“The Walking Dead” returned last night for the second half of its eight season, and SPOILER, it featured a major character death: Carl, Rick Grimes’ (Andrew Lincoln) son. Actor Chandler Riggs has been on the show for nearly half of his life, so seeing Carl written off, after succumbing to a walker bite in the first half of season 8, is probably still difficult for fans to process. The opening minutes featured Carl writing letters to everyone he loves and snapping photos with baby sister Judith, so she’ll remember him. It was a nice tribute to his character, and the rest of the episode was packed with emotional weight that provided some glimmer of hope that the show can rights its course. Question still remain, though.
For the entirety of TWD, be it the comic or TV show, most of the decisions that Rick made were based on what’s best for his son. Removing Carl from the show makes it unclear what role/purpose Rick will now have. It also needs to be said that Carl has some of the most important story arcs in the comic after the All Out War/Negan/Saviors arc draws to a close. What does that mean for the future writing and main plot points of the show? That remains unclear. On the show, Rick still has Judith, but he doesn’t even know if she is his kid or Shane’s, and Judith never occupied as large of a role as Carl.
The 90-minute episode focused on two plot points: Carl saying goodbye to everyone, especially Rick and Michonne (Dania Gurira), and Morgan (Lennie James) losing his pacifism and ethics by slaughtering Savior after Savior. The juxtaposition illustrated two very different ideals. As Carl was dying, he pleaded with his father to build a better world and “make it real.” The rest of the narrative focused on Morgan resorting to violence, even ripping out the entrails of a Savior, thus raising a question that the TWD has always raised: is peace in a post-apocalyptic world even possible?
Carl’s death also showed the randomness and violence inherent in such a world. Early in the episode, Carl told Rick and company, “It wasn’t a Savior. It just happened. I got bit.” For a moment, at least, it made the walkers the villain again and showed they are still a threat and can take down one of the main characters. It also showed that you can do everything right and do your best to survive, but that doesn’t mean you’ll make it. The world is random, and in a setting like TWD, it is also cruel, cruel, cruel.
The episode was rich on character, and at times, it felt like earlier seasons of TWD, when we had a reason to care about the characters. However, the few scenes of gunfire between Rick’s group and the Saviors served as a reminder that we still have to deal with the guns, explosions, and war arc at least until the end of the season. These long, drawn-out action sequences can be numbing, frankly, and have taken the show away from what it used to be. Last night’s episode was a reminder that TWD does best when it focuses on character and the relationships these survivors have with each other. It may be best for the writing when the war arc draws to a close, perhaps allowing the show to find its footing again, as it did during last night’s episode.