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'The Walking Dead' boss on fate of 2 major characters in penultimate episode before series finale

The stakes have begun to climb in the run-up to the series finale.

By Josh Weiss
Cailey Fleming as Judith in The Walking Dead Season 11 Episode 23

Discounting members of the undead and a few detestable villains, the final eight episodes of The Walking Dead have been rather bloodless with regards to the show's core collection of longtime characters. Of course, we already know a number of post-apocalyptic protagonists (mainly Daryl, Maggie, and Negan) will make it past the series finale, but everyone else is pretty much fair game.

The pre-conclusion stakes began to steadily climb in this week's episode (entitled "Family") as two key players sustained life-threatening injuries. First up, we have former Whisperer — Lydia (Cassady McClincy) — who requires an emergency amputation after a zombie sinks its rotted teeth into the flesh of her arm while she tries in vain to pull Elijah (Okea Eme-Akwari) into the RV. 

Speaking with Entertainment WeeklyWalking Dead showrunner and executive producer Angela Kang explained that Lydia's mutilation was meant to be a poignant reflection of the character rejecting the cynicism of her mother, Alpha (Samantha Morton). By allowing herself to explore her feelings for Elijah, Lydia regains more of her humanity, which also brings emotional and physical vulnerability.

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"She's sort rejecting mom's philosophy of survival of the fittest, don't care about what happens to anybody else around you," Kang said. "She cares deeply for Elijah, and she's afraid that he's going to die or she's going to lose him. And so, it's in this moment of love and really living her life that she is not careful for one second. But I think that for Lydia, it was still worth the effort. But, of course, it's just horrible. It's scary. We don't know how it's going to play out for her, but I think it's about that choice. Sometimes when you choose to live your best life to the fullest, it means that you're taking risks and it's horrible. But also, maybe that's the way she needs to live."

The second character currently fighting for their lives in Judith Grimes (Cailey Fleming), who is shot while our heroes infiltrate the Commonwealth, only to find themselves walking right into a trap laid by Governor Pamela Milton (Laila Robbins). Daryl (Norman Reedus) — who swore to protect Rick and Michonne's daughter from harm — immediately springs into action, desperately hoping to get the girl some medical attention before it's too late. 

"He has kind of stepped into that role for them, and they have a very wide family that is taking care of them," Kang added. "It is a village. But at the same time, this is her special person. He's the one that went to get her formula when she was first born and gave her nickname and made sure at various times that she had that father figure when she needed it."

That unbreakable bond jumps to the forefront when Judith, in her delirium, refers to Daryl as "daddy." Naturally, Mr. Dixon "is the closest thing to a parent that she has right now," but this semi-slip of the tongue also refers to the knowledge that Rick might actually be alive somewhere (an AMC+ spinoff for Rick and Michonne was confirmed this past summer at San Diego Comic-Con).

"For Judith, mom and dad — Michonne and Rick — have been on her mind this entire time," Kang added. "And remember, she has this secret of why mom actually went off and what she's doing. She's the only one that knows that Rick might be out there. She has not shared this with the adults in her life because she's scared. And so, that's what she's thinking."

The Walking Dead series finale premieres on AMC and AMC+ this coming Sunday — Nov. 20 — at 9 p.m. Eastern.

If you're looking to satisfy your zombie craving immediately, head over to Peacock and check out the movie that kickstarted the entire genre: George A. Romero's Night of the Living Dead. Or check out the SYFY original series, Day of the Dead.