The following article contains major spoilers about The Walking Dead season 8.
The Walking Dead‘s eighth season has admittedly been a mixed bag so far. The “All Out War” story arc aimed to provide the series with an electrifying jolt of energy that was largely missing throughout last season, and while that was semi-successful in episodes one and four, that energy has largely been squandered by uneven and, at times, sloppy action, focusing on the wrong characters, and watching those characters make decisions that don’t feel true to who they are or who they’ve been in the past. It hasn’t been a “bad” season- in fact, I found it to be much more enjoyable watching all at once during yesterday’s marathon leading up to the mid-season final than I had taking each hour separately and spaced a week apart- it’s just been somewhat of a “meh” stretch of episodes when you consider the potential of greatness that could have returned to a declining series.
But now we know what it was all leading to.
Last night’s mid-season finale was fantastic, even with the continued use of terrible character closeups. (We don’t need to see faces morph into each other’s over a dramatic musical score. Please stop.) Thanks to Eugene, who continues to struggle between moral integrity and selfishness, the Saviors escaped the horde of walkers that Daryl unleashed upon them in the last episode, and each leader made their way to a community to assert their dominance: what’s-his-name (seriously, does anybody know?) headed to the Kingdom to take in King Ezekiel, Simon headed toward the Hilltop and stopped Maggie and the gang from heading to Alexandra, and Negan stormed up to the Alexandria gates with plans to kill Rick, who wasn’t even home.
Instead, Negan was met by Carl.
Way back in the season opener two months ago, Rick and Michonne handed Carl the reins to Alexandria as Papa Grimes went off to war. Though we didn’t see Carl much throughout the first seven episodes, he was a moral compass when he appeared on screen, teaching Rick to show mercy (again) and even venturing out to bring a new character to their community. While doing so, Carl and that character, Siddiq, were attacked by walkers, and even though Carl had a “close call”, he appeared to be okay.
Spoiler alert: he isn’t.
When the Saviors arrived at Alexandria demanding the citizens to line up outside of their houses, Carl devised a plan to distract Negan and his goons long enough for Michonne, Daryl, Tara and Rosita to venture outside of the gates and stop the second wave of Saviors from arriving, and for everyone else to escape safely to the sewer system beneath their community. Carl stood at the gates and confronted Negan with a similar approach as he’d taken with his own father, questioning why things had to be this way- why people had to die. “Is this who you wanted to be?” he convincingly asked, offering to die himself if it meant ending all of this and saving people on both sides. Negan hesitated while he continued to admire Carl, allowing Carl enough time to drop from the gates and wander around Alexandria while the Saviors blew up houses and lit everything on fire.
Though he seemed completely shell-shocked, Carl eventually escaped to the sewer with everyone else- meanwhile Michonne brutally killed a Savior upon reentering Alexandria, and Rick and Negan got into a physical scuffle inside the Grimes’ residence, with Rick escaping through a window, and finding Michonne. The lovers slipped into the sewer with everyone else, paying close attention to each member of the community who had safely escaped due to Carl and his plan. At the back of the line was Siddiq, who Rick appeared confused by. “I brought him here,” a pale, sweaty, dying Carl said, catching Rick’s attention, revealing the walker bite on his stomach that he’d suffered two episodes prior.
Michonne and Rick dropped to their knees in devastated terror. End of episode.
Though Carl isn’t yet dead, it’s now been revealed by showrunner Scott M. Gimple, other cast members, and Chandler Riggs himself, that the mid-season premiere will be Carl’s final episode. The monumental death comes as a surprise to fans of the television series and the comics, as Carl Grimes is very much still alive in comics and has been featured in several iconic character arcs that he will no longer receive on the show. Many assumed that Rick Grimes would eventually bite the dust in the series, and that Carl would be the leader of the new world.
It also remains to be seen what exactly this means for Rick moving forward. Suddenly, no one feels safe for the first time in a long time, and with Carl, one of the reasons Rick has continued to survive throughout The Walking Dead, set to die in the next episode, we have to assume that nothing will be the same for our lead character ever again.
It’s a sad time to be a fan of The Walking Dead. We’ll miss you, Carl.
Here’s to a great final episode in February.