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January 16, 2018 at 11:30 AM EST

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The Walking Dead has killed off a lot of people. I mean, a lot of people. And there have been some pretty huge ones: Shane, Lori, Andrea, Hershel, Glenn, Abraham… just to name a few. But no death is as seismic to the story as the one about to go down on the Feb. 25 midseason premiere with Carl.

That’s because Carl, who was revealed to have been bitten in the midseason finale, is still very much alive in the comic on which the show is based, and much of the future story revolves around him — story we may now never see (at least not in the same form) on the TV adaptation. One big change has already happened. In the comic, it is Carl, not Rick, who wants to kill Negan the most as the All Out War arc ends, but here in the TV adaptation, we have seen Carl as the catalyst (via Siddiq) to now challenge Rick to allow his mercy to prevail over his wrath.

Gene Page/AMC

The death of Carl marks the greatest deviation yet from the source material, and star Andrew Lincoln says it is exciting in that now fans know that truly anything can happen. “As soon as it happened, all bets were off,” explains Lincoln. “Because there had been a certain sense, I think, over the last couple of years, that people would go, ‘Oh, we are much more associated with the comic book.’ I think that the general thrust of the story was always going to be based upon that with a couple of deviations or inversions or twists or replacements in one character taking that story and this one taking that. But this is unchartered waters for the show. I think it made, certainly for me, a much more challenging and more dangerous back eight [episodes]. I think what they’re having to do is shake it up, in a profoundly new way.”

With the show halfway through season 8, Lincoln believes now is the time to start taking some chances. “I think, well, why not?” says the star. “We’re eight years, into a big story and I think if there is a future game — which I know that there is — they’re going to have to take some big swings and change things up. Loosening and untethering us from a lot of the story in the comic is one really interesting way of moving the story forward, and perhaps we can look at a bigger story outside of the one that we’ve been focusing on for eight years — which could be incredibly satisfying for Rick’s journey, and the characters that are around Rick, but also for the audience.”

So does this mean there are other big changes in store for the second half of season 8 and beyond? We’ll begin to find out on Feb. 25.

For more exclusive Walking Dead scoop, pick up the new issue of Entertainment Weekly and follow Dalton on Twitter @DaltonRoss.

Related Content:
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♦ The Walking Dead deals with another major loss: This week’s cover
♦ Fear the Walking Dead: Meet the new characters
♦ See the first crossover photos of Morgan on Fear the Walking Dead

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