The Walking Dead mid-season 8 finale included one of the most shocking reveals in the series: Carl was bitten by a zombie. However, what's more surprising is when the bite actually occurred. While The Walking Dead fans assumed the bite was collateral damage from Carl's selfless efforts in protecting the people of Alexandria from Negan and the invading saviors, showrunner Scott Gimple confirmed the lethal injury occurred prior to the events of "What a (Bad) Joke".
During The Talking Dead, Gimple spoke about whether or not the bite means that Carl will die - and made it clear that Rick's son wasn't going to escape the fate of anyone else bitten by a zombie (at least anyone who couldn't have an infected leg or arm amputated). That said, Gimple also revealed that the bite itself did not take place during the latest episode and had, instead, been sustained episodes earlier. The showrunner even went so far as to express surprise that fans hadn't suspected something sooner. That, of course, isn't entirely accurate - since a few eagle-eyed fans had, weeks back, posited a theory that we now know to be true: Carl was bitten while fighting the Walkers with his new-found friend, Siddiq.
While the scene doesn't explicitly show the bite itself, viewers can easily see the before and the after - making it clear, in hindsight, that this was the moment and the showrunners simply hid the importance of it from fans (in favor of a more poignant reveal episodes later).
Watch the scene below (and pay extra attention between the 1:26 and 1:41 mark):
In the scene, two walkers are shown attacking Carl. The one on top of his is the main focus - as Carl attempts to keep the zombie from biting him (ultimately putting the walker down with a shot to the head). Meanwhile, the second attacker can be seen dropping down and out of frame (near Carl's right side), only to pop back into frame moments later - before Carl puts him down as well.
As a result, it's apparent that the second walker was able to bite Carl on the side while the junior Grimes was holding off his primary attacker.
Bringing the evidence back the mid-season 8 finale reveal, the location where the walker dropped out of frame is a match for where the bite is revealed (on Carl's lower right stomach):
It's a subtle and fittingly fast moment of monumental importance - and it's a credit to the actor and filmmakers that the scene holds-up in retrospect (now that Carl's fate has been revealed). Given the revelation of Carl's injury, it makes his comments to Siddiq (and later Negan) all the more impactful.
As for Chandler Riggs, the actor who has portrayed Carl for nearly a decade, rumors of his departure from The Walking Dead had circulated for over a year - since the young star's seven-year contract was up. Riggs' mother even provided an official comment - suggesting that fans shouldn't read too much into what his contract did or did not mean for the series. While Riggs was, at times, a target of criticism (due to how his character was sometimes portrayed), his last three or four years, especially, have seen Carl (and Riggs) stand shoulder to shoulder with veteran actors and adult characters. Fans who were previously critical of Carl could be surprised by the impact of the character's final episodes, especially.
Of course, a zombie bite can be bittersweet - and the time it takes to succumb to death will be long enough for Carl to make a difference to the people he cares about. Gimple made it clear that we haven't seen the last of Rick's son - and that Carl still has business to take care of in The Walking Dead mid-season 8 premiere before he will actually be put down. Exactly what Carl will do when the show returns in February remains to be seen but it's good to see Gimple and The Walking Dead writers planned a nuanced conclusion for a character that has been at the heart of the show since the beginning.
The Walking Dead season 8 returns February on AMC.
- The Walking Dead release date: Nov 17, 2018