The Walking Dead has a complicated relationship with the loyal viewers who have continued to tune in every Sunday for eight years running. Seasoned viewers have long been able to assume something very big is on the menu for any given season opener, closer, or mid-season finales.
**Beware: the following contains major spoilers**
On Sunday's mid-season capper, "How It's Gotta Be," we're immediately drawn into a flashback where Rick and Carl Grimes first meet Siddiq. Carl insists they find a way to survive that doesn't rely solely on killing any and everyone they meet.
This cryptic callback gives viewers even more faith in Carl's leadership skills; he's long since become one of the cast's most discernable moral compasses. And that role typically does not bode well for TWD characters, as celebrity and fellow super fan Yvette Nicole Brown stated on Talking Dead.
In a fiery face-off with Negan, Carl continues to call the shots back at Alexandria. Knowing Negan will be looking to take someone's life as punishment for the group's attack on the Saviors, Carl plays into his game, buying the Alexandrians some time to escape to the sewers. Carl offers up his own life to Negan so that no one else will have to die. The scene is pivotal for his Carl, but the sincerity of the moment quickly erupts into chaos yet again as the Alexandrians make their getaway. Carl manages to escape as well, grabbing explosives to further distract the scrambling Saviors. As the episode wraps, Rick and Michonne are reunited with the members of Alexandria who have taken shelter in the sewers, and they discover Carl.
And in a heart-wrenching scene, Carl lifts his shirt to reveal that he has been bitten by a walker.
Rick and Michonne's reaction is art-imitates-life in real time. Viewers, including myself, were shocked and devastated that, once more, one of the show's most beloved, original characters has met the end of their journey. This twist is unlike the times previous seasons relied simply on the shock factor of losing another group member. This episode leaves fans with a hard pill to swallow, but provides some hope in that Carl's journey is not completely over just yet.
Scott Gimple, writer and producer of TWD, explained as much when he appeared on Talking Dead. Although he assured that the bite will indeed "play out as bites play out on the show," he also stated, "It's very important to Carl's story and the entire story, what happens in the next episode. I'm just focused on the fact that Carl right now is alive and he has some business to attend to."
Until February, Carl fans can find solace in the fact that his death will not be in vain. Still, it doesn't do much for all the ugly crying we had to endure last night. Fellow Walking Dead fans react: