The Walking Dead fans might come around to Carl’s death after all, considering his send-off episode is a masterfully paced and emotionally devastating installment, setting the stage for Negan and Rick’s feud to finally reach a conclusion. In true The Walking Dead fashion, the Mid-Season premiere’s loose ends are quickly followed up and the payoff, although sad, is quite grand.
Mild spoilers for The Walking Dead Episode 8×09 (Honor) follow.
Knowing a key character is going to die typically offers fans the opportunity to prepare themselves mentally. Still, The Walking Dead’s audience will want to have a fresh tissue box at the ready as an emotional overload is inbound for those remaining invested in its characters. Chandler Riggs’ goodbye episode is loaded with homages longtime fans will appreciate as callbacks to earlier seasons and relationships with still-standing characters from those days offer gut punches impossible to brace for. Eight years into its lifespan, The Walking Dead has the ability to offer its best moments when calling back to its history which the Mid-Season premiere strongly capitalizes on.
Of course, the performances between cast members are on point, especially Riggs, Andrew Lincoln, and Danai Gurira. Thanks to this, it’s the subtle beats, rather than the overarching dialogue which will really connect with people. Things like a simple nod to Daryl Dixon, acknowledging the long-running relationship between the characters who started together in Atlanta, might hit harder than Rick’s cries of, “I was supposed to protect you.”
The extended episode doesn’t dedicate its entire run time huddled over Carl’s farewell. It is, in fact, a brilliant juxtaposition of scenarios. In one community, the group bunches over a devastating death feeling like someone attending their own funeral, while in another community a rescue mission is carried out.
Things move slowly and with a dark grace in the burning Alexandria, while Greg Nicotero delivers the real heat in the Kingdom. Adding to that, Lennie James’ Morgan Jones and Melissa McBride’s Carol Pelettier lend their own bits of stark contrast when standing side by side on their way toward a captured King Ezekiel. Morgan has been bent of killing every single one of Negan’s men who cross his path since the death of Benjamin while Carol wants to take the more rational and life-preserving approach. It’s a well-executed and entertaining contradiction as the two original cast members work masterfully together and their characters are pushed through mental barriers.
The two scenarios set the stage for the rest of Season Eight in itself, while Maggie and the Hilltop’s situation along with Negan and his Sanctuary’s are reserved for the follow-up episodes. Should The Walking Dead move forward with such a balance between characters and location as the Mid-Season premiere though, the back half of Season Eight will offer the pace audiences crave. The episode focuses on essential stories and features a slew of characters, including most of the show’s originals and fan-favorites. Each makes rational decisions and the narrative is fueled by relationships.
It’s far from a secret showrunner Scott Gimple prides himself on the word “reinvent” when describing each half-season of his AMC show. While it’s only one episode, the Mid-Season premiere seems to do just that. As promised by interviews and trailers, Carl’s death appears to prove pivotal for the series as its protagonist is driven away from a vengeful quest filled with death and toward a merciful path of rebuilding civilization.
Perhaps best of all, the more shocking moment of the episode comes at a least-expected time. While the show is already a bit crowded with storylines, the door is opened for the characters at the Kingdom to continue with their conflicting ideologies.
By its end, The Walking Dead’s upcoming episode may serve as a stepping off point for some fans who have been with it since the beginning — major character deaths seems to spawn such a result — but the majority will probably stick around. Some might even be advised return to the audience as Episode 8×09 offers the intriguing, devastating, and hopeful feeling delivered by the show’s earliest seasons. The Walking Dead feels new again here, even if it comes with a devastating cost.