WARNING: The following article contains spoilers for the midseason premiere of The Walking Dead, "Honor," which premiered Sunday on AMC, which has not yet aired on the west coast as of publication.
Carl Grimes, The Boy Who Was Supposed to Live, died in The Walking Dead’s midseason premiere, “Honor," which served as a heartbreaking farewell to a character who felt invincible. But in the midst of all the ugly-crying, you might have missed a pretty big revelation at the end. The dreamy flash-forward sequences we’ve been watching since the beginning of Season 8 aren’t flash-forwards at all: They’re Carl Grimes’ hopes for the future.
When the first trailer for Season 8 debuted in July, fans lost their minds after seeing what many assumed was a look into the future, with an aged Rick placidly waking in a sun-drenched room. As the season wore on, the visions fleshed out an idyllic Alexandria, in the process of peaceful everyday life. Readers of the Walking Dead comic series interpreted Rick’s age, and his use of a cane, to mean the show was tacitly confirming the time jump the source material's time jump after the completion of the "All Out War" story arc.
However, those appear to have been red herrings -- or else the show is foreshadowing a time jump, just not as directly as previously thought. In the final moments of “Honor,” Carl’s voiceover reveals the dreamlike sequences we’ve been watching all season to be his hopeful vision of the future, not an actual glimpse into it.
That’s not totally surprising, considering the visions have always been bathed in dreamy lighting, not to mention that they're way too optimistic about the fates of way too many people. Even if those didn't sway you from the time-jump theory, the appearances of Negan and Eugene fawning over Judith should've confirmed for all of us that this was someone's fantasy.
In all seriousness, the twist served to beautifully underscore what kind of life Carl wants Rick to create for Judith, and how it'll never happen unless he finds a way to make peace with the Saviors instead of wiping them out. In Carl’s mind, this is the kind of reconciliation that needs to happen, and should happen, for the sake of the future.
Interestingly, Negan’s presence actually echoes his storyline in the comics. Following the events of "All Out War," Negan is spared and lives confined in Alexandria. Carl visits him every day, and they share a civil relationship similar to the one they had on the show. It’s looking more and more as if Rick’s talk of mercy will be a driving force for the rest of the season.
Airing Sundays at 9 p.m. ET/PT on AMC, The Walking Dead stars Andrew Lincoln as Rick Grimes, Norman Reedus as Daryl Dixon, Chandler Riggs as Carl Grimes, Lauren Cohan as Maggie Rhee, Danai Gurira as Michonne, Melissa McBride as Carol Peletier, Lennie James as Morgan Jones, Alanna Masterson as Tara Chambler, Josh McDermitt as Eugene Porter, Christian Serratos as Rosita Espinosa and Jeffrey Dean Morgan as Negan.