Warning: Contains spoilers for The Walking Dead.
Carl’s equally anticipated and dreaded death in The Walking Dead’s return is an emotionally satisfying send off, only marred by distracting detours elsewhere.
Last year’s midseason finale was, by most accounts, a disaster. A confused and illogical sequence of bad decisions which culminated in one of the most divisive bombshells in the show’s history.
Whether you think Carl’s death is a bad move or not, episode nine Honor provided some reassurance there is a greater plan in place – while seeing actor Chandler Riggs deliver a heart-wrenching career-best performance loaded with touching callbacks.
Kicking off by filling in the blanks between Carl’s bite and his reveal to Rick, we initially follow him as he quickly accepts his fate and starts penning farewell notes to close friends in Alexandria – emphasising one key letter to girlfriend Enid which will presumably serve a heart-jab down the line.
It’s a playful, weirdly jovial sequence which totally fits Carl’s character – having become someone nurtured within and adjusted to the terrible apocalyptic circumstances they face.
The emotional heavyweight arrived once we were back in the present day, seeing Rick, Michonne and a select few others, including newbie Siddiq, say their goodbyes to Carl. Other priorities however saw some torn between Carl and escaping the underground bunker they presided within, figuring out when best to leave to avoid Negan’s Saviors patrolling the surface.
The episodes’ biggest fault is spending too long away from focus of Rick, Michonne and Carl seeding other stories. Carol and Morgan are reunited in warrior mode wiping out baddies above, while Ezekiel is tied up and subjected to endless ramblings from semi-reasonable Savior Gavin. Both of these strands could have been trimmed to benefit the pacing, often tugging you away from the standout dynamic we’ve all been waiting for.
It’s a minor shame which is luckily easy to forgive once the show focuses on the main trio at play. A key turning-point is Carl’s devastating goodbye to Judith, passing over Rick’s hat given to him before reminding her, ‘Sometimes kids got to show their parents the way.’ It felt like a major baton-passing moment, opening conversation of whether Judith could become the basis of the show’s future.
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In these scenes Chandler Riggs is given chance to shine like never before. The show’s had a recent tendency to sideline Carl in the war, but here we’re reminded how much he’s grown on the show since it began in 2010. We perhaps shouldn’t be surprised by his ability to carry emotional scenes either, having handled the death of his mother Lori in season three superbly too.
A later surprise revelation also sees the flash-forward scenes finally explained, being dream-like visions Carl envisaged of Alexandria’s harmonious future if Rick changes his ways. The move will likely divide those hoping for a time-jump, but it makes sense and is delivered with perfect-timing— serving as a sweet, hopeful lasting legacy which will no doubt affect Rick’s war-strapped mindset going forward.
Despite taking its time to get there, Morgan’s taste for violence took some notable strides after saving Ezekiel and coming face-to-face with Gavin. His planned kill however, after Carol attempts to convince Morgan to let him live, is punctured by young Henry who stabs Gavin instead. It was a moment which juxtaposed nicely with Carl’s speech about embracing others and giving people the benefit of the doubt – leaving the question if young Henry and Judith could represent opposing forces for The Walking Dead’s future.
As we see Rick and Michonne silently breakdown after hearing Carl shoot himself on his own terms, it’s hard not to feel both heartbreak and relief. While we’ll see if the choice to kill Carl will be positive for the show, we can sleep comfortably knowing The Walking Dead overcame its bad habits, however briefly, for Carl’s send off – delivering the best, most memorable episode since Negan’s double kill entrance.
The Walking Dead continues Sundays on AMC in the US, and airs in the UK Mondays on Fox at 9pm.
Questions we have after episode 9
Is the show setting up Judith Vs Henry after a time-jump?
Could Morgan become a villain?
Will Rick be able to fulfil Carl’s dream?