Earl’s defining moments on The Walking Dead

Cailey Fleming as Judith Grimes, John Finn as Earl Sutton - The Walking Dead _ Season 10, Episode 12 - Photo Credit: Jace Downs/AMC
Cailey Fleming as Judith Grimes, John Finn as Earl Sutton - The Walking Dead _ Season 10, Episode 12 - Photo Credit: Jace Downs/AMC /

The Walking Dead 1012 was a defining episode for many characters. One character cemented himself as a caregiver above all else, showing true heart with their last breath.

In The Walking Dead 1012 we say goodbye to a few characters but nothing was more saddening than watching Earl in his final moments. What was even more upsetting was the fact he didn’t even have the proper tools to finish this sad job himself. It appears he tried, but possibly passed out and died from pain and exhaustion.

Jumping back to when we are first introduced to Earl, we certainly have a rocky start but understandably so. Tammy and Earl are reeling over the death of their son. Gregory takes advantage of this loss, coming to Earl, a sober man of 20 years, with alcohol. Earl makes an attempt on Maggie’s life and is put in jail.

Throughout his story, we see an incredible amount of growth. He goes from being a loose cannon over his son’s death to being a Hilltop council member and father figure. Being an alcoholic previously in life and getting a second chance, made him able to teach and uniquely understand others. Proving that sometimes dark moments in life can show you valuable life lessons.

After the massive time hop, we get to see Earl flourishing. He is a blacksmith now, teaching others his craft. We see him mentoring Alden, who he sees as a son now, and we get to see him help Henry along the way. When the Whisperers arrive at Hilltop and Connie rescues the little baby abandoned by Francis, Tammy, and Earl get a new chance to be parents again.

When the infamous pike event happens, Earl’s world is forever changed. Not only is Tammy taken from him, but Alden loses Enid which would, of course, have an effect on him. He loses his new apprentice Henry, and Hilltop also loses it’s leader Tara. Yet he managed to keep his trade going, help in the war, support Alden and Adam and rally everyone in season 10 episode 11.

One thing that is very striking about Earl and Tammy’s deaths is that when they died they were both protecting children. When Siddiq speaks about how everyone captured fought for each other, and we see glimpses of them fight back we see Tammy, in front of the teenagers on the ground defending them with a shovel.

When beloved Earl meets his fate, he has gotten all the children out of Hilltop during the battle. When Judith sees his bite, she says that he lied to them. This “lie” has a straightforward reason. While some of the older children, like Judith, would understand the situation and still follow, this could genuinely horrify some of the smaller children and cause them to run away or scream which could have a gruesome outcome.

It is also noteworthy that Earl in this episode made all the children his priority, not finding Alden and Adam, his own family. He mentions to Judith he knows Alden will care for Adam without the slightest bit of hesitation. Judith had two kills in this episode that will affect her for years to come. During the war, while killing walkers, she kills her first human, a Whisperer which appears to be a young man closer to her age.

She freezes when she realizes what she has done, and Earl is there to snap her back to the present and whisk her away to safety. When Judith sees his bite, you can tell all the events of the day have weighed so heavy on her and this crushes her heart. Previously when she witnessed two Hilltop warriors as walkers hanging from trees as warning from the Whisperers she dismissed them as just walkers. Now, however, this was someone she knew and cared for and she couldn’t rationalize this any other way.

When Earl and Judith speak, Earl speaks with Judith very directly and with great maturity. He doesn’t dance around what is happening and this is something other characters haven’t done in quite the same way. He tells her he will not be alone, his wife and son are with him and then leaves her in charge of protecting the children. Unfortunately for Earl, he isn’t successful in hitting his brain to prevent reanimation, and Judith has to finish the job.

The events that unfolded in this episode regarding Earl and Judith will have repercussions for years to come. Earl’s death will affect Judith, hopefully showing her the value of life and grounding her more than ever with a focus on the future. Earl’s death will affect Hilltop as he was truly a rallying force behind his war. It will also affect Alden, and in turn Adam while he is growing.

While it is so disheartening to lose Earl, and in such a gory way, his legacy can now live on through several other characters as they teach others the lessons they have learned because of him. Even though his start on the show was less than cheerful, in the end, he will go down as one of the most helpful, magnanimous, and chivalrous characters we have got to meet.

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