'The Walking Dead': Meet Andrew Lincoln's Zombie-Killing Successor

The Walking Dead S09E05 Still_TWD_905_JLD_0820_00094_RT - Publicity - H 2018
Jackson Lee Davis/AMC

The Rick Grimes of it all notwithstanding, the biggest twist of the latest Walking Dead installment was one that caught show-only viewers and comic book fans alike by surprise: Judith Grimes, aged up and ready for battle.

In "What Comes After," which was billed as Andrew Lincoln's final Walking Dead episode (the actor will headline a trilogy of AMC Studios original movies, continuing the adventures of Rick Grimes), the action skipped forward several years in time following Rick's exit via helicopter. The closing scene of the episode involved a herd of walkers closing in on five newcomers: Magna (Nadia Hilker), Yumiko (Eleanor Matsuura), Connie (Lauren Ridloff), Kelly (Angel Theory) and Luke (Dan Fogler).

As death closed in on the group from all sides, salvation came in the form of a sharpshooter, blasting a path out of the deadly situation from somewhere in the woods. When Magna's group came face to face with their savior, it was none other than Rick's surviving daughter, Judith, last seen looking like this:

And now, several years and three parents later (assuming Jon Bernthal's Shane really is the biological father), Judith stands in resemblance of all the people who have come before:

Who needs Rick Grimes when "Not-So-Little Ass-Kicker" is in the mix?

As played by Star Wars: The Force Awakens actress Cailey Fleming, Judith's arrival as an apocalypse-tested warrior marks a major deviation from how events unfold in Robert Kirkman and Charlie Adlard's Walking Dead comic books on which the AMC show is based. In their original telling of the tale, Judith died as an infant, alongside her mother Lori (Sarah Wayne Callies) when the Governor (David Morrissey) unleashed the full power of Woodbury on the prison. In the TV series, Lori died much earlier than expected, while Judith's fate was left lingering following the Governor's assault on the prison. It was revealed some episodes later that baby Judith wound up in the care of Carol (Melissa McBride) and Tyreese (Chad Coleman), featured heavily in season four's "The Grove," a consensus pick for one of the very best episodes in Walking Dead history.

Following the death of Carl (Chandler Riggs) in season eight — yet another major deviation from the source material, the biggest up until Rick's exit from the narrative — many viewers were left wondering about the story possibilities he left behind. Now, we have some clarity, thanks to the time jump at the end of "What Comes After," showing Judith with gun in hand, sword on her back, and her father and brother's sheriff's hat on her head. While it's not likely that all of Carl's abandoned storylines will fall to Judith, it's a strong bet that a good portion of it will.

For one thing, we already know Judith is a fierce and independent warrior, both because of her first appearance as a pre-teen, but also because of a scene from next week's episode, which was unveiled on Talking Dead. In the clip from "Who Are You Now," Judith shows exactly who she is now: someone who is willing to go to bat for strangers she believes in. When Michonne (Danai Gurira) rides into town and demands to understand why everyone broke protocol by allowing Magna's group into Alexandria, Judith refuses to allow Aaron (Ross Marquand) and the others to take ownership over the move. Judith owns it all on her own, completely unintimidated in the face of her otherwise incredibly intimidating mother.

Heading into the remainder of season nine, The Walking Dead stands ready to adapt one of the most popular arcs from the comic books: "The Whisperer War," in which a new group of survivors comes into focus. The titular Whisperers are men and women who have flourished in the apocalypse thanks to wearing skin suits made from human flesh, which allows them to walk among the dead. Savage and animalistic in nature, the Whisperers cause huge problems for Alexandria and the other communities as they attempt to rebuild civilization. In the comics, Carl was a hugely instrumental player in this arc, as he became intimately close with Lydia, the daughter of Whisperer leader Alpha. Both Alpha and Lydia have been cast in the series, with Samantha Morton and Cassady McClincy embodying the roles, respectively. It's entirely likely that Lydia and Judith will strike up some sort of friendship that helps kick off the war, rather than the romance between Lydia and Carl that fueled it in the comics.

Beyond her probable role in "The Whisperer War," Judith's relationship with Michonne is bound to play a key role in The Walking Dead as it moves forward. At this point in the comics, the simpatico dynamic between Rick and Carl helps drive the story forward, as the two Grimes men are more on the same page than ever before. With both of them gone, the mutual trust and love between Michonne and her adopted daughter Judith is bound to take up that same story energy — and good luck to anyone who tries to get in their way, Whisperer or otherwise.

Follow THR.com/WalkingDead for more coverage.