There’s a new sheriff in town.
Carl Grimes, poised to one day succeed father Rick Grimes as leader in creator Robert Kirkman’s comic books, was a casualty of The Walking Dead Season Eight, where he was played by series veteran Chandler Riggs.
On Sunday, following the apparent death of Rick Grimes (Andrew Lincoln) — who was in reality whisked away by Anne (Pollyanna McIntosh) in a helicopter to parts unknown — a six-year time jump revealed a gun-toting nine-year-old girl who introduced herself as Judith Grimes (Cailey Fleming).
Sporting the same sheriff deputy’s hat once worn by her father before it was passed down to her late half-brother, the aged-up Judith evoked the memory of a younger Carl Grimes, whose comic book counterpart played an important role in the era of the Walking Dead books now being explored in the television show.
Scott Gimple, former five-season Walking Dead showrunner-turned-chief content officer, confirmed in December Carl’s comic book stories would be divvied up and doled out to characters who survived him:
“We’re committed to keep telling the story from the comic book. Yes, it’s going to be different. And yes, Negan’s relationship to Carl was a big part of the story moving forward, especially in the world changes we see early on. But, as usual, we do plan on telling those comic stories,” the executive producer previously told EW.
“It just will have to be with different people and it’s a different way to tell those same stories. But we hope to still fulfill what those stories do.”
Glimpses of Comic Carl’s storylines emerged in the show: in the Season Nine opener, Marco (Gustavo Gomez) mulled over an apprenticeship with Ken’s (AJ Achinger) blacksmith father Earl (John Finn) — a position Carl filled in the comics.
Comic Carl would hold clandestine sit-downs with a jailed Negan (played in the series by Jeffrey Dean Morgan), who has seen trips to his cell made by Michonne (Danai Gurira) and Maggie (Lauren Cohan).
The post-war relationship between Carl and Negan will now go unexplored — much to Morgan’s disappointment — but a recently released trailer for episodes 906 through 908 reveals a still-jailed Negan talking to an unseen someone through the bars of his cell, hinting a similar dynamic could still play out with Judith in Carl’s place.
“There was a whole story that Robert wrote that I was excited to play, and it didn’t pan out that way. It ended a bit abruptly,” Morgan admitted during The Walking Dead’s Hall H panel at San Diego Comic-Con in July.
“Sometimes, you don’t know what’s going to happen. It’s what keeps us on our toes. I think that relationship brought out something in both characters that we don’t see in any other way. Those character traits that Carl brought out in Negan, I hope they’re brought out some other way because I think that [contributed] a lot in humanizing Negan.”
Carl’s biggest comic book storyline, however, is expected to be inherited by a now teenaged Henry (Matt Lintz): a Romeo and Juliet-like romance with Lydia (Cassady McClincy), daughter of Alpha (Samantha Morton), the unforgiving leader of soon-to-arrive new enemy group the Whisperers.
“I was actually really excited for the rest of Carl’s story arcs,” Riggs said. “But it will be interesting to see what they fill that gap with.”
That gap looks to be filled mostly by Judith, the last-remaining Grimes on The Walking Dead, who looks to emerge as the true successor to Lincoln’s missing Rick.
“I used to say Carl would grow up and have kids and that his kids would take over with all his grandkids, so obviously it can’t work like that,” executive producer David Alpert told Huffington Post.
“But Judith, she’s a little ass-kicker. I think it’s possible we could see Judith grow up and take over the whole team.”
The Walking Dead airs Sundays at 9/8c on AMC.
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