SPOILER WARNING: This article contains major spoilers for the season eight fall finale of The Walking Dead, "How It's Gotta Be."
The Walking Dead's eighth midseason finale, "How It's Gotta Be," ended with the tragic revelation that Carl Grimes had been bitten by a walker. The idea that Rick's son -- one of the last remaining original cast members and a child viewers watched grow into a young man -- could die pretty much obliterates the idea of plot armor on this show. And, he will die: it's been confirmed by both Chandler Riggs and producer Scott Gimple that Carl's story will come to an end in the midseason premiere, scheduled to air on Feb. 25.
While one may suspect that Chandler Riggs wished to exit the show given his recent acceptance to college, in an interview with The Hollywood Reporter, Riggs revealed that the decision wasn't his at all.
"Leaving Walking Dead wasn't my decision," Riggs told THR. "It was all story related. It made sense story-wise for it to happen for Rick and Michonne and all the other characters."
His impending death also confirms that the "Old Man Rick" flash forwards that featured a happy, healthy Carl were actually dream sequences. Whether or not they'll serve a purpose beyond acting as a red herring remains to be seen.
The Saviors Bounce Back
Speaking of impact, we can't talk about the developments tonight without talking about what was ultimately a very problematic episode. After escaping the Sanctuary, Negan and his largely intact army of Saviors are able to carry out a multi-pronged attack on all three arms of the rebellion against them. Gavin heads to the Kingdom to inform the residents that they'd be giving up their homes to displaced Saviors. Simon captures Jerry and uses him to force Maggie into submission while instructing her to head back to the Hilltop and start providing more sorghum or else. And Negan, of course, heads to Alexandria with lots of guns and grenades in an attempt to smoke out Rick.
When the Saviors bounce back, they bounce back. It'd be cool if it made any real sense, but we've just spent the last seven episodes watching the Kingdom, Alexandria and the Hilltop do some serious damage to their common enemy, but "How It's Gotta Be" undercut all of that success by putting the Saviors right back in the position they were in the Season 6 finale -- right down to Negan taunting a Grimes man from outside the gates. The showrunners promised us things would move quickly this season, but moving at the speed of light lessens narrative impact a great deal.
For his part, Carl deftly manages to evade Negan by faking a request that Negan kill him to keep the peace. He bargains long enough to allow the Alexandrians to escape into the sewers where he's been hiding Siddiq. While they do that, he runs around the community creating diversions and making it difficult for the Saviors to see anything. It's very noble, and that's something Carl's genuinely grown into over the past eight seasons. It was touching to see him become the hero we always knew he had the capacity to be.
But then, we cut to Rick and Michonne finding each other and winding up underground where their people are safely hidden thanks to Carl, who reveals his bite. We don't actually see it happen (not unprecedented), and there weren't really any walkers running around Alexandria until the near-end of the attack. It seems like his line, "I brought him here, that's how it happened," to Rick indicates that Carl got bit when he brought Siddiq to the sewers, but that's far from transparent. With a development like this, the last thing an audience should feel is confusion, but given the nature of Carl's strange journey this week, that's exactly what sprang to mind.
That said, the final sequence was appropriately reverent and spectacularly shot. Rick's son received a much kinder, nobler and gentler "death" than Glenn certainly did (both times). But, at the same time, it felt like an imitation of the pathos and tragedy The Walking Dead used to produce so effectively. We think Carl deserved a little better.
The Walking Dead returns Feb. 25 at 9 p.m. on AMC.