The Walking Dead is still finding ways to tell compelling new stories nine seasons in, and a huge part of that is by bringing in characters with experiences that are not only different than what we've seen before, but able to change and challenge the existing group (and viewers) as well. In an interview with Bustle, new cast members Lauren Ridloff and Angel Theory discussed how Connie and Kelly on The Walking Dead are sisters to be reckoned with in the apocalypse and show that there's more than one way to adapt and survive this desolate new world.
Connie, played by Ridloff, is the series' first deaf character, and her sister Kelly, portrayed by Theory, is hard of hearing. Both actors playing those roles are deaf and hard of hearing, respectively. "Even though Kelly is hard of hearing, she seems to be a very good listener," Theory says. So far, the experience has been a positive one for the actors and they're happy to have joined The Walking Dead fam.
"I love how revolutionary the show is in many ways," says Ridloff. "Angela Kang is a powerhouse." She adds, "I’ve had a string of female directors on set and there is this kinship I feel with them. As a 'multiple' minority ( female, POC, Deaf), I feel that they just get it." Theory echoes that sentiment, saying:
"Speaking for myself, if I had watched characters like Connie and Kelly when I lost my hearing, it would have helped me a a lot. That’s what Lauren and I get to be for other people. After every episode I get many deaf and hard of hearing fans who share their stories and explain how they feel connected to Kelly and Connie. It is important for the deaf community to see actual deaf actors get a deaf role, so that they see we can be super heroes, villains, and [all sorts of people]."
"What I love about my Connie character is that she’s completely independent," Ridloff agrees that the roles are empowering. "Sure, her sister interprets for her when things get heated conversation-wise, but the fact that Connie is a survivor and made it this far shows that people adapt. That’s what humans do — we are great at adapting. She adds, "Connie shows that there is more than one way to survive and actually live. What do you think Connie does when Kelly is not around?"
"There is so much more to who Connie and Kelly are than just deafness and sign language. They are sisters with thoughts, feelings, memories and dreams. They are blood, but their relationship is complicated."
Theory agrees that these two women are total "warriors," noting that as a hard of hearing person, Kelly is making do in a world where hearing aids aren't an option. "She has to fight day by day and still be the bridge between the hearing and the deaf. As the youngest of the group, she definitely holds her own," she says. Theory adds that she drew some inspiration from her own grandmother to really "show what a strong warrior looks like."
Although Kelly feels like she has to interpret for Connie, pulls "quintuple duty as mother, sister, guardian, friend and confidante," Ridloff says. She adds, "I suspect that Connie would be perfectly fine on her own as a lone wolf, but she is part of this group because she instinctively knows her sister needs this group to finish her journey into adulthood. And in the process of just 'going along for the ride' Connie has discovered that she needs the group just as much."
"Lauren and I are like sisters in real life, so having to act like sisters on set is no different from how we are off set —just probably a little more goofy and weird," Theory says.
There might even be some drama in store for the two women, as Ridloff explains that there is "so much more to who Connie and Kelly are than just deafness and sign language. They are sisters with thoughts, feelings, memories and dreams. They are blood, but their relationship is complicated."
This is not the first sibling dynamic that The Walking Dead has portrayed, but one of the first that is not in some way fraught, with the exception of Sasha and Tyreese. Daryl and Merle had their differences. Maggie and Beth weren't all that close. (Let's not even get into Lizzie and Mika Samuels). Theory is excited to get to let this bond play out. "I think this is the first time The Walking Dead has seen siblings depend, love, trust and care for each other in the way they do," she says, adding that she and Lauren are like "peanut butter and jelly." "Lauren and I are like sisters in real life, so having to act like sisters on set is no different from how we are off set —just probably a little more goofy and weird," Theory adds.
As fans already know, in the comics, Kelly is Connie's boyfriend, not sister — though there aren't really any complaints from fans about the swap. "I felt empowered that they gender-swapped Kelly from being a male to a female character, because this makes the emotional bond between Connie and Kelly even more intense and unbreakable, because they are blood instead of just a couple, like in the comics," Theory says of her character.
Both women think that Connie and Kelly can teach the group some survival skills, namely sign language and eye contact. In fact, in those "dire situations where silence is required," those skills are adapted by the character who can hear. Ridloff adds that the other actors are even receiving ongoing training for sign language to use in their quest for survival.
Whatever is to come for the two women, and the rest of Magna's group for that matter, Connie and Kelly have already found a way into viewers' hearts. "Deaf and hard of hearing siblings have reached out through social media to express their excitement in seeing people that represent them and the bond that they have with their own siblings or, just themselves," says Theory, who adds that she and Ridloff get to do for others what she could have really used growing up. "That fills my heart with joy," she says.
In this new chapter of The Walking Dead story, it seems like fans hearts are also ready to learn more about Connie and Kelly and the warrior women who play them.