The latest episode of The Walking Dead — Sept. 19’s “Out of the Ashes” — opened with a literal nightmare for Aaron (Ross Marquand). In the opening segment of that Season 11 installment, Ross dreams that Gracie (Anabelle Holloway) vanishes as they’re confronted by villains from his past.
So who is Gracie in The Walking Dead? For starters, the zombie apocalypse is all she has never known: She is one of the children born after the onset of the pandemic. Her biological father is killed early on, but she finds new family with Aaron and the rest of the survivors of the Coalition.
Aaron adopted Gracie after Rick killed her father.
In the Season 8 episode “The Damned,” Rick (Andrew Lincoln) is ambushed by an unnamed Savior, one of the survivors under Negan’s (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) leadership. He sees a “Grace Be God” tattoo on the man’s chest and finds a key in the man’s pocket. The key unlocks the door to a nursery where a baby is lying in a crib, the name “Gracie” painted on the wall above.
In the next episode, Rick contemplates taking Gracie home with him, but Aaron — who had just lost his boyfriend, Eric (Jordan Woods-Robinson) — says he can take the baby to the Hilltop Colony.
Aaron eventually adopts Gracie and starts raising her in the Alexandria Safe-Zone, where she grows up alongside Judith (Cailey Fleming), Rick’s adoptive daughter, and R.J. (Antony Azor), Rick’s son with Michonne (Danai Gurira).
She managed to stay alive during the Whisperer War.
In Season 10, Ezekiel (Khary Payton) and Earl (John Finn) help Gracie and other children escape Hilltop Colony when The Whisperers — a group of hostile survivors — attack the stronghold.
A few episodes later, Gracie is imperiled again when the Whisperers close in on Alexandria, and she’s one of the people who evacuate to the former hospital known as the Tower. The Tower’s defenders defeat the Whisperers, though, and Gracie reunites both with Aaron and with Maggie (Lauren Cohan), who hasn’t seen her since she was an infant.
Aaron, so focused on creating a “better future” for Gracie, has a nightmare that goes missing.
Now, back to last Sunday’s episode. In “Out of the Ashes,” Aaron dreams that he and Gracie get lost in the woods outside Alexandria after dark. They are confronted first by a walker and then by one of the Wolves, the group of hostile survivors from Season 6.
Then they hear one of the telltale whistles of the Saviors, and as if that’s not bad enough, Aaron spots a Whisperer approaching. He kills the walker, but in doing so, he loses track of Gracie. He shouts her name but can’t find her, and in his panic, he’s overtaken by the rest of the villains, who stab him to death.
In a featurette about the episode (via ComicBook.com), The Walking Dead showrunner Angela Kang explained that “all of those past foes are just a different representation of the different traumas that our people have been through, everything that is swirling through his mind as he’s thinking about how to create a better future for his daughter, Gracie, who herself came out of trauma.”
She went on: “He’s thinking, ‘Who were all these people that we’ve had to fight, all the times we’ve just barely made it through, all the times that Alexandria almost fell. And is this gonna be the thing that finally breaks us?’ I think Aaron really is determined to make sure that that doesn’t happen.”