What is 9-1-1: Lone Star without the Ryders?
Fans are still reeling from 9-1-1: Lone Star Season 2 Episode 8, which teases that very notion after placing two of the most beloved characters of the series in peril after their car veered off the road and into water.
Let's be clear, if this series dares to kill off Judd and/or Grace, we will riot, and this girl will happily lead the charge.
Much like its mother show, 9-1-1, Lone Star bolsters a diverse cast of lovable characters and is an ensemble series headlined by icon and perpetual heartthrob Rob Lowe as Captain Owen Strand.
But while Owen is the head of the series, Judd and Grace are unquestionably the heart and soul of it.
They are the cornerstone of the show, a happily married couple who inspire and are aspirational to all the others.
Their love is infinite, and the fact that they're such an unorthodox pairing -- only adds to their charm. Exploring the Ryders' origin love story is one of many things we eagerly anticipate when the series returns with 9-1-1: Lone Star Season 2 Episode 9.
How did a politically incorrect, gentle giant and Texan redneck like Judd end up with a tiny, whipsmart, faithful, badass sweetheart like Grace?
On the surface, they couldn't be more different, and yet not only are they the absolute perfect pairing and made for one another, but they're the definition of #MarriageGoals.
Their love for each other is undeniable; rarely can you catch Judd going a moment without singing the high praises of his wife.
It's so consistent that it's become a delightful joke and staple of the series. The man enthusiastically admits he'd walk through fire for her, and you believe him.
And Grace is a woman who keeps her husband honest and pure of heart.
She is the best of Judd, which speaks volumes since the man is pretty damn awesome on his own.
We saw the depths of her love and devotion for Judd as she supported him through his grief and loss.
No one advocates for her husband the way that Grace does for Judd, and she was there to lift him up through his darkest days of PTSD when he couldn't stand on his own.
The woman's love for him is as unmatched as her strength.
We needn't even address the divine chemistry between Jim Parrack and Sierra McClain, selling what is easily the most beguiling and enduring love story of the series. It speaks for itself.
As we've come to learn throughout the series, in many ways, it's Judd and Grace who serve as the glue that keeps everything together.
It was notable from the beginning.
Judd was our gateway to the series. He's the first of the series regulars that we met and our introductory character. As one of the original members of 126, we couldn't get to the house we have now without understanding what it used to be.
And as the resident Texan firefighter on a newly reinstated squad comprised of members from all over the country, it's Judd who grounds the series and makes it feel distinctly Texan.
He brings the country charm, knowledge, and pride, and love for his home state and everything the team inevitably faces within it.
With Judd, you get a distinct feeling that the series easily could've been explored from his perspective. He has the leading man presence, and it's probably why Judd and Grace both often feel at the center of the series, even when they're on the outskirts.
Of course, that's what makes Judd work as Owen's unofficial second-in-command. Judd often serves as a bridge between Owen and the younger members of the squad.
While Owen commands the room when the team is on a call, serving as the fearless leader and an example for his team -- it's Judd who operates as a form of House Big Brother or Den Dad for the other squad members the majority of the time.
He's almost as inclined to get involved with some of the other members' shenanigans as he is to talk them out of them.
That effortless ability to slip between designated roles with a chameleon-like style solidifies Judd's importance as a linchpin for the series and the characters.
The house can't function properly without him. It makes him invaluable, far beyond his extensive knowledge of all things Texas.
Judd's equally compelling PTSD arc in the aftermath of a fire that killed his entire house before was such a driving force of 9-1-1:Lone Star Season 1.
It has mostly taken a backseat during the sophomore season, but it has shifted him into a position as a trusted confidante and unofficial house therapist.
Some of the most vulnerable moments for a select few characters at the house are during scenes shared with Judd. The Strands, in particular, have benefitted from the kindheartedness and gentle wisdom of the cowboy firefighter.
Owen's secret battle with cancer bonded Owen and Judd; moving forward, the two men have a special kinship since.
It's Judd who gives Owen the best advice about relationships, and ironically, despite his lack of children (though we can only keep our fingers crossed for the future), parenthood.
He also has a special bond with T.K. that's reminiscent of a fraternal one. It's rooted in tough love, bickering, and some guidance. Judd is the only one who didn't hesitate to call T.K. out and take him to task about some of his behavior.
And he's also one of the first ones that T.K. turns to in a time of need. He can find brutal honesty and also validation in the bond he has with Judd.
