WARNING: The following article contains spoilers for the midseason premiere of The Walking Dead, "Honor," which premiered Sunday on AMC.
The Walking Dead's midseason premiere made good on its promise, and presented the death of Carl Grimes. One of the last characters remaining from the first season of the hit drama, he's long been considered the ultimate underlying motivation for everything its protagonist, his father Rick, has been building over the course of the show’s run. Therefore, killing off Carl was an ambitious narrative choice, and needed to be executed well if it was going to avoid the same kind of audience backlash we saw in response to Glenn’s death, which many considered unnecessary and overly violent. Thankfully, “Honor” handles one of The Walking Dead’s biggest character deaths to date with elegance and sensitivity.
The episode is scattered over the course of the past two days, jumping back and forth between the present in Alexandria and the Kingdom, and the day before, as we experience Carl’s final hours. While Rick, Michonne and Edith were away fighting, we get a sunny montage of Carl writing letters to his loved ones, bringing food to Siddiq, and spending time playing with Judith. The montage opens the episode and makes sure to set an undeniably joyful tone for what we know is going to be a painful hour of television, and it works. Watching Carl embrace his fate without fear offsets the tragedy of his death. It also serves to balance what could’ve been an incredibly morose goodbye buffet.
There’s a fair amount of time spent in the sewer as Rick and Michonne process what’s happened while the rest of their group argues about how long they should remain in one place. When the group becomes insistent about leaving, Rick and Michonne stay behind with Carl, who’s too ill to make the journey. Everyone’s goodbyes to Carl, and his farewell to Judith, are painful to watch, and the episode could’ve easily veered into treacly melodrama in lesser hands. Thankfully, the show doesn’t decide to forget its characters are literally in the middle of battle, so we don’t spend the entirety of the watching everyone line up for one last photo-op.