'The Walking Dead' Puts Another Branch on the Grimes Family Tree

Showrunner Angela Kang speaks with The Hollywood Reporter about the newest addition to the cast, and why it's both "a fun process" and also a "tragedy."
Gene Page/AMC

The Walking Dead fans have an all-new Judith Grimes, thanks to the massive time jump following Andrew Lincoln's exit from the series — and she's not the only child kicking around Rick's old household.

In the first full post-time jump episode of the season, "Who Are You Now," newcomer Magna (Nadia Hilker) comes to visit Michonne (Danai Gurira) in the night, potentially with the intention of fighting her way into staying in Alexandria. Magna sets aside any killer instincts when she sees something that neither she nor the audience expects: Michonne with a small boy, no more than five years old or so, going by the name R.J., wild with childlike wonder.

It's not a trick, not an illusion: This is Rick and Michonne's child come to life, the fulfillment of a promise they made to each other in episode three, "Warning Signs." Back then, as Michonne was working on the charter that would come to define the Alexandrian government, Rick proposed that they bring a child into the world, both out of love for one another and also as a sign of their commitment to the returning new world order.

"We talked at the beginning of the season about what happens after war," showrunner Angela Kang tells The Hollywood Reporter about how the storyline came together. "One of the things you often see is baby booms. It's a sign of hopefulness. We wanted to show that Rick and Michonne were committed to each other, fully. They hadn't gotten married the way others had; there was no proposal, no ring. And yet, they're the couple who are completely committed to each other. It seemed like a sign of their commitment and their optimism for the future. They believed they could bring a new child into this world and they could make the world better for that child. 

"It's very different from when Lori [Sarah Wayne Callies] was pregnant at a very different time in the apocalypse," she continues. "Back then, they were worried that the baby wouldn't even survive. It made sense, because it was all so fresh and new. If their baby cries, what happens to her, or to us? Michonne and Rick lived in a very different time, and we wanted to show that."

In the Walking Dead comic books from Robert Kirkman and Charlie Adlard, Rick Grimes lost both Judith and Lori during the war between Woodbury and the prison. Years later, he found love again (if only for a time) but never had a child after Judith. The TV adaptation has taken great liberties in the telling of Rick's story, including killing off his first son, Carl (Chandler Riggs), sending Rick himself out into some completely unknown movie adventure, and now this: Rick is a father yet again, albeit to a child he's never met.

"It was a fun process," Kang says about finding the young actor who plays R.J., Antony Azor, "but [there is] also the tragedy that Rick never got to meet this child they were so excited about."

Rick and R.J. have not met — yet. While Lincoln insists he won't return to The Walking Dead TV series (except to direct an episode in season 10), the possibility of a comeback still exists; after the helicopter escape, nothing should be ruled off-limits in this universe. Another possible avenue for reunion: Michonne and R.J. could hit the open road in search of Rick, via a feature film of their own. As the franchise eyes expansion beyond traditional television, the possibilities for Rick and his family's reunion grows in kind. As chief content officer Scott M. Gimple himself suggests about the Rick Grimes movie's plot: "We know Rick Grimes. He would want to be home." 

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