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Spoilers below for the latest episode of The Walking Dead, so be sure to watch before reading on.
In an episode rife with big reveals and new looks at familiar characters, The Walking Dead brought in one of its sneakiest-ever shocks in the form of a new-to-viewers member of the Richonne family. Yes, Rick and Michonne's latter-day efforts to bring their bloodlines together was a success, and Michonne became a biological mother anew in the year after Rick disappeared. Showrunner Angela Kang confirmed the offspring's heritage, and revealed the kid's unsurprising name.
That is Rick junior, R.J., who's scampering around. . . . His name is R.J.
Of all the ways that The Walking Dead could honor Rick (and, by extension, Andrew Lincoln), this feels like the most emotionally resonant tactic. In setting the couple up to have a child in the first place, the writers were solidifying the character's importance within this universe, and with the youngin's name, the show offers another guarantee that Rick Grimes' legacy won't soon fade into the ethers. (As if it would anyway.)
Showrunner Angela Kang spoke with EW about the decision to bring R.J. into this world, and into that point of the episode in particular.
We thought that was a fun thing, because we had this big reveal of Judith, so we felt like: Let's give Judith her moment in the sun. But we started setting up really at the beginning of the season that this was something that Michonne and Rick [were interested in]. In episode 3, they go, 'Well, let's maybe start planning for the future in other ways.' That was part of their hopefulness, that they believed that they could build a world where children could thrive. The kind of tragedy of it is that Rick was not around to see this happen. But for Michonne, it's just another person that she is fighting for, and that she wants to keep safe, but it's part of what plays into some of the philosophy and decisions behind how Alexandria is run, which is a big part of the story going forward for the season.
As amazing and inspiring as children can be, I don't think anyone would have judged Michonne and Rick too hard had they had second thoughts about adding a tiny new mouth to feed to their already busy lives. Especially if they'd have known about what was to come when he blew up that bridge.
If nothing else, R.J. needs to share Judith's amazing ability to add waves of emotion to every line reading. I'm pretty sure there are other family traits that will come up over time, too, such as Michonne's power to turn someone to dust just by glaring at them. (Maybe it just feels that way sometimes.)
Not that Michonne and Rick's kid was the only new element in the former's life. After R.J.'s surprising introduction, Michonne is shown without a shirt, and audiences can see that there's a pretty big "X" scar on the left side of her back. That definitely wasn't there when Rick was still around, so was was it?
Here's how Angela Kang put it, saying there is a story to tell there.
What we know is that she has a big X on her back. It wasn't there before, so it's something that has happened during that time jump. She alludes to it in the council room when she takes the chances of the group that's come there. She says that she remembers and that she knows that many of them do too. They have obviously, in the six years that have passed, faced some probably human foes that have affected the way that they deal with new people and their level of trust. It's definitely something that we'll learn more about as the year goes on.
It sounds like Michonne and the other Alexandrians dealt with some very dangerous people in the years between the bridge explosion and the current point in the timeline. Although I'm having a hard time picturing any threats that aren't just urban legends involving people waking up in ice and realizing their kidney was removed.
I assume Michonne's scar comes form something much more complicated and heinous, however. Angela Kang alluded to the survivors revived sense of protection was a result of whatever happened to give Michonne that scar. As such, it's completely understandable why she was so initially hard-nosed about accepting Magda and the others when they first arrived. (Not that Magda hiding weapons and motivations helped her case out at all.)
The only sure thing I want now from The Walking Dead is that our new lil' buddy R.J. won't have anything to do with the Whisperers' official arrival. I definitely can't wait to see how the show handles its newest villainous threat, but they're a tad too fucked up for younger children to get involved.
The Walking Dead airs Sunday nights on AMC at 9:00 p.m. ET, and don't forget there are only two episodes left in the first half of Season 9. Expect big things, and hit up our fall TV premiere schedule to see what new and returning shows are on the way.