When The Walking Dead returns for the second half of Season 8, it will say goodbye to Carl Grimes (Chandler Riggs), the boy we watched grow into a young man only to be lost to a walker bite. His final episode will be the midseason premiere, and his death heralds huge changes for the narrative of the show.

"I always thought that Carl was the future of the show," says Tom Payne, who plays Jesus, Maggie's (Lauren Cohan) kind-hearted but ass-kicking lieutenant at Hilltop. "It's kind of a story told through his eyes — which is what's happening in how the storyline is playing out now. You are hearing a lot of Carl's thoughts in these letters that he's been writing to people."

The Walking Dead: Will Rick Die When Season 8 Returns?

Payne says Carl's death is going to cause a lot of pain for the people left behind, especially Carl's father Rick (Andrew Lincoln). In losing Carl, Rick is losing the last link he had to who he was before the apocalypse, since he lost Lori (Sarah Wayne Callies) long ago and Judith isn't his biological daughter (and also she was conceived and born after the outbreak).

"There's a lot that Rick is losing in losing Carl," says Payne.

But if our theory holds up, Rick will also be gaining something from the loss of Carl: a sense of mercy, which Rick had lost as he became more brutish. In losing his son, Rick will regain his humanity. How exactly Rick's mercy plays out remains to be seen, but it will unfold over the course of these next eight episodes.

The Walking Dead returns Sunday, Feb. 25 at 9/8c on AMC.