The Walking Dead hasn’t been shy about showing the hard choices children must learn to make if they’re to grow into adults that can survive. Now it’s Judith’s turn.
Growing up in an apocalypse isn’t easy. No longer will kids’ biggest worries be the playground bully or what Mom packed for lunch. Avoiding, and perhaps killing, both walkers and humans with bad intent is now the norm on The Walking Dead. While she seemed well-adjusted to the only world she’d ever known, even Judith Grimes would have to deal with the repercussions of living in the zombie-filled world. And now she has.
We’ve seen it before on The Walking Dead. There were the kids that Michonne’s friend Jocelyn had manipulated into being killers – they believed that in order to survive, they must still and kill ruthlessly.
Then there was Carl.
Judith’s older brother faced several defining moments as he grew up in the zombie apocalypse. It started with facing up to his actions – or inactions – after Dale was killed by a walker he taunted and failed to kill. A walker he didn’t warn the camp about. Shortly after that, he had to kill the reanimated Shane before Shane could bite his father, Rick.
That’s an intense scenario. Not just because Carl, a child, had to be forced to fire a gun and kill a walker, but because just seconds before, that walker was Shane, who had watched over Carl while Rick was in a coma. Not to mention, Rick had just killed Shane, since Shane was cracking and his actions were getting people killed. And Carl saw Rick do this. Not to mention, none of the survivors yet knew someone would turn without being bitten.
Yet, in the moment, he had the maturity and presence of mind to not panic, and to kill walker Shane. He put aside his emotions at seeing his father’s killing of Shane, his feelings towards Shane, and any shock in seeing Shane turn, in order to keep Rick and himself safe.
Carl also had to prevent his mother from turning, and he showed bravery towards Negan, and he brought Siddiq into the community, and so on and so on. He even recovered from needlessly killing a captured teenager after the Governor’s first assault on the prison.
Now, it’s Judith’s turn. In the previous episode, she was relatively blasé about seeing two Hilltop residents turned into walkers as the Whisperers blocked the roads. She’d killed walkers aplenty without showing any adverse reaction to growing up in this world.
Yet, after she took down a Whisperer in battle and he was left to die, she seemed shaken. And after a bitten Earl rebuffed her offer to keep him company til he turned, she had to kill him since his attempt at suicide didn’t keep him from becoming a walker.
The last we saw of Judith in “Walk With Us”, she was sitting, shocked into silence after dispatching walker Earl. Daryl just sat with her.
This is probably the first time Judith has had to truly reckon with this world, and what it’s like to grow up in it. We’ve never seen her kill a living human or a walker who she was really close with when that walker was still a living human. It’s not clear how close she was to Earl, but certainly she was closer to him than the two Hilltoppers that she had just seen killed. And unlike with them, she had to kill Earl to keep others safe.
Is it her Carl/Shane moment? Or Carl/Lori moment? Does she become a hardened survivor after this? Will she struggle with her actions and suffer some sort of PTSD? If so, how will that play out with Michonne, her adoptive mother, on the road? Can Daryl or Carol be a surrogate sounding board?
We’ll see how it plays out, but one thing is for sure. Every kid growing up in this world has at least one moment in which the brutality of it forces them to make a hard choice. This was also true of adults in the earlier seasons, although given the time jump, it’s unlikely that most older survivors haven’t faced such a conundrum by now, unless they’ve been sheltered away in a safe community for all this time.
Judith has had her moment. Given that she’s a Grimes, she’ll likely come out OK. But it may take her some time to get there.