One of the most emotional moments on The Walking Dead’s season premiere was inspired by a star’s progressive hearing loss and a line her mother told her.
“[Angel Theory] has been going through her own journey,” showrunner Angela Kang told Insider. “She pretty [much] had no hearing in one ear, but then was progressively and very rapidly losing the hearing in her other ear. We have to deal with the fact that at a certain point, the actress herself may not be able to hear…Rather than fighting against that, we just thought we’d make it part of the story.”
This moment begins early in the episode when Connie (Lauren Ridloff) learns that Kelly’s (Angel Theory) hearing is declining. Kelly denies it at first, not wanting to worry Connie. Connie encourages her that it’s not a disability, it’s “a damn superpower.”
That line pays homage to something Theory’s mother told her to help her get through this difficult time.
After being in a car accident that caused injuries and nerve damage, Theory first noticed hearing loss in her right ear before she started losing hearing in her left. Theory was reached out to via email to see if the show could integrate her personal story into Kelly’s story.
“It all started with an email asking if I was comfortable sharing my story to help them represent the deaf/HoH [Hard of Hearing] community the right way, and of course I said, ‘Yes,'” wrote Theory. “Angela Kang and the writers are setting an example for others who work with deaf actors in this industry… They could have just wrote in whatever they find on Google, but instead they asked me and took the time to understand the good, the bad, and everything in between.”
“When I think about my story being represented through Kelly, it brings tears to my eyes (happy tears) because it reminds me of how much Ms. Kang, the writers, and AMC believed in me from the very beginning,” Theory adds. “It also shows me how much I have grown through one of my most life-changing experiences….I never knew how important it was for others to see representation through myself and Lauren. It’s a beautiful feeling to know that my story could help someone even in the slightest way.”
Since joining the cast, both she and Ridloff have helped their castmates learn to sign.
“It’s so cute seeing Cooper get excited when he signs “Good morning” or [makeup artist] Tim Hayes signing ‘Wassup!'” Theory wrote.