The following contains spoilers for The Walking Dead season 9, episode 5.
This week's game-changing episode of The Walking Dead may have caused deja vu for Star Wars fans, as the actress playing the post-time-jump version of Judith Grimes is the same one who played Young Rey in Star Wars: The Force Awakens. Fans of The Walking Dead were braced for an emotional experience going into Sunday night's episode, which featured the supposed farewell appearance of Rick Grimes actor Andrew Lincoln (who, it turns out, is not entirely gone from the franchise after all). But the real talked-about moment from the episode was not Rick's departure, but instead the debut appearance for Cailey Fleming as a decidedly older, more badass Judith.
Season 9 of The Walking Dead already included one huge time-jump, which took Judith from infancy to toddler-hood, but now after another even bigger leap forward Judith is about nine years old, which in the post-apocalyptic world of the show means she's ready to wield a katana and kill zombies (and wear her half-brother Carl's iconic hat). Audience reaction to the newest shocking time-jump, and the new incarnation of Judith, has been somewhat mixed however, with many feeling the show cheated by skipping so far ahead immediately after the departure - but not death - of Rick Grimes.
When it comes to franchises that have been plagued by negative fan reaction, The Walking Dead is in much the same category as Star Wars, which has been the cause of much debate since last year's Star Wars: The Last Jedi. It's perhaps fitting, then, that the two franchises now share a very direct connection through actress Cailey Fleming (via IMDb). Before she took on the role of warrior-tween Judith Grimes on The Walking Dead, Fleming actually had the distinction of playing the young Rey in the Force vision flashback scene from Star Wars: The Force Awakens that revealed how the future hero was abandoned by her parents on the planet Jakku. As career accomplishments go, this one qualifies as a somewhat mind-blowing one.
In addition to her roles in The Walking Dead and Star Wars, Fleming has also appeared on AMC's Preacher and FX's Better Things. Her other movie roles include parts in the thriller Desolation, the Jennifer Garner-led action film Peppermint and the sci-fi film Hover. Of course, taking on the role of Judith in The Walking Dead marks a significant step in the career of the young actress, who likely will shoulder a lot of storytelling weight going forward (perhaps an unfair amount). Whether the time-jump and Judith's new incarnation prove to be a smart moves are questions that The Walking Dead will have to answered as the remainder of season 9 plays out.
Indeed, The Walking Dead season 9 was already a game-changer before the stunning events of episode 5. The new focus on character was already helping the show improve in the eyes of critics, but now everything has been changed up and it seems that the series is essentially rebooting itself. As the Star Wars franchise has proven, reboots can be fraught with peril, especially when choices are made that subvert the expectations of fans in seemingly manipulative ways. Already many fans seem uncertain about the new direction The Walking Dead is taking after Andrew Lincoln and Lauren Cohan both exited.
Of course, many questions still remain unanswered about the character of Rey in Star Wars as well; many were expecting for her parentage to be revealed in The Last Jedi, only for it to be revealed her parents were nobodies. Both series are moving forward with controversial decisions involving characters played by Cailey Fleming, and only time will tell how well things land for Star Wars and The Walking Dead.
- Star Wars 9 / Star Wars: Episode IX (2019) release date: Dec 20, 2019