Every grumble thread has spoilers and a grumble thread about a half-season finale is guaranteed to have major spoilers, yet if I named the major character who got killed off (well, almost) in the opening lines here, I promise you someone would tweet at me later, “COULDN’T YOU HAVE GIVEN US A WARNING?”
So, be warned.
Deep down we all knew who was on the chopping block last night. The show has an unwritten contract with fans: If you’re willing to slog through six or seven episodes where nothing much happens, they’ll make up for it by delivering a gut punch in the mid-season and season finales. Someone important had to die and it was clear early who that someone would be. The episode began with Carl saying ominous things to Rick about the future, making peace with Negan and building a better world, and then suddenly he was in Alexandria writing what appeared to be a farewell note. My mind wandered back to last December when Chandler Riggs’s dad tweeted that he’d “completed” his seven-year contract with TWD and was now off to college, which the show’s PR people desperately tried to spin as not having meant anything about Riggs’s future with the show, but c’mon. “Coral” was a dead man walking all season, beginning with those dreamy scenes of Rick during the premiere alternately shattered with grief and serene as an older man surrounded by Carl, Judith, and Michonne. The sense you got was that he was fantasizing about a peaceful life that might have been but that had been snatched away due to the death of one or more family members. All signs pointed to his heir apparent as the likeliest to go. And now here we are.
It’s not a fake-out either, mercifully. Carl was still alive when the show faded to black after 90 minutes, but one ironclad rule of the genre is that no one survives a bite. Riggs says his time has come.
I was planning on going to college until I found out. I found out when I was doing rehearsals for episode six back in June. It was quite the shocker for me, Andy and everyone because I don’t think anyone saw it coming. It’s definitely not a bad thing because it has been awesome being on the show, but now I get to go and do a lot of other stuff that I haven’t gotten to do before. Scott wanted to meet in person because it was such a big deal. We had just finished rehearsing for a scene in episode six and he wanted to meet with me and my mom and dad and talk about what’s going to happen…
Episode 809 [the next episode] is really Carl trying to teach Rick as much as he can about what he’s learned and trying to convince Rick to not kill every single Savior because there’s still good people out there. The Alexandrians, the Hilltop and the Kingdom — all those people probably see him as a villain like the Saviors. There’s some humanitarian aspects that Carl is going to try and teach Rick in his final moments.
Interestingly, when Riggs was asked whether he thinks this is Andrew Lincoln’s final season too, he said it wouldn’t surprise him given how many months each year the show requires Lincoln to spend away from his family in Britain. Hmmmm.
Carl’s death is apparently a major break from the comics, where his character continues on well into the future. But they’ve made departures like that before: Andrea is another “core character” with a big role on the page who met an early demise on the show, to the relief of fans who considered her dead weight. To be honest, Carl was often dead weight too. His relationship with Rick should have been the beating heart of the show but his encounters with Negan were more memorable than his dad/son moments with Rick. Too often he was put in the wellworn role of young apprentice to the alpha male, begging for more responsibility amid the alpha’s doubts that he’s ready for it. He finally did get some responsibility last night in organizing the escape from Alexandria — and instantly he’s at death’s door. Coral, we hardly knew ye. In hindsight his inexplicable turn this season towards peace, love, and understanding, saving Siddiq and lecturing Rick on making nice with the bad guys, seems like a cynical way to brighten his halo before punting him off the show. It wasn’t long ago that Carl was stealing a ride to the Sanctuary in hopes of blowing Negan’s head off. Then, suddenly, he’s a one-eyed Gandhi.
And the worst part? Now we’re going to spend multiple episodes watching Rick emote about his death. Andy Lincoln’s wet-eyed thousand-yard stare is great and all but I don’t know that I can handle a half-season of it.
As for the rest of last night’s episode, Indie Wire has some questions:
Seriously, how did the Saviors escape Sanctuary? It’s the plot point the entire episode hinges on, the thing that turns the entire tide of the war, and the Saviors that are asked directly about it this episode can only whisper “Eugene” with hushed reverence. And that’s okay as far as it goes, but the Saviors had to get away and take out all of Rick’s lookouts so they could get the drop on everyone, so even a cursory explanation seems to be in order, but the idea seems to be “they just did.” The secrecy is downright distracting, and when it comes to poor choices this episode, it’s just the tip of the iceberg.
Here are a few frustrating things that happen during “How It’s Gotta Be”: Daryl drove a truck into Sanctuary and apparently just headed straight home afterward, because he’s back in Alexandria at the start of this episode and thus completely misses the Saviors’ escape. Eugene decides to help Gabriel and the doc escape Sanctuary, except he just freed all the Saviors, so where are they supposed to go, exactly? Maggie, who you’ll recall is “the widow” in the much-referenced “the King, the widow, and Rick” triumvirate of Negan’s Most Wanted, is allowed to return to Hilltop completely unmolested, where she promptly vows to continue fighting. And, of course, Carl gets bitten by a zombie off-camera while helping Siddiq. This is all just characters acting dumb for no reason, and it’s all too much for this episode to bear, especially when it plays out so slowly over 90 minutes.
Last night was their only opportunity to explain Eugene’s ingenious solution to the zombie siege of the Sanctuary while viewers still care. Unless he came up with a way to kill walkers en masse, a secret that would be useful to the plot going forward, waiting until February to find out how he did it is two months too long. Also, what happened to the simmering conflict between alpha heroes Rick and Daryl, which turned briefly violent a few episodes ago? A Rick/Daryl civil war would liven the show up considerably; Daryl’s scheme to crash the truck into the Sanctuary, upending Rick’s plan and turning the tide of battle, seemed like a perfect pretext to make it happen. But nothing really came of it. Daryl’s raid was quickly forgotten in the interest of watching Carl wander around Alexandria dodging exploding houses.
Two clips for you below, one of the big reveal last night and the other a musical send-off for the departing hero. Exit question: Who’s going to shoot Carl in the next episode to prevent him from reanimating? Maximum pathos requires it be Rick, right?