AMC’s Into the Badlands has carved out a unique niche since its 2015 debut. The show’s post-apocalyptic, feudal setting combined with a captivating mythology and masterful martial arts sequences continues to enthrall audiences each week. The primary story follows Sunny, a former “Clipper” (soldier) and his journey towards freedom from a land ruled by several Barons (leaders) in a power struggle. Clippers have a higher social status than cogs (slaves) and Dolls (human trafficking victims) and Sunny is considered the best at his craft. His lover Veil’s pregnancy and a mysterious boy named MK, who has a dark gift that turns him into a ruthless killing machine, cause Sunny to reevaluate his place in the Badlands.
Every main character has a fascinating, layered background and is trying to either maintain the status quo or fight for their vision of a free world. However, teenage assassin Tilda has been exceptionally captivating as her coming-of-age arc plays out this season.
Tilda started the series with the Widow, her adoptive mother and a Baron, as part of a Clipper force known as the Butterflies. The Widow’s mission was to overthrow the other Barons and create a world that was not built on social classes. Tilda and the Widow have a particularly dark and complicated past. At one point, it's revealed that Tilda was a personal attendant to the Widow and her Baron husband, who sexually abused the young girl and was also physically abusive to the Widow until she killed him to protect Tilda. The Widow took over as Baron and trained Tilda to become one of her Clippers. Tilda’s perception of love and loyalty were largely affected by her experiences, which eventually cause her to view the Widow as her savior. She feels indebted to The Widow and admires her goal to liberate disenfranchised people.
The Widow’s choice to use a blue-winged butterfly as her official symbol makes sense. Like Tilda, the Widow was once a cog herself and experienced sexual abuse. Her rise to power as a Baron and Tilda’s subsequent journey from an exploited assistant to the Widow's Regent parallels a butterfly’s journey from a larva to their emergence as a soaring butterfly. But, when the butterfly hits maturity, it is free to travel where it wants to go.
Prior to becoming a Regent, Tilda had a moral dilemma when she captured Veil to save the Widow’s life. Veil was concerned about the Widow making Tilda and the other Butterflies kill to prove their love. She warned Tilda that the Widow did not have her best interest in mind. Tilda said she had no choices, but Veil offered a way out — by giving Tilda a means to poison her mother, effectively choosing her own future. Tilda declined this choice at the time because, in her opinion, there was no tangible evidence that the Widow’s methods were immoral. But this exchange between Tilda and Veil planted the seed of rebellion in Tilda’s mind, and for the first time she was presented with an option to have agency over her own life.
Tilda started developing her own ideas about morality after her promotion to Regent. She went against the Widow’s wishes and ordered her army to kill a group of Clippers who had mistreated several Dolls. As a sexual abuse survivor, Tilda could relate to the Dolls' pain, and she wanted to protect them like her mother protected her many years ago. Watching the Clippers die made her feel powerful after years of feeling weak, and gave her a sense of satisfaction that they would never be able to hurt another woman again.
Tilda also recruited a former Doll named Odessa and brought her into the fold as a new Butterfly, which mimicked her mother’s decision to take Tilda under her wing after a life of abuse. Her naturally empathetic nature consistently put her at odds with her newly defined role as Regent. As a Butterfly, there was more leniency to be ruled by impulsive, emotional decisions, like when she hid MK's dark gift from the Widow. But her actions were now more heavily scrutinized as the second-in-command and she would have to be subject to strict conduct rules. A Regent’s impetuous decision could have ripple effects that could end with soldiers’ deaths. Tilda had finally received the position and power she wanted, but she was not ready for the consequences that came with being a Regent.
Tilda’s loyalty also caused contention between her and Odessa, who believed the Widow was no better than the other Barons because of her alliance with a dangerous Baron named Quinn. Odessa pointed out that too many girls had died for the Widow in order to prove their love and devotion to her. At that point, however, Tilda divulged her traumatic past to Odessa, saying that the Widow had “[given] her life.” The two young women also pursued a budding romance, which was a major turning point in Tilda’s development for a few reasons.
Tilda was an emotionally broken person who had been abused and devalued, but the love she received from Odessa affirmed her worthiness to have joy in her life. Odessa was clearly the first person Tilda had ever trusted outside of the Widow, and she felt relief in having someone who was emotionally available to offer support as she dealt with the residual effects of childhood abuse. The Widow had been seen snuffing out normally joyful moments, like when she chastized a few Butterflies for dancing to music. Thanks to their conversation, Odessa also helped to revive some of the questions that Tilda had already run over in her mind after her earlier discussion with Veil. She was not quite ready to receive the full truth, but hearing it from a loved one opened her mind to acknowledge some of the Widow’s faults. The source of this truth — two cog women — is also worth noting, because they are the very people that the Widow claims she wants to protect.
