By: Tyler Miller
The Walking Dead had it’s mid-season finale last week, and the ending of the episode was all that people could talk about. I wasn’t able to watch the episode until Wednesday, but it had me in shock as well. After spending the past few days thinking about it, I just can’t get behind the decision that was made at all.
SPOILERS FOR THE MID-SEASON FINALE AND COMICS FOLLOW
At the beginning of the episode, we got a scene of Carl telling Rick that hope isn’t enough anymore, and that if he cared enough, he would do something about it. Whenever someone starts to talk about how to be a better person in the zombie apocalypse and how to make the world better, it’s almost certain that they’re going to die soon. That ended up being the case, as the episode concluded with the revelation that Carl had been bit by a walker while helping his new Alexandria recruit Siddiq make it back to the town safely.
Obviously this is a big shock to everyone, fans and characters on the show alike. Carl is Rick’s son, so it only makes sense that we would think that he’d have some of the strongest plot armor known to man. We all expected that he would live on until the show came to an end, or at least until actor Chandler Riggs wanted to say goodbye to the zombie apocalypse. So it’s upsetting to find out that he’s being killed off at this point in the show, or just at all.
Fast forward a few years, and a new group of antagonists arrive known as the Whisperers. Carl ends up in a relationship with the daughter of their leader, and goes against his father’s wishes to keep her safe and in their group. Carl is also living on his own in the Hilltop now and pursuing his own path in life now that he’s older.
Back to the show now. It turns out that the reason Carl’s been killed is because show runner Scott Gimple wanted to offer a reason for Rick’s decision to not kill Negan later on in the season, and to instead keep him alive, just as he did in the comics. With that in mind, it’s irritating that he chose to kill Carl in order to explain Rick’s change of heart.
We’ve already had people tell Rick that there has to be more in life than just killing their enemies, and that they have to be the better people in the world in order to bring back some semblance of society in this new world. It’s part of why Rick allowed the people of Woodbury to join his group in the prison at the end of season three. He also did it because he wanted to show his son that there was a better way to go about things than killing.
This goes into one of the big reasons why I’m not on board with killing Carl. Rick has a number of motivations in the series; his friends that have become his family, his desire to keep his son and daughter safe, and also his need to raise his son into an intelligent, caring man that still has his humanity intact.
Making sure that Carl didn’t grow into a murderous killer with no way to tell right from wrong became his main goal at the end of season three when Carl killed one of the Governor’s people that was surrendering. Ever since then, everything Rick has done has been in the service of keeping Carl on the right path. It causes him to think things through more before he goes into a crazy plan. It also causes him to think more before he kills someone or lets them live.
By removing Carl from the equation, Rick loses his strongest tether to what he should and should not do, and is that much more likely to do things that he probably wouldn’t have with Carl around. Because he no longer has someone to show the right path, Rick has far less things holding him back from going over the deep end and becoming the very thing he’s trying to stop. We’ve already seen Rick get very close to that point multiple times throughout the show, but each time he’s been brought back.
Reason number two as for why I’m not happy with this decision is because it robs us of the development and stories that Carl has after the war with the Saviors. Once the war is over, we finally get to see Carl become his own person and live his own life without his father dictating what he can do or should do. Carl begins to learn how to become a blacksmith at the Hilltop and is a key figure in the community there.
His relationship with Lydia, the daughter of the Whisperers’ leader, is also an important part of his development, as it leads to the two of them entering a romantic relationship, and it allows him to get an inside look at how the Whisperers operate. Seeing Carl go and do things on his own that he wasn’t able to do years ago in the comic is great for readers who like the character and have been following him for so long.
Carl is meant to be the future of series. He’s been groomed to become the leader once Rick dies, and now the potential of that is all gone. All that potential development is now thrown out the window though because Gimple wants Carl to teach his father that people can still be good and change. It’s too bad though that Rick already learned that same lesson from Hershel during their time back at the prison. He even told the Governor that same lesson right before he chopped off Hershel’s head (RIP Hershel).
We shouldn’t need Carl to die so that Rick learn the same thing he already knows. It’s just unnecessary and gives off the impression that Gimple wanted a big character death for the mid-season finale, but didn’t want it to be some other big character.
Last but not least, reason number three why I’m not happy with Carl’s death is because of the dynamic that he has with Rick. Their relationship is a unique one that no one else on the show has. Watching the two of them interact with each other is special. Whether they’re having a fun conversation with each other, going at each other’s throats, or fighting against walkers together, it’s always fun to watch the two of them play off of one another and grow together. Having that father/son relationship taken out of the series is going to hurt and I’m sorely going to miss it.
Now I will admit that Carl’s death can change the show in a way that revitalizes it for those who haven’t been enjoying it as much as they used to. For one, it’s already making us remember that once again, no one is truly safe on the show. It’ll be interesting to see how the group copes with his death, especially Rick and Michonne. His death is probably going to be a driving factor in a lot of Rick’s future decisions too. I’m genuinely curious to see how his death is going to affect Rick from here on out, and how heavily it’s going to weigh on him.
None of that changes the fact though that Carl didn’t need to die. If Gimple wanted to kill him off, he could’ve found a better way to go about it, and a FAR better reason to. His death was not needed for Rick to change his mind though and realize that he can keep Negan alive and make the world better at the same time. Carl easily could’ve stayed alive and when the time came, Rick could think back on the words that Carl told him in this episode, along with all the words of wisdom he’s been given throughout the course of the show, and made his decision like that. This is the choice that we’re stuck with though. We’ll see come February how this all plays out.