The Walking Dead 1017 episode shows Kelly’s growth

In the first of the 10c episode of The Walking Dead, “Home Sweet Home” gave us the story of Maggie’s return to the fold and the friends and foes she brought with her. The episode also explored Maggie’s relationship with friends old and new – including bonding with an emotional but determined Kelly.

Whilst we saw Maggie reconnecting with old friends Carol, Daryl and Judith, we also saw her developing a new relationship with relative newbie Kelly. Kelly showed up in season 9 with her sister Connie, as part of Magna’s group, after Maggie had left to help Georgie with her work, so this was Maggie’s first interaction with the fierce young woman.

Kelly’s decision to go with Daryl and Maggie as they looked for Maggie’s friends in the episode –  motivated by her hopes of finding a clue to her missing sister Connie’s whereabouts – shows a huge shift in Kelly since the start of the season.

When season 10 began, we saw an anxious Kelly, worried about her deteriorating hearing, with her greatest concern being not for herself but for her big sister Connie. Who could translate for Connie if Kelly could not hear at all?

Kelly’s growth through season 10 of The Walking Dead is highlighted in “Home Sweet Home”

The sisters were extremely close, and Kelly saw her place only by Connie’s side. As Connie was comfortable and wanted to be part of Hilltop, Kelly had followed. However, the younger sister clearly did not have the same comfort level, and as season 10 progressed, we saw just how much that was true.

In “What It Always Is,” Kelly goes missing in the woods, her hearing loss causing disorientation. When Connie, Daryl and Magna find her (with the assistance of Dog), it becomes clear that Kelly and Magna have been stealing supplies and hiding them in the woods. Neither trusted their new home, and in fact, Magna goes so far as to say she doesn’t trust Daryl – an opinion she has no doubt influenced Kelly with.

For Kelly to go from someone squirreling away supplies from those around her and following Magna’s lead in distrusting Daryl to seeing her partner up with Daryl and fist bump her buddy illustrated the growth she has gone through.

The fuel of that growth has no doubt come from the loss of her sister. At the same time, Connie’s disappearance is tough for the audience to take and a perpetual worry for Kelly; it has also provided her with an opportunity to come out from her sister’s protective shield and stand on her own.

As soon as the cave exploded in “Squeeze,” trapping Connie and Magna, Kelly showed her mettle by insisting that staying to attempt to free the pair by moving the rocks on top of them would be futile. The noise would have brought walkers from miles around, and they could not rescue anyone if their own lives were in danger.

Making such a sensible, self-aware, and self-sacrificing decision shows a cool-headed, mature thought process that belays her young years. And these strong personality traits continued to make themselves known as the season progressed.

We saw Kelly fight for Hilltop, despite her concern for her sister, and when they had to flee, it was she who took charge of baby Adam, helping convince Alden that Mary and Adam were worth saving. It would not be the last time in the season we would see Kelly’s understanding and generous heart play out on screen.

During “The Tower,” as our people prepared to attempt to destroy Beta’s horde, Kelly and Carol go outside to find car parts for Luke’s sound system. Alone in the car, Carol expresses her regret and apologizes for her part in Connie’s disappearance. Kelly is immediately forgiving and turns the conversation around to bolster Carol’s emotions.

It’s clear in this scene how much Connie has influenced Kelly, as we see her pass on Connie’s “superpower” wisdom to Carol, reassuring her that she knows Carol did what she had to do and making those risky moves is what Carol does best – what Carol fears are her weaknesses are actually her superpower.

This depth of emotional maturity and understanding of others is what we see again in “Home Sweet Home.” Although Kelly is struggling with the lack of clues to Connie’s fate, she can still reach out to Maggie and the new character Elijah.

The mysterious new man in the mask is silent throughout, but Maggie informs us he too recently lost his sibling, and it’s a moving moment of connection when Kelly reassures him about their shared pain, and he reveals his face to her.

The focus on Kelly in “Home Sweet Home” shows how much she has grown into her own strength through the loss of Connie and just how much she is her sister’s sister. Like Connie, she is empathetic and emotionally strong, putting others’ emotional needs before her own.

We, the audience, know that Connie is alive (as Virgil found her in the 10b finale “A Certain Doom,” but Kelly does not, yet she continues to live in hope, and even more than that, live her life the way Connie taught her to. It’s a story that will hopefully have a happy ending when the sisters are reunited someplace down the road, but it’s clear Connie will find her sister changed whenever it happens.

While Connie may have left Kelly as an outsider, struggling with communication and knowing where she belonged, she’ll find on her return an independent young woman who is an essential part of the family. Kelly’s strength of personality has meant that others have reached out and ensured they could communicate with her and are rewarded with the warmth and power of her personality in return.