in her home.  She locks herself and Sam in a closet for safety.  The fact that she has a closet that locks on the inside shows that they needed a safe space to hide from Pete.

Although she has Sam with her, her older son Ron is unaware that someone is in the house.  She leaves Sam in the locked closet and tries to go downstairs to warn him, gun in hand.  Confronting the intruder, I had a lot of respect for Jessie here as a mother.  She fought off the other woman, but lost her gun in the process.  But this is where she saved herself and her sons, as well as got her “release of anger” moment.

In desperation, Jessie grabs a pair of scissors from the counter and repeatedly stabs the woman to death, while her son Ron watches in horror.  She probably killed her with the first one or two stabs, but the rest I feel were her way of finally getting out the aggression she felt against Pete all those years.

So was this the moment where Carol and Jessie veered off onto different paths? Carol’s act of aggression was witnessed by another adult, Daryl, while Jessie’s was witnessed by her child.  Carol was able to release her feelings while still protecting her child, but Jessie exposed all of that pent up anger to her son.

But perhaps not – after these experiences, both women took a greater role in their small communities and became stronger.  Carol supplied Rick with the grenade she pulled from his clothing when doing the wash that freed them from the CDC, and Jessie took the step of putting her neighbor Betsy out of her misery after the woman had killed herself and reanimated.  She even makes a speech to her fellow Alexandrians:

I used to not want to see the way things are. It’s not that I couldn’t.  It’s that I didn’t want to. This is what life looks like now.  We have to see it. We have to fight it.  Because if we don’t, we die.

I would argue that Jessie was stronger than Carol at this point in their respective journies.  Sophia was still missing, and with each passing day, Carol began to lose hope.  Jessie had the support of Rick and other Alexandrians after Pete’s death, and she was learning to stand on her own.  Carol was still very much a people pleaser; she was learning to be more assertive but she never rallied anyone around her.

Which is why Jessie’s behavior as a mother after killing the Wolf in regards to her sons Ron and Sam was so baffling to me.  Her younger son, Sam was clearly in shock from everything the family had recently been through.  He refused to come downstairs, much less leave his bedroom.  He listened to the same songs over and over in an attempt to soothe himself and not face reality.

Instead of seeking out help from the psychiatrist who lived in Alexandria (Denise), and who she would have known was a psychiatrist, since Pete had rejected Denise’s assistance when he was the town doctor, Jessie instead indulges Sam’s weakness.  She leaves food for him in the hallway upstairs, rather than forcing him to come downstairs to eat.

In one of the episodes, she attempts to coax him downstairs with a plate of freshly baked cookies.  After perhaps two tries, she sighs and leaves the tray for him and walks away. Enable much? What else do you have to do in the zombie apocalypse in a protected community other than to make sure your kids aren’t bat shit crazy? If you have time to make cookies, you have time to corner your child when he inevitably has to leave his room to use the bathroom and make him confront the situation.  Not in as tough of a love way as Carol did to Sam, but without enabling the fear and anxiety.

My thought was that as Jessie got stronger, she would have had a firmer hand with those boys.  Her words to the Alexandrians’ were what Sam needed to hear more than anyone.

He needed to hear that she had faith in him to survive.  When the hoard infiltrated Alexandria and the Anderson home, and the group was forced upstairs, Jessie told Sam, “I need you to pretend you are strong until we are safe and away from the walkers.”

Well that certainly wasn’t going to make him hesitant.  I know my child would feel empowered if I told her just “pretend” to be strong, rather than that I knew that she was strong, and that she would get through safely because she is brave, and smart, and that even though it is horribly scary, we would make it through.


So back to last night’s episode – Jessie contemplating whether or not Sam should go with Father Gabriel.

OK, yes, Father Gabriel is not my first choice if I had to send my child away for protection.  However, it’s choosing between the lesser of two evils, and Rick was trusting the man with his baby, so that would be more persuasive to me in making that decision.

And I get it, Jessie, you’re happy because you believe that Sam is finally being brave, but it should have been obvious he was just trying to prove to you that he could do it.  Here was where she should have realized, as his mother, that this was a front, that he wasn’t capable of making it through based on his previous behavior.

Here is where she should have been the strongest she had ever been and force Sam to go with Gabriel.  And if he started to cry and whimper about it, she should have clamped her hand over his mouth instead of trying to shush him like he did right before he was eaten later.

There was also no reason to take Sam to the quarries – he couldn’t drive (Ron and Carl probably couldn’t either, but they may be able to do it a little better than Sam if they needed to), and he would slow them down if they needed to move quickly.

Instead of making the hard decision as a parent, facing the possibility that her son would be safe, but that she may never see him again, she indulged him again, keeping him with her.  In fact, all of those previous decisions helped Jessie, not Sam.  Jessie earns more of Sam’s love by shielding him from the horror, but Sam needs a mother now, not a friend.  And mothers do not always feel loved, even when we know we are doing the right thing.

Sometimes, as mothers, we have to do the things that hurt us the most.  We have to watch our children suffer as they learn the hard truths of life. We have to bite our fists and not cry when it becomes a battle of wills in allowing them to assert their independence, but also stepping in as the parent when what they are doing is dangerous or harmful.  We have the challenge of being honest with them about our fears and struggles so that they open up about their own.

Jessie did none of these things with Sam or Ron, but her mistakes were particularly with Sam.  She focused more on her own potential happiness with Rick, rather than on her children.

So when she allowed Sam to go with them towards the quarry, I knew things would end badly for the Anderson family.  I was sad to see Sam and Ron die, because I don’t think either of these boys was properly prepared to deal with the apocalypse, and I think much of that was Jessie’s fault.  Even when Sam started whimpering and was frozen in place, she didn’t have a normal parent reaction, which would be to wrap yourself around your terrified child in an effort to calm them down, as well as protect them from zombies and draw as little attention to yourself as possible.  Wrapped around her child, Jessie could have quietly whispered encouragement into his ear while pushing him forward – anything would have been better than shushing him like he was 5.

Then she doomed Ron and everyone else as walkers bit into Sam.  Admittedly, I would also start screaming like mad if walkers were eating my child, but theoretically, they would be eating me first since I would be trying to protect my child.  The screams, of course, blow everyone’s cover, Jessie dies, Ron dies after attempting to shoot Rick because his anger about everything finally gets the best of him, and Carl loses an eye.

Even Lori, with her inconsistent parenting of Carl, made an effort to prepare him for survival.  Had Sophia survived, I believe Carol would have continued to grow stronger, and help Sophia face reality – she was already teaching her to stand up to Ed before his death.

But Jessie? Worst mother so far in the apocalypse.