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The Walking Dead concluded its midseason finale with the show’s biggest shocker yet. As if the Saviors escaping, the Kingdom getting wiped out, and Alexandria being blown up wasn’t bad enough, it was revealed in the episode’s final moments that Carl had been bitten by a zombie, signaling his imminent death and actor Chandler Riggs’ departure from the show.
The decision to kill Carl is certainly the greatest deviation yet from the comic on which the show is based. Not only is Carl one of just five original characters still on the AMC hit — and another one of those, Lennie James’ Morgan, will be leaving by the end of the season to move over to Fear the Walking Dead — but he remains a major figure in the comic book.
EW looks at the decision to kill Carl and what it means for those who live on — like Rick, Daryl, and Maggie — in our latest Walking Dead cover story. While Carl’s journey will end with the Feb. 25 midseason premiere, the character’s influence on the survivors will linger long after he’s gone. “He’s definitely leaving behind a really long-lasting legacy,” says Riggs, “which was the coolest part about playing those final moments — knowing that Carl was going to have such a lasting impact on the story.” Showrunner Scott M. Gimple concurs, noting that, “Carl’s presence is felt very deeply throughout the story. It’s a critical aspect of the season.”
Especially when it comes to Carl’s father Rick. “The back half [of the season] is him trying to live through the unbelievable pain, in the middle of a war, and trying to reconcile this loss with what he’s fighting for,” says Andrew Lincoln of his character. “This is his worst nightmare being realized.”
And expect the evolution of Daryl Dixon — who repeatedly went rogue in the first half of the season — to continue as well. “There’s some really good Daryl stuff coming up with some of the characters he’s been going toe-to-toe with,” promises Norman Reedus. “I love the way some of those stories get wrapped in the end. There’s a real beauty to it. It’s not exactly the way that you think. It wraps up in a very poetic way.”
Check out our cover of Reedus below. And to read all about what’s in store when The Walking Dead returns — as well as get your first photos and intel on the four new characters on Fear the Walking Dead (including Morgan) — pick up the new issue of Entertainment Weekly.