The Widow’s decision to sell Veil and her infant son Henry to Quinn in order to secure an alliance was blatant confirmation that she had become power-hungry and was willing to risk anyone to achieve her goal, and ultimately, the Widow’s questioning of Tilda’s trustworthiness and loyalty led to a physical and emotional altercation between the two. Tilda’s existing disgust and shock at her mother’s actions were now layered with pain and rejection. Despite being mostly outmatched in terms of skill, Tilda took a stand anyway and was willing to fight to the death prove she was no longer loyal to her mother. In the end, she was beaten badly and later escaped imprisonment alongside Odessa.
At its core, Tilda’s complex relationship with her mother is a familiar story for so many people. It’s about what happens when someone finds out their idol is a flawed and potentially toxic person. They begin to declare their independence so they can have the space to form their own opinions about morality and life in general. Apocalypse or not, Tilda is in those crucial years of her life where she should question things and seek autonomy. Tilda’s loyalty and love are, to an extent, the result of mental and emotional manipulation. When Tilda questions a decision, The Widow often twists the conversation with a reminder about how she initially gave her everything so many years ago. The Widow can be viewed as a maternal figure, but that doesn’t mean Tilda (who she considers her child) owes her anything. Tilda can be appreciative for what the Widow has done for her, but she does not have to stand by and blindly accept all of the Widow’s decisions — and her love for the Widow shouldn’t be contingent upon her willingness to kill and die for her causes.
Perhaps Tilda is afraid that the Widow’s increasing power will supercede her initial quest for equality. Or she may be expecting too much from her mother, who is an imperfect person trying to do the best she can to fix an irretrievably broken society in the Badlands. The Widow’s overall intention for all people to live freely is a noble feat, but the path to get there will be undoubtedly scattered with dead bodies. Her vision does not negate any morally reprehensible actions she takes along the way, but what is the better plan? It’s a complex question with no easy answer. The lines in their relationship as Baron/Regent and mother/daughter are extremely blurred and nearly impossible to navigate without some sacrifice on Tilda’s end. Reconciling that truth made Tilda feel like her world had gone up in flames — but the fire helped her forge a new emotional and physical path that allowed her to find her agency.
Tilda has now christened herself as the Iron Rabbit. The rabbit is known as a symbol of luck, vigilance, and wit — all tenets of Tilda’s personality. She no longer has a defined role and is living a freer life on the fringes of society, but her unresolved emotional issues with the Widow have an effect on how she spends her time. She frequently leads a group of discontented thieves to steal the Widow’s trucks in order to supply resources to the outsiders in her new makeshift community. Tilda now has people who look to her for guidance and protection, much like the Widow, and it helps her further understand some of the Widow’s dilemmas when it came to protecting her people. We also see that the Widow is also feeling the loss of her most loyal daughter, signaling that the pair need some kind of resolution to the abrupt breakdown in their relationship. They meet again when Tilda comes to rescue Odessa from capture, but both of them take the moral high road and allow each other to go their separate ways. A brief nod between the pair shows some sign of mutual respect and a possible truce. The Widow seems to accept Tilda’s decision to be on her own, and perhaps respects her freedom — and this interaction may encourage Tilda to stop giving the Widow so much power over her emotions and actions so they can work together to make the Badlands a better place. Her recent decision to cautiously align herself with the Widow is a sign of maturity and growth on her part as she comes into her own as a woman.
Tilda is the kind of character that young girls and women want to see on television. Her physical prowess, survival skill, and agency over her life and choices are all aspirational qualities. Tilda is equal parts badass, pragmatic, and hopeful with a vigilante flair, but her moments of insecurity, pain, and questioning her place in society makes her someone viewers want to see ultimately win. She will likely face foes like Pilgrim, a cult-like leader who is engaging yet dangerous, as the Badlands universe continues to expand. She’s still discovering what she really wants out of her life and what love means to her — both refreshingly real dilemmas most young people face. The fine line between enemy and ally has her on the Widow’s side again, but the new path she has forged in this feudal land will make sure this relationship is on her own terms.