The Walking Dead's creator and executive producer Robert Kirkman has defended the show's controversial decision to kill off Carl. Chandler Riggs' character - one of the handful of original TWD characters still alive - was revealed to be dying from a zombie bite in the final moments of Season 8's midseason finale. Carl's actual demise will arrive when the series returns for the second half of season 8 in February.
Chandler Riggs was only eleven years old when he debuted as Carl Grimes, the son of Rick and Lori Grimes, in The Walking Dead's debut season. Fans watched Riggs grow up before their eyes, while witnessing his character experience trauma after trauma. In Season 3, Carl had to put down his own mother after she died giving birth to his little sister Judith. In Season 6, the show recreated one of the comics' most tragic moments when Carl had his eye shot out. Carl survived losing his eye, but will not survive his zombie bite.
Some fans expressed outrage over the show's decision to kill Carl, a move Kirkman now feels compelled to defend. As he explained to EW, the decision to part with such a major character was not undertaken lightly:
“I think Scott first brought it up to me as a possibility probably about a year ago at this point. At first, I was kind of like, ‘Well, that’s a big one, you know?’ I might have had a little bit of trepidation. But once he laid out to me exactly what his long-term plans were, and the things that come out of it, and the things that it leads to, it was something I got on board with.”
Kirkman also acknowledged the fan backlash and actually seemed pleased with the emotional response Carl's death has elicited:
“I know that some fans online have been very upset, but that’s by design. We’re not supposed to be happy when these characters die. We are supposed to be worried about what comes next, and anticipating what comes next, and stressing about what comes next. That just shows that you’re engaged and you’re interested. Our job is to now pay that off and fulfill that interest, and prove that this was a decision worth making. That’s what we’ve got to do.”
Though Kirkman defends the move to kill Carl, some have argued such "shocking" deaths no longer have the impact they once did. Kirkman refers to fans expressing their emotions concerning Carl as though the negative reaction is exactly what TWD hoped would occur. But if fans are mad that a character is dead, are they really engaging with the story in the way Kirkman seems to believe? Or are they just ticked off over losing a character they liked in a way that feels slightly wrong?
The Walking Dead already went very far in depicting the deaths of fan favorite characters Glenn and Abraham at the hands of Negan. The slaughter of Glenn and Abraham marked a turning point for the show, a moment when many fans walked away in horror. Recent ratings suggest that many of those turned-off fans are not coming back. Only time will tell if killing Carl leads to a ratings boost, and also how the show's writers deal with the aftermath of Carl's death. Will Carl's demise truly act as a story springboard? Or will fans ultimately come to view the character's demise as merely a cheap stunt designed to shock them?
The Walking Dead season 8 returns to AMC on February 25.