While the biggest story of this week’s blockbuster Walking Dead episode was the departure of Rick from the show, helicoptering his way into a new TWD movie trilogy, the episode ended with another iconic image: a grown-up Judith wearing Rick’s hat, wielding Rick’s Colt with a mini Michonne sword strapped on her back.
Lil ass-kicker, indeed.
We all knew that Judith would grow up eventually, but since the end of season 8, we have jumped forward in time about 7.5 years, meaning Judith has gone from a toddler to probably around a 10 or 11 year old. And now we know that she’s no longer just a prop to be carted around looking cute.
She’s Carl’s replacement.
In hindsight, I feel like this was always the plan. Carl’s death was always head-scratching, as it was a wild departure from the comics, and it seemed like it was going to neuter a lot of upcoming storylines, including a budding relationship with Negan and the fact that Carl was essentially the star of the upcoming Whisperers plotline.
And yet it feels like The Walking Dead figured out he was replaceable with another Grimes, one that could continue on his legacy even if Chandler Riggs left the show right as he turned 18, and seemed poised to lead it, particularly in Rick’s absence.
Judith was killed off in the comics as an infant, killed at the same time as Lori during the Governor prison arc. As such, like Carol, she survived her execution to grow into an important show character in her own right, though it took about six years for that to happen.
While I don’t think Judith is leading The Walking Dead now, it seems very clear that she’ll be the one taking up Carl’s mantle, when previously some speculated that could be Enid or even an also-now-older Henry. She’s doing it not just in her look, Rick’s hat and all, but also her storyline, as previews indicate that she’ll have some sort of relationship with the imprisoned Negan, a relationship Carl was supposed to have in the comics.
And then there are the Whisperers. It’s not spoilers anymore to reveal Carl’s storyline, given that it won’t happen, but in the comics, Carl rescues and falls in love with the enemy leader’s daughter, Lydia. We know that Lydia is still joining the cast, and it’s possible that the two could be friends, though not romantically involved (Judith feels too young for that at this point), and the storyline could play out similarly. Lydia’s actress, Castle Rock’s Cailey Fleming is 18, Judith’s new actress, Cailey Fleming (who played Young Rey in Star Wars), is 11. Fleming could probably play younger, so it stands to reason that sure, the two of them could become friends. Or, maybe we could see a love story with her and Henry, acting as a Carl stand-in.
The point is that The Walking Dead had a back-up plan for the show losing Carl in the form of Judith. The conspiracy theorists would say that Chandler Riggs was fired because he was about to negotiate a new contract once he turned 18 that would have cost AMC tens of millions. Replacing him with a new, unknown child actress as Judith is a cost-saving measure. And yet with the astonishing amount of money AMC continues to throw at the rest of the cast and production of TWD shows and now movies, I genuinely don’t think it was a financial decision. It was a creative one.
It was still a bad idea, let’s be clear. I can easily see a scenario where we have this new, badass little Judith and Carl still on the show. I get that there’s only one hat, but there could have easily been two surviving Grimes to carry on after Rick. Even if The Walking Dead could twist and turn and figure out how to move forward with key plotlines without Carl, that does not mean they should have, and I think it remains a huge mistake to give Chandler Riggs the boot right before his most important storylines started.
We’ll see how Judith does in this new era of the show as a Carl stand-in. She may be great, but I still think we went down the wrong road here.