The Walking Dead is not the same show it used to be. On the bright side, we’ve gotten to see some comic book staples (The Governor, Negan, The Wolves) grace the screen. On the other hand, the problems of the present are often the same problems of the past: Sanctuaries are never what they appear to be, characters are nearly pushed to the edge of their sanity, and hostile third parties are never far behind.
Maybe this will all turn out to be but a false sense of hope for an often laboring series, but the death of Carl could mean something different.
When Shane died, it was a sacrifice Rick thought he made for the group — and it changed him. He changed again when Lori died. Rick nearly lost himself, but he ultimately came back with a Ricktatorship resolve. When Glenn and Abraham died, it broke him again, but, once more, he came back. When Carl dies in the midseason premiere, Rick makes a promise to fulfill his son’s vision for a brighter tomorrow.
That’s what the dream sequence of “Old Man Rick” has been about. As Carl is about to pass on from this world at a now-decimated Alexandria, he shares his hope for the future with his father: Rick, with a longer beard, guides Judith through Alexandria, now filled with former Saviors (including Negan and Eugene), Hilltoppers (including Jerry), and their own people. All are working together to sustain one united community. “If you could still be who you were, that’s how it could be,” Carl says.
Rick explains to Carl that everything he has done has been for his children. Now with only Judith left, he’s left with this final promise: “I’ll make [this vision] real, I will.” It’s difficult to know what Rick stands for, though. He doesn’t have mercy for Negan — Andrew Lincoln revealed recently that he’ll hunt Negan with an ax in the last episodes of season 8 — but with other Saviors, his sympathy wavers depending on who he’s talking to that day. So what will Carl’s death mean for Rick? How will he fight now?
With one mystery solved (Old Man Rick), another remains open. We’ve seen brief flashes of a scene involving a teary-eyed Rick uttering Biblical lines while light cascades down on his face through stained glass. Is this scene from the future? Is this a dream sequence? The midseason return provides another piece of the puzzle: After Carl dies, we see a shot of Rick sitting on the ground with his back against a tree. His hand presses against a bloody gash in his side as the colorful stained glass dangles on the branches above him.
So how did we get here?
Most of the hour is reserved for Carl’s sendoff. We go back in time to see exactly how he was bitten — a walker sank its teeth into his side off camera during the scuffle in the woods with Siddiq. He then wrote goodbye letters to everyone in the camp in case he wouldn’t be alive to make those goodbyes in person.
The rest of the hour centers on Morgan. The Saviors shoot down the walker herd in front of the Sanctuary, forming a safe path out of the compound as the bodies begin to pile up. Morgan, spying all this from his sniper roost, is forced to flee when enemies rush out into the courtyard and open fire on him. He’s able to escape by using other walkers as a diversion and follows Gavin’s convoy toward The Kingdom.
Snapping back to the present, Carol is also making her way there. She tells the other residents fleeing the colony to find a safe haven at her cottage outside the border while she goes back to save Ezekiel. Henry wants to go as well, to avenge his brother, but even though Carol tells him to stay back, you know he won’t listen.
We find the Alexandrians grieving over Carl as his virus takes over. Rick and Michonne want to move his body outside, but they have to wait for the Saviors’ gunfire to cease before emerging. Each new explosion from above further enflames their grief as they watch helplessly as Carl’s body fails.
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