After many weeks away, “The Walking Dead” returned for the midseason premiere of Season 8, and with it, a farewell to one of the most fan-beloved characters on the series.
The last time we saw the intrepid heroes from Alexandria, Negan and the Saviors had them on the ropes after miraculously escaping Rick’s trap at the Sanctuary. Carl managed to get most of the people underground in the sewers where he revealed that he was bitten by a walker to his father and the rest.
Episode 9 opens with an even closer look at the brief period between Rick’s initial attack and their current situation. We see Carl save Saddiq and hide him in the sewers until he can talk to Rick about introducing him as a new member. We see him face his bite and inevitable demise in the mirror as stoic as even the most hardened survivor in this world. He plays with his sister and writes notes to his loved ones while he waits for his dad to return so he can break the news. We then see another glimpse at the vision of the future, with an older Rick Grimes using a cane. Alexandria is larger, Jerry is alive and there’s peace throughout the world.
From there, we catch up to the action inside the sewers as Rick struggles to process what he’s seeing. Meanwhile, King Ezekiel’s situation is still dire. After helping his people escape the Saviors’ attack on the Kingdom, the king is at the mercy of his Savior contact, Gavin. While the king makes a futile effort to convince Gavin that he doesn’t need to go through the motions and send him to Negan, his time is very limited.
Fortunately, Carol and Morgan have made their way back to the kingdom where they hope to rescue their noble king, who is officially done with his crisis of faith. They quietly take out the Savior guards one-by-one. However, Morgan keeps getting them into danger with his newfound bloodlust. Once again, he’s gone way off his previous rule of not killing people and is now seeking out victims. It isn’t long before Morgan and Carol prevail and outgrow the need for stealth. After hearing gunshots, a frustrated Gavin retreats with what’s left of his men to the king’s throne room.
Back in the sewer, Michonne is furious that they can only sit helplessly as Carl dies and Alexandria blows up above them. She asks the turncoat Dwight to make things stop, but he can’t. He tells them that all they can do is wait for the Saviors to thin out and give chase into the woods. Once they’re gone, they can emerge and head to the Hilltop, where it’s still safe.
Rick cries for the first time as he hands Judith to Daryl to take. He knows that he has to stay behind because Carl can’t possibly make the trip. With that, it’s time for Daryl and Tara to say their goodbyes.
Daryl simply reminds Carl that everyone is alive because of him.
Tara, on the other hand, can only muster a knowing look before they both lead the survivors to Hilltop.
The hardest moment comes when Carl gives his sister a final goodbye in which he passes along his famous Sheriff’s hat to her, noting that it always reminded him to be strong, like his dad. Michonne and Rick stay behind to bring Carl indoors in the burning wreckage of Alexandria. At this point, any hope of a last minute rescue for Carl is all but gone as he begins to talk about one of his most controversial moments.
When the Governor attacked the prison in Season 3, Carl discovered a rogue youngster outside the gates. He was going to give up, but Carl found it easier, and more just, to execute him. On his dying bed, he laments that choice noting that there’s always a way forward through darkness. He cautioned Rick to go back to the days when he laid down his weapons, which were cut abruptly short by the Governor’s second attack. He wants him to think of a peace after the war, and not just fight hard to win at any cost.
This conversation then leads to a hard cut back to the Kingdom. Morgan and Carol have burst through the back door of the throne room to take out the Saviors. The only one left is Gavin, who has a shot in his leg. Ezekiel says they should seize the moment to run, but Morgan informs him that everyone is dead and gives chase.
When we catch up with him, he’s got Gavin at the end of his spear, but is hesitant to finish him. Carol and Ezekiel plead with him, unknowingly asking him to heed Carl’s warning and show mercy. As he tells them he simply can’t leave him alive, he loses his chance when Henry, the boy whose brother Morgan and Ezekiel failed to protect, kills Gavin from behind. It turns out the old generation needs to watch out for what they’re putting out into the world after all.
With his last moments, Carl paints a picture of a future of peace, revealing that the fantasies in the future were his all along. As Rick contemplates this, the episode cuts to outside the house they brought Carl where he and Michonne break at the sound of a single gunshot.
Carl is dead.
The final shot takes place inside Carl’s fantasy where none other than Negan is there, planting crops, contributing to the peace and seemingly beloved by even Rick and Judith. Perhaps the war won’t end in Negan’s death after all.