UPDATE: Feb. 19, 9:30 a.m. ET — Amy Heywood, the Etsy store owner behind the Season 8 rabbits on “The Walking Dead,” confirmed the stuffed bunny shown on Sunday’s episode is not one of the bunnies she created for Season 8.
“Nope that wasn’t one of my bunnies,” she told us.
There’s a recurring motif on “The Walking Dead,” one that’s been around in the background of the series since Episode 1, rarely taking the spotlight. But after nine seasons, it seems like the prolific symbol is hopping into the light, finally motivating fans to ask one cryptic question: What’s the deal with all the bunnies?
Early “Walking Dead” fans probably remember one of the first rabbit appearances, when the show’s inaugural zombie ― a little dead girl played by actress Addy Miller ― came wandering into the premiere episode wearing bunny slippers and holding a stuffed bear. It was the work of pilot director Frank Darabont, whom “Walking Dead” executive producer Robert Kirkman called “very demented.”
Bunnies also made an infamous appearance in Season 8, showing up in Episodes 1 and 2, both in Carl’s visions of the future with Judith and in present time in Baby Gracie’s crib. The Season 8 bunnies actually inspired theories that Judith would die, as her character does in the comics. In the future visions on the show, the girl we assume to be aged-up Judith is holding a rabbit that looks exactly the same as the one in Gracie’s crib, only more worn. So fans speculated that aged-up Judith was actually Gracie and that in the future, Judith had already died.
Of course, Judith hasn’t died yet, but it was a big thing for a while. Bunnies were suddenly driving “Walking Dead” conspiracies. And now, with the latest episode, “Omega,” hare they are again.
On Sunday night, we learned a bit about the Hilltop’s Whisperer captive, Lydia (Cassady McClincy), through flashback conversations with Daryl (Norman Reedus) and Henry (Matt Lintz). As Nicolas Cage’s Spider-Man Noir from “Into the Spider-Verse” might say, it consists of a hardcore origin story, and one Lydia herself only fully grasps through these conversations.
For most of Lydia’s life, she’s thought her father was an abusive asshat and her mother was the consistently supportive parent. But through stories about the early days of the outbreak and her childhood, she comes to realize that her mom is actually the abusive one and has been filling her head with lies. (The now-leader of the zombie-skin-wearing Whisperers is a bad person? You don’t say?) Lydia’s mother apparently went so far as to kill Lydia’s father to ensure Lydia would never leave her side.
Here’s where things get leporine: In these childhood flashbacks, Lydia is seen with a stuffed rabbit. At this point, it feels like you can’t get much more Easter egg-y than an actual bunny appearing in key moments. But what does it mean?
Amy Heywood, the Etsy store owner who made the velveteen rabbits for Season 8, told HuffPost last week that she couldn’t speculate on the meaning behind the bunnies because she hadn’t seen the new episode. Is Lydia holding the same bunny as the ones in Season 8? Are the three girls, Gracie, Lydia and Judith, connected? Heywood isn’t sure.
“If it looks similar to the ones in last season (same style/color) then it’s highly likely that it’s one of mine,” she said, noting that she created eight bunnies in total for the show. However, while young Lydia’s bunny has a similar shape to the Season 8 bunnies, it does appear to have slightly shorter legs and possibly a different texture.
Comicbook.com says the rabbits are the same, but Heywood wouldn’t confirm. Following the episode, I messaged her a picture of Lydia’s bunny to verify if it was hers. “I’m afraid I can’t comment at the minute,” she told me.
At the very least, there’s a more abstract connection between the children and their bunnies.
“I think that the little bunnies do mark innocence in a sense,” said Addy Miller, the actress behind the first-ever “Walking Dead” zombie. “Every child appears to have a stuffed animal of some sort, and in a world where everybody has to grow up, it shows that these kids are still kids. As an audience member, it is easy to get so wrapped up in the story that you forget this is childhood for some people and it is scary out there for them. So I think the rabbits and stuffed animals contribute to that innocence.”
The idea of innocence, or rather the loss of it, is echoed in some of the last moments of Lydia’s flashbacks in the show. When she finally realizes her mom is the source of trauma in her life, audiences are treated to the sight of Lydia’s mother stepping directly on a stuffed bunny before she supposedly kills Lydia’s dad. (Subtlety was actually the first thing to go in the zombie apocalypse.)
“Talking Dead” confirmed after the episode that the rabbit was meant to be a nod to Judith’s in Season 8, so is there something more going on here?
Vox once wrote about parallels between “The Walking Dead” and the childhood-ruining rabbit apocalypse story Watership Down. Sure, you sometimes have to squint to see the similarities, but both involve traveling groups escaping the end of days and trying to assimilate into other communities before realizing there’s always a dark secret behind friendly facades. They even have the same initials.
“Give or take a The,” writes Todd VanDerWerff. Could this all be some elaborate Watership Down reference?
It’s just speculation at this point. For all we know, the bunnies are there to recruit Michael Jordan to play basketball against cartoon aliens. Whatever the case, just be prepared to keep following this theory down the rabbit hole.