“It was for survival. Longer than anyone.”
-Mom Isabella, The Promised Neverland, Episode 12
By design, the dystopian world of The Promised Neverland first placates human children in captivity and then pits humans against one another. When a child raised in a plant like the ones at Grace Field House happens to learn about the reality of their situation, they’re immediately brought into the knowledgeable fold and forced to fight other humans for their own survival. If they succeed, they’re then put in a position where they will raise and then send other human children to their deaths by age 12.
It’s easy to see why even the most intelligent children choose to side with the system. The system seems all-encompassing and impossible to fight against. The Promised Neverland doesn’t denigrate Sister Krone or Mom Isabella for choosing the paths that they did and makes it clear that their choices were in many ways forced. Die as food for monsters or become a mom for your own survival and perhaps find solace in giving other children the best possible lives before their inevitable deaths.
At every turn where escape seems impossible and Emma presses onward, forgoing the significantly easier path of following the system, The Promised Neverland presents a situation in Krone or Isabella’s past where, when faced with the overwhelming dominion of the system, chose to compete against their peers to survive. This is especially apparent in Isabella’s memories of her childhood friend who was sent away and her personal discovery of what lies beyond the wall.
When Isabella saw what Norman saw, she chose to become the authority over defying it. When Norman saw what Isabella saw, he continued to lay the groundwork for his friends to escape, despite knowing that he himself would die.
The difference in his life was Emma.
Between Norman’s overwhelming intelligence and Ray’s scheming, Emma’s all-important role in the main trio is somewhat cast aside, or mischaracterized as the heart of the team. She is that, and being an emotional buoy is important to what allows them to consistently overcome a variety of obstacles, but Emma’s character is much more nuanced than being a stereotypical emotional battery for the rest of the team.
Emma’s earnest trust in her found family members of Grace Field House and overwhelming honesty makes her an important leader not only for the younger children, but for Ray and Norman as well. If it hadn’t been for Emma’s influence, Norman never would have returned from the stark visual reality of their situation, staring across the edge of a precipice, with renewed determination to see Emma’s plan through, even knowing that he would have to die. Emma’s insistence that they save everyone, or take everyone (albeit eventually for the four years-old and younger group) comes to fruition because of her trust in others. She hands down instructions to Don and Gilda, who in turn help train the other children and brings in certain others as early as their conversation with Krone.
A microcosm of what makes Emma such an important character comes in her conversation with Phil. She doesn’t treat him like a four year-old child, but an equal. She confides in him and then asks his opinion rather than assuming authority. Through this, she showcases her trust in Phil as a person, giving him a moment of agency.
The end result is that this love and trust that Emma displays radiates outwards, affecting all of the children at Grace Field House. Their coordination and cooperation at the wall is due to all of their hard work and preparation together, as opposed to having only five people in the know (Emma, Norman, Ray, Don, and Gilda) calling the shots. We see her influence in Ray not only acquiescing to the fact that he has worth and doesn’t have to sacrifice himself, but in his comforting Jemima when she panics and bolstering the spirits of Thoma and Lannion at the same time. Ray never would have done this before, but changes once faced with Emma’s trust and the trust she has in others.
When we see snapshots of Isabella and Krone as children, they already seem so isolated and alone. The series gives Krone a doll as her only companion (although this is an anime-only decision) while Isabella’s one close friend was sent away. It’s easy to see how, without Emma, both Norman and Ray would have crumbled just as it’s easy to see why Isabella and Krone chose the paths that they did. Without Emma, they would have not only have failed to take everyone, they would have failed to escape at all. It’s trite and, quite frankly, untrue to say that an entire system can be undone with trust and sincerity, yet The Promised Neverland is another pointed example of how those qualities should always be highly-prized. Without them, it makes the system’s job so much easier.