Judd is right there to serve as a friend and shoulder to lean on when T.K. wonders about his future with a new child in his parents' life. And Judd is always the first to call T.K. out on his impulsivity and boneheadedness.
We've also witnessed the fledgling bond between Judd and Paul, as Judd opened up a bit about his past as a troubled teen. We haven't seen as much of that -- Judd opening up to the rest of his team; it made those moments ones worth cherishing.
For Judd, fighting fighters side by side and putting your life in the hands of these people makes them family.
It took him some time to adjust to this new one. Fortunately, he has, and the found family vibe is the most pronounced because of him.
The series often manages to present viewers with a stereotype and then turn it on its head, and Judd is the best example of that. They could've resorted to a stagnant, one-dimensional, "dumb redneck" trope with ease, but Judd clocks in as one of the wisest, most profound characters.
He often serves as a bit of a voice of reason for many and a great sounding board, cutting through the bullcrap with a far from sugar-coated honesty and nonjudgmental empathy.
It's what the series needed -- this salt of the earth type of character who adds levity. And that's heightened with Grace.
Grace lives up to her name every second she's onscreen, and she brightens it up too.
Grace is the ultimate scene-stealer, so gifted at the task that there are some instances when she can steal an entire installment with less than five minutes of screentime, a single look, or a line.
McClain infuses the role with the perfect blend of sweet softness and glib sauciness. She brings Grace to life, gives her depth, and rounds her out with refinement and distinction that holds your attention.
Grace is as fiery (pardon the pun) as she is kindhearted. She's clearheaded, intuitive, and a woman of the people.
It's impossible to find a soul who doesn't adore her, and her ability to connect to people -- any and everyone, putting them at ease is what makes her exceptional at her job, a great wife and friend, too.
The firefighters get the action, and the EMT's get the gore and grit, but some of the best moments of the series are Grace's emergency calls and how she handles them.
She's quick on her feet, well-versed in damn near any topic you throw at her, and she's more adaptable than anyone else on the series.
You'd be hard-pressed to find a situation she can't find a way out of it or through. She's innovative and creative, and she finds a way to harness her ingenuity into life-saving.
She brings the same energy to her relationships. Grace somehow balances out a "fixer" spirit with being one of the best listeners.
She knows how and when to problem solve and when to support and understand. We see this often with her calls, but in her marriage to Judd and friendship with Tommy, too.
In the same vein as her husband, Grace is also the listener, advice-giver, and one Tommy can turn to when she needs support.
While Judd was Tommy's biggest cheerleader and hypeman on the job, it was Grace who was there to encourage and reassure Tommy as she struggled with reentering the workforce after years of raising her twins as a stay-at-home mom.
Grace opens her home and heart to those around her, blanketing those around her in warmth.
She's the expert communicator and mediator, and she doesn't hesitate to offer pearls of wisdom and display concern.
The series without Grace would be a soulless one. No one else could capture the energy that radiates from her, like sunshine, or more like something quieter, calmer, more soothing.
Her calming nature balances out the hectic, adrenaline-inducing, and intensity of everything else the show provides.
Obviously, Judd and Grace were always integral to Lone Star. But they're also two characters who feel so deeply embedded in the fabric of the series that it's easy to take the comfort of their existence for granted.
They've had some challenges individually and together.
Miraculously, it doesn't seem like much they can't overcome together as a couple.
Communication is at the heart of their marriage -- even when the Ryders had moments that have tested them, it's that ability to talk to each other and be vulnerable that showcases the healthiness of their marriage, removing any doubts of whether or not they're in it for the long-haul.
There's something solid about them. The Ryders are a constant, and they feel safe and comforting.
Maybe that's why endangering their lives is the perfect dramatic ploy to rip the hearts out of the fandom and reduce us to an emotional wreck.
The show placing them in peril doesn't so much spark the immeasurable love we have for these characters so much as put that unyielding adoration on full display.
It makes you appreciate how much they offer to the series and always have and always will. I refuse to entertain any alternative where that isn't true.
Over to you, 9-1-1 Lone Star Fanatics.
Do you agree? How much do you love the Ryders? Can you imagine what the series would be without them? Are you on pins and needles about that cliffhanger?
Hit the comments below to discuss or show your appreciation.
9-1-1 Lone Star returns Monday, April 19, at 9/8c on FOX with what is sure to be a pulse-pounding hour.
If you need to refresh your memory, you can watch 9-1-1: Lone Star online right here via TV Fanatic.
Jasmine Blu is a senior staff writer for TV Fanatic. Follow her on Twitter.