Warning! SPOILERS for The Walking Dead season 8 mid-season premiere ahead!
Carl made his exit from The Walking Dead in last night's midseason premiere, 'Honor', choosing to take his own life instead of succumbing to the fever and turning. His death is tragic though not unexpected seeing as he revealed his bite wound in last fall's midseason finale - but earned it even earlier, getting bitten when he was bringing Sadiq back to Alexandria - and there was little doubt this marked the end for him.
However, though there was a grace and dignity in how Carl chose to end it all, the episode itself struggled to give his death that same respect; repeatedly cutting away and delaying the moment in an effort to make the additional airtime feel earned. And really, that has been The Walking Dead's problem for some seasons now - the only way it can create tension is by delaying the inevitable, resorting to excessive cutaways and filler to pad out its often super-sized episodes (and accommodate all those ad breaks). There exists a well-acted, strongly-written and suspenseful series somewhere within The Walking Dead, if only they would trim the fat.
Still, 'Honor' manages to be a reflective if slow episode in which Andrew Lincoln, Danai Gurira and especially Chandler Riggs deliver some very touching and at times heart-wrenching performances. This episode gives a character who has been there since the beginning their due while also shifting the series into a new paradigm: no one is safe. Carl's death firmly does away with any safety net that can come from being a "main character" or the character still being alive in the comics. With this death, The Walking Dead might just be able to regain some of that spontaneous energy that used to make it the number one can't miss TV show.
In addition to being Carl's swan song, 'Honor' also answers a few questions left lingering from season 8's first half. The genius plan of Eugene's that allows the Saviors to escape from their walker-infested Sanctuary is revealed and it is clever if a bit simpler than most viewers were likely expecting. For the most part it involves some strategic shooting to create walls of walker bodies that act as barriers as they work at clearing out the entire herd, but music can also be heard luring the walkers away. So sure, it works really well - and highlights just how dumb Rick's plan was in the first place - but this resolution feels a little anti-climactic and not worth the wait.
Along those same lines, the flash forward scenes in which Rick's has a bushy, white beard and everybody is alive and happy are revealed as being Carl's dream and not some vision of the future. Again, this is a fine explanation but one that relies so heavily on misdirection it winds up being not all that satisfying. And this is a real problem because if gone unchecked, the use of such meaningless misdirection can really hurt the audience's trust in the story being told. Case in point, the whole debacle over Glenn surviving a deadly walker attack thanks to a dumpster ex-machina. This "it was all a dream" twist isn't nearly as egregious, but it's a pattern The Walking Dead should avoid.
As Carl says his goodbyes to friends and family, Alexandria's survivors make the decision to leave the sewers and head to the Hilltop. "All of us together," Daryl mutters, "we'll be their worst damn nightmare." Just how well this plan works out remains to be seen, but if the end game of season 8 is one massive battle between Rick's coalition of survivors and Negan's Saviors, then this is the most logical progression. We can only hope is doesn't take the remainder of the season for everyone - those from Alexandria, the Kingdom, and maybe at least a few from Oceanside - to arrive at the Hilltop, but let's be honest, it probably will.
Speaking of the Kingdom, the action there is what comprises the B-plot of 'Honor' as well as being the only real action to speak of in the midseason premiere. Arriving just before the Saviors pack up and take Ezekiel with them, Carol and Morgan unleash a furious attack as only they can, killing all of the Saviors but their leader, Gavin. Don't worry, though, because Gavin still dies in the end because Henry - the young boy whose brother was killed previously by the Saviors - stabs him through the neck in The Walking Dead's grand tradition of turning children into murderers.
This plot winds up working better than expected when played against Carl thanking his father for helping him become more than ruthless killer. There's a dichotomy at work here, with Morgan and Henry exacting revenge while Rick promises Carl he'll create the more merciful world of his dreams. It also seems to place Rick and Morgan at odds again, with Rick becoming the protector of life and Morgan the taker of it. This may lead towards Morgan's exit from the series (leading to his jump to Fear The Walking Dead), but witnessing a young boy stab a man through the neck could also be what stops Morgan from again falling into a revengeful murder hole.
• Sadiq actually seems like a pretty chill dude, and it's a shame everyone is only going to know him as that guy Carl died for. Also, this is sure to make for some awkward introductions once he arrives at the Hilltop.
• The scene of Carl saying goodbye to his little sister, Judith is easily one of the saddest in the whole episode. It's too bad, then, that the child playing Judith couldn't give them a believable cry because the sound effect added later in post is really obvious and distracting.
• Whoa, Morgan! You just disemboweled that Savior with your bare hands. This is a moment that goes right up there with Rick biting that one guy in the neck. Nasty.
• "You're my best friend, Michonne." Even when dragging a death scene out for 70-minutes, The Walking Dead can still bring on the tears with lines likes this.
• While the Old Man Rick scenes are revealed to be nothing more than a dream, there are still the shots of a bleary-eyed Rick which seem to be set in the future. It's unclear where this scene happens because the only context given is Rick's tear-stained face and a tree. Does this come from the finale? Is it a hint at the resolution of the Negan/Rick conflict? Who knows, but fingers crossed it proves a satisfying reveal.
The Walking Dead season 8 continues next Sunday with 'The Lost and the Plunderers' at 9pm/10c on AMC.